If the content you are seeing is presented as unstyled HTML your browser is an older version that cannot support cascading style sheets. If you wish to upgrade your browser you may download Mozilla or Internet Explorer for Windows.

Sterndale Bennett, Ernest Gaskill

Director, actor, teacher, adjudicator, born in 1884 in London, England, died in Toronto in 1982. E. G. Sterndale Bennett worked in many aspects of theatre with the objective of bringing "truth" to Canadian drama. He developed an interest in theatre from watching the productions of Henry Irving, but he came to distrust Irving's naturalistic theatre practice and bravura domination of the stage, preferring an ensemble production and the theatre of speech of Ibsen and Shaw. He was trained as a civil and mechanical engineer, and emigrated to Montreal to find work in 1905, and subsequently to Moose Jaw, where he participated in amateur musical and dramatic productions, and helped to organize "The Green Room Club" to produce such plays as Sweet Lavender by Arthur Pinero, and Charley's Aunt, with proceeds going to local charities.

In 1991, he relocated with his wife, Belle, to Medicine Hat, where they became active church choir members, and revitalized the amateur theatre scene as actors. Following a brief return to London to pursue work, they moved to Lethbridge and again became involved in community theatre, forming the "Lethbridge Playgoers Club" with the aims of attracting touring professional shows, producing quality shows, and developing local dramatic and musical talent. From 1931 the Playgoers Club also sponsored a playwriting contest, and Sterndale Bennett was awarded third prize by the adjudicator, E.A. Corbett, for The Devil of New France, co-written with H.W. Church.

During the 1930s he was involved with the Alberta Dramatic League with Elizabeth Sterling Haynes, which held annual festivals and competitions in Calgary and Edmonton. He was the Alberta delegate for the organizational meeting of the Dominion Drama Festival in 1932, hosted by Governor General Bessborough in Ottawa.

In 1933, the Sterndale Bennetts moved to Toronto, where Ernest had been offered the position of director of the Eaton Dramatic Club, and Belle the position of co-director. The renamed "Toronto Masquers Club" produced plays such as John Coulter's The House in the Quiet Glen in the Margaret Eaton Hall, and later for DDF competitions. Eugene also adjudicated regional Dominion Drama Festivals in Ontario, and organized a summer drama program with Edgar Stone, director of the Hart House Theatre, which offered a comprehensive education in theatre history, speech, stage movement, makeup, and set construction.

Following Belle's death in 1936, Ernest continued with his theatre involvement, directing productions for Victoria College and the University Alumnae Dramatic Club, and advocating a National Theatre for Canada. In 1940 he was appointed to the faculty of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, participating in many DDF competitions as adjudicator and director. In 1948 he organized the touring "People's Repertory Theatre," with actors such as Kate Reid. In 1949, he founded with his third wife, Hilda, the Canadian Theatre School in Toronto, with productions by senior students at the Proscenium Club, including Deirdre of the Sorrows by W. B. Yeats. Offering a comprehensive education in theatre practice, the CTS was a precursor of the National Theatre School of Canada, which he also was instrumental in organizing in 1960. His students included Timothy Findley, Barbara Hamilton, Ray Lawlor, George Luscombe and William Fruet. His other contributions include organizing the Canadian Guild of Drama Adjudicators in 1959.

In 1974, Sterndale Bennett was awarded membership into the Order of Canada.

Source: George Mann. Theatre Lethbridge. Calgary: Detselig, 1993.

Last updated 2008-07-11