Our Story

The Guild is comprised of the historic Guild Inn and its remarkable Gardens, situated high above Lake Ontario on the rugged Scarborough Bluffs, in the east end of Toronto.

It is a place of abiding mystery, shrouded in history and legend. Over the years, it has continued to attract local and international visitors. It has been a sanctuary and academy for artisans and artists of every kind. The Guild of All Arts, as it used to be known, is a legacy that the years cannot erase.

The Guild Inn sits amid 88 acres of forest, gardens, lawns and woodland trails. An impressive collection of vintage architecture and sculpture dots the landscape. In this scenic 'installation' where nature meets culture, the centerpiece is an open-air theatre modeled after the ancient Greeks. This is a summertime home to the Guild Festival Theatre.

The eight columns and Corinthian capitals, with arches joining the columns, were saved in 1966 from the demolition of the Bank of Toronto formerly located on the corner of Bay Street and King Street. The bank had been built in 1912. When the Guild of All Arts celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1982, stonemason Arthus Hibberd erected the eight-columned monument. As such, it became the only theatre of its kind in Canada. Future plans for this open-air theatre venue include an extended Thrust Stage into the audience, a newly designed seating plan with comfort in mind, backstage change rooms and public washrooms accessible from the new Banquet Hall in 2017. A lighted path will guide audience to and from the venue and parking lot with ease and safety.

The adjacent Guild Inn was built in 1914 as Ranelagh Park for General Charles Bickford. He owned the sprawling two-storey pseudo-Georgian manor until 1921. With its balcony and veranda, a stable full of polo ponies and a garage, it made a fine summer residence including ample room for his seven children. After an impressive military career, private life brought financial setbacks and he and his family moved to Buffalo.

The property was sold to St. Francis Xavier China Mission Seminary which in turn sold it to an American creosote industry executive who spent little time there. In 1932, the site was sold to Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson, a widow who had four children to raise and her late husband's successful shoe company to run.

Rosa met Herbert Spencer Clark through their work with the Robert Owen Foundation, an organization which Rosa helped launch in the tradition of her family's values "to promote ideas of social concerns." Rosa and Spencer were nothing more than like-minded colleagues until she bought the Bluffs property as a site for her as-yet-unformed co-operative experiment.

Rosa was interested and involved in the arts; the Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson was her cousin. As for Spencer, according to Scarborough archivist Richard Schofield, he "wanted to encourage the Group of Seven and offer them a place to work." Spencer understood that artists cannot worry about earning a living if they are to nurture their talents.

Rosa and Spencer Clark honeymooned in upper New York State at Roycroft, an arts and crafts co-operative modeled on a William Morris innovation and supported largely by an inn, which thrives to this day. Upon their return, the Clarks formed the Guild of All Arts in 1932, an arts and crafts collective which put into practice their high ideals during the severe economic conditions of the Great Depression.

Artists and artisans of all types came from far and wide to stay, working in exchange for room and board. Employees were hired to cater to the burgeoning community. Cabins were incorporated into the property to accommodate the artists. Many of their finished pieces were purchased and added to the Spencer and Rosa Clark Collection, some of which are still on-site at The Guild.

Visitors flocked to the Guild of All Arts to watch artisans at work and to enjoy the beautiful Carolinian woods overlooking Lake Ontario. The Clarks began to offer meals and guest accommodations, and the Guild Inn earned a reputation as both a country inn and a centre of fine arts and crafts. Author Carole Lidgold's book The History of the Guild Inn explains that the Guild Inn "was very, very popular. In the thirties it was the only thing going."

As Roycroft had learned in New York State, selling the resident artists' output was not sufficient to keep an inn operational. According to the son of a former Guild Inn employee, the variety of homemade buns had something to do with the venue's popularity, as did the post-sleigh-ride party menus. Also, many were attracted by the unique character of the rooms. Each was appointed with handmade furniture made by resident craftsmen that included stylish wooden headboards carved with Canadian wildlife. Rooms were decorated with upholstery, curtains and bedspreads created on The Guild's unique handlooms. These were designed or modified by Spencer Clark and built by a German master cabinetmaker, Herman Reidl, who worked at The Guild for thirty-two years.

World War II saw the Guild Inn and surrounding property requisitioned by the federal government. It was used to train WRENS (Women's Royal Naval Service) in highly secret telegraphy work and as a hospital for veterans, later replaced by Sunnybrook Hospital. All the while, artists struggled on in spite of wartime privations.

In the 1950s and 60s, Toronto experienced a renovation and building boom. Inevitably, some of the older downtown buildings decorated by master stonemasons were now demolished. This horrified Spencer Clark. As the buildings came down, he salvaged large, interesting and representative architectural pieces from their facades and transported them to the Guild Inn grounds. These fragments became part of the sculpture gardens that remain today, including the Greek Theatre which is home to Guild Festival Theatre.

Spencer Clark created Guildwood Village, a subdivision where homes started selling half a century ago, in August 1957. His aesthetic sensitivity and love of nature determined that many old trees be preserved. Mr. Clark also named many of the streets.

In 1979, the Guild Inn was sold jointly to the Province of Ontario and the Metro Toronto Region and Conservation Authority. Lessees took over the running of the Inn while the government assumed responsibility for the care of the grounds and artifacts.

The possibility that the Guild Inn might be torn down spurred caring citizens to action. The Guildwood Village Community Association was successful in helping to repel developers with unpopular intentions.

In 1986 Spencer Clark died, predeceased by Rosa in 1981. The passionate advocacy of their loyal followers was not enough to save their beloved vision for this beautiful site. In 1995, Elizabeth Fraser Williamson moved from her cottage on the grounds into Livingston Lodge. This marked the end of the era of artists-in-residence at The Guild and, thus, the end of the Guild of All Arts. Sadly, the condition of the Inn deteriorated and eventually it was closed.

In 1997, local citizens formed the Guild Renaissance Group (GRG) in the hope that they could assist the City to repair and upgrade the Inn and put the site back into operation as a centre for arts and culture. They have worked with the City to study, design and assess the feasibility of restoring cultural programs and activities at the Guild. Recent studies concluded that the Inn is economically repairable but have suggested that a separate precinct be built into the site to accommodate the arts in all forms.

The City of Toronto has secured the private investor Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment Group Inc. to commit to building a new restaurant and banquet facility at the Guild Inn, and they officially broke ground with Toronto Mayor John Tory in December of 2015. In combination with Guild Festival Theatre's annual summer season, this marks the re-birth of a unique destination for Torontonians and all visitors to the city.

This short history is presented courtesy of the Guild Renaissance Group, with contributions from Lee Graves, Anne Livingston and Carole M. Lidgold.

 

 

Beginnings

Guild Festival Theatre is proud to participate in the movement to re-establish a Guild of All Arts in Scarborough, Ontario. Since our inception in 2009, we have aspired to the goals set forth by the Guild Renaissance Group and other community advocates. We do this by presenting a high-profile annual theatre festival of classics on the open-air Greek stage at the historic Guild.

A seed was planted when director Sten Eirik first visited The Guild in the late 1990's with actor Don Allison and stage manager David Baughan. David moved away to the West Coast shortly after, but Sten and Don began to plot the launch of a new theatre. Actor/filmmaker Tony Meyler, educator Sandy Muir and newspaper manager Sheila Blinoff were invited to form the original Board of Directors. Actor Chris Kelk joined within a few months. In February 2009, Guild Festival Theatre was incorporated and we became a registered charity in June of that year.

During the inception, our efforts were often guided and inspired by the remarkable Robin Phillips, formerly head of the Stratford Festival. Both Sten Eirik and Don Allison had been deeply influenced by Robin during their time at Stratford. For our Guildwood community launch in December 2010, Robin travelled from Stratford through a snowstorm to be our keynote speaker. His special brand of eloquence is fuel for our continued labours. We remain grateful for his inspiration and mentorship.

FIVE ACCLAIMED SUMMER SEASONS
When Guild Festival Theatre appeared on the Toronto arts scene in 2011, we were hailed as the "new theatre project that deserves to succeed" (Paula Citron), "terrific theatre in a great landscape" (Michael Kramer) and "a lively, fast-paced spectacle that brings the essence of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard to life" (David Bateman).

In 2012 we presented Clouds Over T.O., the world premiere for our own musical modernization of Aristophanes' The Clouds. Music and songs were by Toronto's jazz and klesmer virtuoso David Buchbinder. We engaged 20 volunteers from Centennial College who earned a combined total of 326 hours towards their Leadership Passports. In addition, we have mentored high school students for their community hours.

Our 2013 hit was Molière’s The Misanthrope, which earned rave reviews and a 50% increase in audience attendance. Audience feedback drew a comparison with Stratford and the Shaw Festival. We garnered the 2013 Urban Hero Award for making a difference in the community. With funding from the government of Canada, we employed students from Centennial College, U. of T. Scarborough and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate.

Our 2014 season made a splash with the hilarity of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest. There was not a dry eye in the house (or should we say, under the stars), as night after night tears of laughter echoed over the bluffs into Lake Ontario and across to Toronto Island. Truly our most successful production in terms of audience appeal, it set the stage for what The Guild Festival could truly become, a professional Theatre of unparalleled quality for the GTA.

Sadly in 2015 we lost our leader Sten Eirik, and the possible end of The Guild Festival Theatre was in sight. Miraculously, Jamie Robinson was brought on board at the last minute to take over the helm, directing the most attended season to date with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Reviews were stellar and the cast, crew and board of directors all felt the guiding hand of Sten pushing us to carry on with his dream. The stars have truly aligned as the 2016 season hiatus has given us time to reimagine how the next successful five years should look with the renewed energy of a revitalized Guildwood Park and Banquet Hall! 

THE VIEW FROM HERE
Our labour of love has helped resurrect The Guild as a unique destination for Torontonians and all visitors to the city. Guild Festival Theatre is not only being shaped by but also giving shape to the community within which we serve. In the sculpture gardens of The Guild, where nature meets culture, the classics are an experience like nowhere else.

We look forward to networking with all interested parties to bring back the good times to this magical setting.

"I have a strange feeling that something wonderful will happen. I feel it coming. I
can almost feel its footsteps."
 - Trofimov, The Cherry Orchard

LETTER FROM ROBIN PHILLIPS
CHANGE

"The Guild Theatre exists. It stands in a unique locale. It calls out for reawakening.

It is an extraordinary setting. Here we have a venue that beckons from a fascinating past and offers the promise of an exciting future. Here is a location that stands a mere flight above the bustle of a vibrant metropolis, offering time and space for both relaxing and stimulating entertainment. It seems to me that we need to stand above and take stock of our sometimes frustrating world; take an over-view of our past and seek out possible paths for the future. Here is a park-land setting for audiences to visit and permit the breezes from Lake Ontario and the voices of great theatre to clear the head, excite the senses and stimulate the heart.

The classical repertoire, often in new Canadian translations, will find an invigorating home here, surrounded by the cliffs and the breezes of the Scarborough bluffs.

Music, old and new, will play an integral role in the productions. Whether it be poignant Slavic instrumentation, melodic mandolins of the first Elizabethans or modern compositions, jazz and blues, music will welcome visitors to the cliff top and, hopefully, drift back down to the G.T.A.

I so look forward to this new production of The Cherry Orchard."

Core Values

Theatre educates the soul, not only the intellect. In our view, it can inspire and empower Canadians to resolve personal or social issues reaching beyond conventional school-based learning. We provide enrichment through entertainment.

Our mission is to help revitalize the historic Guild precinct of Scarborough, Ontario, and re-establish the Guild Of All Arts for a new age. We do this by presenting a high-profile annual theatre festival of classics on the open-air Greek stage in the Guild gardens. In doing so, we seek to nurture and inspire the artists and audiences of tomorrow by showcasing masterworks from the past. 

In addition, we utilize the skills and tools of performance art to create pathways of vocational/educational opportunity for arts students, community volunteers and interest groups of varying abilities and special needs. Our aim is to remove barriers and promote diversity in all areas of operation. For those with special needs, we seek to enhance access to mainstream participation in the community.