The Belfry Theatre began producing plays in 1976.
As a professional adult theatre company, we are dedicated to producing contemporary plays, with an emphasis on Canadian work, and to promoting artistic, cultural, and educational events in the Greater Victoria Region.
In the past 40 years the Belfry has produced 312 plays, including 233 Canadian plays, and more than 47 premieres. Many of those premiere productions have gone on to acclaim across Canada, in the U.S., Australia, Europe and London’s West End. Belfry productions regularly tour to other cities and have won awards in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.
The Belfry produces up to 12 plays per year: one or two summer productions, a four play Mainstage series, and SPARK, our mid-winter festival of innovative and alternative work from across Canada.
The Belfry’s mission is to produce theatre that generates ideas and dialogue, and that makes the audience see the world a little differently.
The company resides in a former Baptist Church built between 1887 and 1892. From the company’s inception until 1991 the Belfry rented the main theatre space in the building from The Cool-Aid Society and shared the complex with a homeless shelter. In 1991, Cool-Aid moved and the Belfry began the first of five capital campaigns to buy and restore the building. Renovations were completed in 2000 with the restoration of the exterior. The building is listed in the heritage registry and has won a number of awards for its restoration.
The Belfry has over 250 dedicated people who volunteer as ushers and bar staff during performances. Many of these amazing people have been with the theatre for years, including a few who have been volunteering since the theatre’s inception.
The Belfry, like all charitable, not-for-profit organizations, is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.
To paraphrase E. M. Forster: “The only plays that influence us are those for which we are ready and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.”
This quote is a touchstone for me. It is my hope that all of our productions take our audiences a little further down the path they are exploring. I want our work to offer our audiences either a window into a world with which they are unfamiliar or a new perspective on the world they know. The work that we produce also needs to be engaging, and that engagement can be engendered by ideas, revelations, perceptions, or even humour.
For the past 40 years, the Belfry Theatre and its audiences have been on a journey through the best of contemporary theatre, with a focus on Canadian work. During the last decade, we have increased the amount of Canadian work on our stages and solidified our national reputation. through tours and collaborations with like-minded theatres across the country.
An important part of our core activities is the development of new work, through commissions, dramaturgy, workshops, readings and first productions.
The Belfry was founded as an ‘alternate theatre’, at a time when the Bastion Theatre existed as Victoria’s ‘regional (or mainstream) theatre’. With the demise of the Bastion, the Belfry maintained its ‘alternate theatre’ mandate, but assumed the leadership role that would normally be played by a regional theatre.
As a result, the Belfry Theatre plays a crucial role in the cultural ecology of our region. We recognize our responsibility as an artistic leader within Victoria, nurturing and supporting many of the artists and theatre companies within our community. The Belfry has programmes designed to assist in the development of Indigenous artists, craftspeople and administrators, high school students, independent theatre companies and theatre artists within our community. We believe in collaborating and sharing our resources with companies from the rest of British Columbia, and support cultural diversity, and the development of Indigenous artists and stories.
While the production of exciting theatre is the heart of who we are and what we do, our creative mentorship programmes, our audience engagement activities and our commitment to play development, help to make the Belfry an important cultural resource within the Capital Regional District, and beyond.
President Richard Brownsey
Vice-President Dr. Sheila Elworthy
Secretary Ross Woodland
Treasurer Robert Thomson, CA
Past President Helen Lansdowne
Dr. Joan Mcarthur-Blair
Honorary Board of Directors
Chair Emeritus Patrick Stewart
Robert Johnston, Q.C.
Dr. Brian Winsby
In the past 30 plus years the Belfry has produced 230 plays, including 158 Canadian plays, and more than 33 premieres.
The Belfry Theatre’s History
Now known as the Belfry Theatre, this former church is distinctive by virtue of its steeple and its location on a pedestrian square. At one point the original finish had been stuccoed over, but fortunately we can now see it again in all its former splendour.
The 1886-87 chapel to the west is a single-storey, front-gabled structure with a gabled vestibule-porch in front, both with open bed classical pediments. It has two shed-roofed additions on the sides, and Gothic windows. It is covered with drop siding that is slightly wider than that on the newer building.
The main building has a gable roof with a bracketed classical pediment and a large Romanesque arch window facing Gladstone, flanked by a two-storey tower with a hipped roof to the right (west) and a three-storey belfry with with octagonal steeple and eaves modillions to the left (on the corner of Gladstone and Fernwood). There are two cross-gables facing east and west, the east one with a bracketed classical pediment and another Romanesque window prominently visible from Fernwood; other, smaller Romanesque windows are used liberally over the building. Both large gable windows are filled with art glass. On the ground floor of the belfry the original doors have been removed, leaving interesting cruciform decorative patterns. The building is covered with drop siding on the first two storeys, with shingle on the gable pediments and on the upper portion of the belfry. The building is a good example of the Shingle church of the 1890s and early 1900s.
The Baptist congregation was formed in Victoria in 1874 when Alexander and Fanny Clyde moved here from Stratford, ON. First Baptist Church was officially organized in 1876, with eight black and seven white charter members. A mission known as Calvary Baptist Church in 1885 opened a Sunday School on Edmonton, now Bay Street, at the home of Peter Wilson. That congregation purchased for $550 the 120′ by 120′ lot at the corner of Fernwood and Gladstone, and on February 6, 1887 dedicated the newly built Spring Ridge Chapel. In 1890 Emmanuel Baptist Church was formed and the congregation constructed the main sanctuary in 1892 for $8,000. The Rev. Peter H. McEwen acted as construction supervisor, and it is believed that Thomas Hooper designed the main structure.
April 4, 1971 was the final Sunday service in this building, and Emmanuel Baptist congregation moved to their new sanctuary on Cedar Hill Cross Road in Saanich. The Springridge Cultural Centre was founded in 1974 by Michael Stephen to promote culture in the city and make use of the church’s vacant space. The building was renamed the Belfry in 1976, and the first professional adult theatre production was mounted in 1977: Puttin’ on the Ritz by the Belfry’s first Artistic Director, Don Shipley. The company bought the buildings in 1990, and embarked on a program of renovation and restoration which were completed in 2003. In 2001 the Belfry won Hallmark Society and Heritage Society of BC awards for the restoration of the exterior.
From: This Old House, Victoria’s Heritage Neighbourhoods, Volume One – Fernwood and Victoria West by the Victoria Heritage Foundation, 2004.
1900 Fernwood / 1291 Gladstone 1886 – 87; 1892
Spring Ridge Chapel; Emmanuel Baptist Church
Architect: Chapel – unknown; Church – Thomas Hooper (likely)
Construction Supervisor: Chapel – unknown; Church – Rev. Peter H. McEwen
You can view and download our Annual Reports and Audited Financial Statements here.
If you have any questions, please contact our Executive Director Ivan Habel (250-385-6835) or via email.