Toronto development: 1952

Something told David that if the idea of a national ballet company in Canada was to happen, that he and Lois Smith would be part of it

We had met in Vancouver, worked together there, then gone on to California, to work.

Having spent a couple of years in the United Kingdom myself, I thought of that as our next move.

I had contacts, I had worked there, it was a good possibility.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the point of view, we had a child, instead.

Janine arrived in Winnipeg.

The third ballet Festival in Montreal, opened another door. Celia Franca had been invited to watch the Festival with the idea of her giving her views on the possibility of a Canadian National Ballet company.

I was in Montreal at that festival with a group from Vancouver.

Celia and I met, over lunch, aired our differences, but agreed to communicate.

I return to my opening sentence, for now the door was open to that structure.

Eventually of course, as is now evident, we became a part of that National Ballet.

The other side of the coin must be examined though.

In California we had been earning a reasonable salary.

After that, we even went back to doing night club work, as we had done in Vancouver. As a matter of fact, after giving birth, the first dance that Lois Smith did, was in a night club in Winnipeg. It was becoming a financial necessity.

I was, added to that, doing some teaching in Winnipeg and a ballet for the Winnipeg Ballet.

There had been, an offer, from New York, by someone who had seen us do night club work, an offer to work on television. We did not pursue that, but I have often wondered where that would have led us? It was for a considerable amount of money. I shall leave that one alone.

The communication with Franca told me of a Promenade Concert in Toronto. I would travel to Toronto, rehearse, and appear in the second act of Coppelia in June.

In Toronto, alone, I would be met be Stewart James (or James Bolsby) as he was sometimes known.

He, and his family made life in Toronto quite bearable for some time.

The rehearsals took place and I met some of the dancers who would be part of the National Ballet when it became a fact.

I had been in a production of Coppelia at Covent Garden in London during 1946. I was a student at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and as a student was called upon to appear in productions at Covent Garden.

Franca staged this second act, based on a production done by Beriosoff.

The performance was a success. Franca was introduced to Toronto, I was reintroduced.

There was to be another performance in Montreal at a similar concert.

I returned to Winnipeg to visit, Lois and Janine, but also, to persuade Lois to return to Toronto with me.

It was extremely difficult. First to take Lois from our daughter, but also to put Lois in the position of being “the Ballerina”.

Lois was staying with my family on an acreage outside Winnipeg. She was looking after Janine, but also doing some classes with the Winnipeg company.

Given what I had seen Lois do, plus what I had taught her, I knew that she was that ballerina we needed.

There were times when Lois wondered what she had taken on, but the truth was, she was born for it.

There were some sticky moments along the way, but in true SMITH fashion, she became the first Canadian Prima Ballerina.

Now there were two of us in Toronto, on $25.00 per week each. A momentous problem.

Little by little, we found our way.

Eventually David got his foot in the Toronto Television door, that helped..

There was the Canadian National Exhibition show;which after much talking, paid us a decent salary.

Not easy street, but improving.

In an effort to open up new areas, in 1952, the Toronto Theatre Ballet was started With the help of Stewart James and Boris Volkoff we put together a show.

Some staged and choreographed by me, some by Volkoff.

The dancers were mostly from the National.

This was the first time that Lois would dance the Swan Queen in the second act of Swan Lake. This would also be the stage debut of Lawrence Adams, my brother, who appeared as Von Rothbart.

The performance took place in the Arena Gardens in Midland, Ontario, on Saturday, July 19th, 1952.

That was the beginning and the end of Toronto Theatre Ballet. What a shame!

Now we no longer lived in accommodations provided by the Bolsby family, we rented our own places.

Around this time an item appeared in a Toronto newspaper, “neighbours remark, what a nice young couple they seem, taking off arm in arm every week day morning from the small apartment on Grenville Street.

Yes, Smith and Adams were living in a house on Grenville Street owned by the photographer, John Steele.

It was fairly central, and the price was right.

Not too far from St. Lawrence Hall where we rehearsed.

It was one large room with a kitchen nook, shared bathroom down the hall.

We found this place through Celia Sutton, who lived there, but as well, had made costumes for the company .

The house, and the occupants, became a small cultural colony.

Through contacts made at the CBC, plus the Crest Theatre, we had gatherings, sometimes parties, attended by a marvellous collection of people, who, like the city of Toronto, were just on the edge of becoming well known.

The CBC brought us people like Barry Morse, Christopher Plummer and many more; the Crest brought us Murray and Donald Davis, plus many new actors from abroad and various places in Canada.

From across the street we had Michael Snow and Graham Coughtry. They had an animation studio and were doing commercials for television.

Through those two, we met Avrom Isaacs, who ran a gallery for Canadian painters.

The house was a hive of activity.

The CBC was a constant source of new arrivals, from every area of work.

My own work with CBC was going well. I was appearing fairly regularly.

We had a wonderful season with Frosia Gregory and Robert Goulet, with David doing the choreography. We even had a newspaper review for a dance about a Lautrec poster, quite amazing for the new kids on the block.

Toronto was growing by leaps and bounds.

All of the above mentioned went on to become household names, and quite famous in their own fields.

We can in all honesty say that many of them made their way, through the house on Grenville Street.

This is a side of that city which is seldom mentioned. Lois and I, were there, and part of that Toronto development.