A History of Opera in Kenora

The Hilliard Opera House (1895 – 1924)

In 2012, shortly after Olivia Whiddon moved back to Kenora, Olivia was asked to write a story for Kenora’s “Common Ground”, a collection of local story tellers giving their take on living on Lake of the Woods.  Specifically, Olivia was asked to write a story on the Hilliard Opera House, a place she had never heard of.  In all her training as an opera singer, Olivia would have never guessed that Kenora held its own secret opera past, one that is currently shaping its future.

A Brief History of the Hilliard Opera House

(find a copy of “Common Ground: Stories of Lake of the Woods II” for the full story)

In the year 1895, innkeeper and entrepreneur Louis Hilliard built a hotel on the northeast corner of Chipman and Second Street South.  This hotel was primarily an opera house, which officially opened in 1897.  The stage was 20 by 50 feet with a 30 by 30 foot proscenium.  It had all of the the most modern amenities, including electric lights, steam heat and 22 complete sets of scenery.  The opera house hosted travelling acts as well as local performances and events.

The Hilliard Opera House had many successes and failures during its years in Rat Portage (now Kenora).  Burning to the ground three times, it’s a wonder it survived as long as it did, continuing to rise from the ashes.  The final blow came not in the form of fire, but technology.  As we moved into the 20th century moving pictures began to take the place of opera and live entertainment and the Hilliard Opera House eventually became Derry’s Palace Theatre.

Of course, as all things move in circles audiences are once again becoming interested in live productions.  It’s time for the rebirth of opera in Kenora.

Would you like to know more about Kenora’s opera history?  

In 2015 Olivia’s opera house story along with 43 stories written by other local writers was published in “Common Ground: Stories of Lake of the Woods II”.  Find the book at the Lake of the Woods Museum: http://www.lakeofthewoodsmuseum.ca.