This month’s #ArchivesHashtagParty is all about #ArchivesTrees. The Trinity College campus is home to dozens of trees, but perhaps the most notable tree has been gone for more than sixty years.
After two well-received performances here earlier in the decade, the Earle Grey Players opened Canada’s first Shakespeare festival in the Trinity College quadrangle on June 27, 1949 with a production of As You Like It. The Players were founded by Earle Grey and Mary Godwin, two married British actors with designs to cultivate an appreciation for Shakespeare in Canada. With provincial and municipal funding, the festival was expanded to include Elizabethan music concerts and an exhibit of Shakespeare books and prints. The Players also toured throughout small-town Ontario, often the first Shakespeare performance many rural students had the opportunity to see. The festival would run until 1959, when renovations at the College meant the space in the quadrangle used as a stage would no longer be available.
And now the tree: on July 2, 1951, in the festival’s third year, a cutting from a mulberry tree in the New Place garden in Stratford-upon-Avon (Image 1) was gifted to Grey and Godwin by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in honour of the festival. The original tree, said to have been planted by Shakespeare, was allegedly destroyed by an irate priest in the eighteenth century, so another mulberry was planted in its place. The cutting was planted in the Trinity quadrangle (Image 2) by the Sir Alexander Clutterbuck, British High Commissioner with great pomp and circumstance and much media coverage and was accompanied by a commemorative plaque (Image 3).
Sadly, the tree no longer exists. Records suggest that it died and was removed around 1960, possibly a casualty of the ongoing construction at Trinity College, or, possibly, overwatered by uric acid. Regardless, like the Earle Grey Players, the memory of Shakespeare’s symbolic trans-Atlantic mulberry lives on in the Trinity College Archives.
Sources: F2311 – Earle Grey Players Collection; The Shakespeare Festival: A Short History of the Initial Five Years of Canada’s First Shakespeare Festival 1949-1954 by Allan Caillou
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