Child wonders, sword dancing, impersonations and scotch reels were all part of the advertised repertoire of the Rossley Kiddies, Newfoundland’s first vaudeville troupe.
The Kiddies performed a mix of music, theatre and dance during the First World War, entertaining St. John’s residents during wartime.
The Archives and Special Collections Division recently digitized the Rossley Kiddie Company Collection as part of Memorial Libraries’ digital humanities project, Lasting Remembrance.
“Lasting Remembrance is the libraries’ initiative to pull together all the phenomenal resources we have across our campuses and make them accessible through a digital portal,” said Colleen Quigley, acting division head, Archives and Special Collections, and manuscripts librarian.
The Rossley Collection offers an interesting glimpse of the entertainment scene of the province’s capital city 100 years ago. Newspaper reviews of the day, also digitized as part of Lasting Remembrance, describe in great detail the escapism that the Rossley family provided for audiences of the day.
Ms. Quigley talks about the Rossley Kiddie Company Collection in the video below.
“There is so much fantastic local, national and international research being done about the First World War, especially about the soldier’s experiences,” Ms. Quigley says in the video. “One of the untapped areas ripe for research is what happened on the home front. How were people entertaining themselves? What were everyday people talking about during the war?”
The Rossleys remain shrouded in mystery despite having been high profile performers of the day. Jack and Marie Rossley moved their family to Newfoundland from New York around 1911 and operated several theatres in downtown St. John’s and on Bell Island from approximately 1911-17, including Rossley’s East and Rossley’s West and later the British Hall known as the “British Theatre-Paramount photo play picture palace.” Jack Rossley boasted to the public that his establishments “were not forbidden by the Church.”
1/ The Rossley Kiddies in clown costumes
2/ Portrait postcard, Rossley Collection
3/ The Rossley troupe with Canadian soldiers
It is unclear why the Rossley’s moved to Newfoundland, or why they relocated to Saint John, N.B., in 1918. Both Jack and Marie were immigrants to the United States and were married there. Jack was born in Scotland and Marie was born in Britain, and both seemed to possess in equal measure a pioneering sense of adventure.
The Rossley Kiddies’ troupe performed several times a week at the Rossley theatres and toured throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The tours could last as long three months and with as many as 40 performers, mostly female.
Lasting Remembrance enriches exploration and discovery during a pivotal point in the world’s history, and of the province’s history. The Rossley Collection is one example of a small thread of history that may have otherwise been missed, but now offers enough information to tease enthusiasts to search for more of the world to which they belonged.