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Toronto  1850s   1892   1894

John Nickinson and EJ Phillips at the Royal Lyceum Theatre 1850's
After  Mitchell's Olympic Theatre in New York  closed abruptly in 1850, John Nickinson formed his own company and with daughter Charlotte toured in Providence RI, Montreal, and Rochester and ended up in Toronto in 1851. 

In 1852 he and Charlotte took to the road again with a larger company and more varied repertoire.  The company included Charles Peters (who married Eliza Nickinson) and Miss EJ Phillips.  A local newspaper, the Patriot, wrote of the company as "persons distinguished for respectability in private life, a point which all who know John Nickinson would feel satisfied that he would particularly consult".   

After the Utica Museum [Theatre] Nickinson had been managing failed in 1852 he resettled in Toronto in 1853 as Manager of the Royal Lyceum [Theatre and stock company].  The first purpose built theatre in Toronto opened in December 1848.  The brick building seated 750 and was lighted by gas, but awkwardly designed, eventually stopping first rate actors from coming to Toronto.  The theatre burned down in January 1874. [Durham]

On Saturday she [Lola Montez]  appeared as “Lady Teazle” in the “School for Scandal.”  Our limits forbid us to say more than that she was received with great applause, and that she threw much archness and vivacity into the character.  The acting of Capt. Nickinson  as Sir Peter is too well known to need comment for we consider it one of his happiest impersonations. ...   After the curtain descended, Lola was summoned back to receive the most flattering and hearty applause.  She was led in by Capt. Nickinson.  The Leader, Toronto 27 July 1857, page 2, cols 2-3 [undated NY Clipper article]    www.zpub.com/sf/history/lola/Bc1857.doc 

Mary Shortt, in a January 1980 letter about her thesis on Toronto theatre notes that "I was unable to explain [John] Nickinson's strange behavior in 1858, when he disappeared for an extended period from the Royal Lyceum [Theatre].  The loss of Charlotte, who married and left the stage in the spring of '58 was obviously a blow, but I was unaware of the great stress created by E.J.'s pregnancy (in strait-laced  Toronto, where Nickinson had been considered a pillar of respectability!").

Charlotte Nickinson (1832-1910) was born in Quebec and married the editor of the Toronto Leader and forthright theatre critic Daniel Morrison in 1858  She had toured extensively with her father..  The Morrisons moved to Quebec City, London,  New York, and finally back to Toronto.

Daniel Morrison died in 1870, leaving Charlotte a widow with four children.  Charlotte returned to acting and producing at Toronto's Royal Lyceum in 1871 and 1872.  She became a director of the Toronto Opera House Company in 1873, and was the first manager of the Grand Opera House, until it was sold to a new owner who replaced her two years later in 1878. 

1892  previous: Columbus celebration

The Saratoga of Canada
Tecumseh House 
London, Ont 

Novr 30th 1892 

My dear Son, 

Here I am all right.  Played to a crowded house in Hamilton.  Ladies in full dress. 

Arrived here today at 11:15.  Leave tomorrow at noon for Brantford, only a short ride.  Friday St Thomas and go back to give a matinee Sat in Hamilton.  Do not play Sat night.  I think we shall leave for Toronto after Matinee on Saturday. 

No letters here form anyone but "Aunt Louisa", Mrs. Eldridge, who wants a donation to the children's Xmas at Tony Pastors.  Love and Kisses to you all from your loving Mother 

Tony Pastors Theatre was "a little playhouse in the Tammany Hall Building, on the north side of 14th Street, near Third Avenue.  The attractions are invariably of the variety order." (Kings NYC)   

The Rossin House 
Toronto, Canada 
King & York Sts 
Dec 7, 1892

My dear Son, 

Opened on Monday night to a very fine house, and had a fine house last night - $200 better than the first night. The house is a very pleasant one to play in. Have not met anyone I know. All are gone - and it makes me feel like a Centenarian

Rehearsals of the Judge began this morning. I am only in the last act - and did not have to go to-day. It is another farcical comedy. Love and Kisses to my dear children Albert, Neppie & Edward from their loving Mother

Centenarian Still a subject heading in the NY Times index in the 19th century. Check when it stopped.

next: Detroit Dec 13,1892

previous: Rochester  Dec. 19, 1894

The Rossin House 
Toronto Canada
Xmas eve 1894 

My dear Son,  

I did hope to have posted a letter to reach you all, on Xmas morn, but I am too late.  Left Buffalo 1:30 PM Sunday, reached Niagara Falls an hour later -- went sight seeing -- stopped at the Kelmanback Hotel all night.  Now am trying to scratch a few lines to you and wish you a Merry Xmas -- though it will be over before this will reach you.  

I am feeling pretty well, only had a little attack of indigestion last night -- produced by eating a banana in the morning -- nothing else I had eaten could have done it so I have "sworn off" banana

We open with Camille to-night and play it at Matinee to-morrow and Thursday night -- and Saturday night -- Wed night Romeo & Juliet.  Friday night and Sat night Frou-Frou in which I do not appear.  Love and Kisses and best wishes for a Happy New Year to my dear children Albert, Ted and Neppie from their loving Mother

The Rossin House 
Toronto Canada 
Dec 26th 1894  

My dear daughter Neppie,  

I hope yesterday was a very happy day for you all.  It was a very quiet day for me - for before I got up, word was brought to me that there would be no Matinee on account of Miss Nethersole having a very severe cold - so I concluded to keep quiet and did not get up until after 11 o'clock.  

Took dinner at 3 and read during the rest of the day - went to work at seven, Transgressor being the bill.  We had a fine house.  Miss Nethersole's cold was still bad - but she got through having had two doctors - one a throat specialist - and I hear she is a little better this morning, but the weather has turned very cold and I am afraid it will not be very good for her to come out tonight - for it has been trying to snow. 

Miss Nethersole caught cold at the Falls.  She left Buffalo after the performance on Saturday night and went to the Falls with her maid and her dog - stayed up to see the Falls by moonlight - 4 AM.  Was out early again in the morning and walked about - had dinner at 3 PM and then went driving in an open wagon until six.  Consequently could scarcely speak on Monday morning.

I had told her to be careful - the air is always damp from the spray rising from the Falls - and is very apt to give cold the hottest day in summer.  Sunday was a lovely day and the air just crisp enough to be very enticing.  I took a long walk, but did not go riding and have no cold. 

Tonight we play Romeo & Juliet if Miss Nethersole is well enough.  Tomorrow night Camille, Friday night & Saturday Mat[inee] Frou-Frou, at night Transgressor.  Then off for "Montreal".  I am glad you did not send your present to me here - and do not worry yourself about embroidering the hand'fs.

You have enough to do without that.  I shall appreciate them all the same - for I am sure you "love me very very much" - and I love you very very much - and would be happy to do much more for you, if I were able, to prove my love but can only ask you not to try your eyes embroidering for me.  Your eyes are more precious than embroidery to me. 

Rec'd a letter from Hattie this morning.  They are all well.  She went to the Cemetery on Sunday to place some flowers on her little daughter's grave.  

I hope Teddy is satisfied with his presents - should like to see him enjoying them.  I was having a good time thinking my loved ones were all having a good time.  My love and Kisses to you dear children.  Your loving Mother 

Decr 29th 1894 
Toronto   Canada 
My dear Son, 

This is likely to be my last letter to you in 1894.  It will be my greeting to you for the New Year 1895.  I wish you, Neppie & Ted a Happy New Year.  

Miss Nethersole was unable to play Thursday night.  The doctor would not allow her to play but she played last night in Frou-Frou.  Repeats it this Afternoon and gives the Transgressor tonight.  I want to send you a little New Years all, but I think I had better wait until I get to Providence.  Will however enclose a dollar for Ted, and tell him he had better buy beefsteak than candy.  I am going over to theatre to see how Matinee is getting on.  With love and Kisses to my dear children Albert, Ted and Neppie. Your loving Mother 

next: Montreal Jan 1895

Royal Lyceum Theater
Another [cobblestoned lane] was Theater Lane named for the Royal Lyceum Theater which stood on the site of the TD Centre’s bronze cow pasture sculpture. The Royal Lyceum built by wealthy landowner John Ritchey in 1848 was the first fully equipped theater in Toronto complete with a balcony, dressing rooms, footlights and orchestra pit and was the forerunner to both The Grand Opera House and St. Lawrence Hall. 

For the next quarter century the Lyceum under the direction of John Nickinson and later his daughter Charlotte paved the way for such great international stars such as Ellen Terry, Henry Irving (the first actor to be knighted), Lily Langtry (mistress of Edward VII) and the divine Sarah Bernhardt (also a friend of Edwards) to look upon Toronto as a prosperous high-point of any tour. 

The Royal Lyceum was destroyed by fire in 1874 but its manager the aforementioned Charlotte Nickinson now known as the formidable Mrs. Morrison undeterred moved onto the new Grand Opera House which had just opened.  In 1875 the site of the Royal Lyceum became home to the Royal Opera House but it too succumbed to fire in 1883.  Bruce Bell Tours http://www.brucebelltours.com/html/the_great_hall_-2.html      more

Toronto Historical Plaques http://www.brucebelltours.com/html/plaques.html 

Bibliography See Nickinson

Last updated Jan. 17, 2005

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