The Florence Simmons Performance Hall, located in the Charlottetown Centre on Holland College’s Prince of Wales Campus, is the newest, and yet one of the most historical, venues in Prince Edward Island.
The auditorium, originally described as an assembly hall, was constructed as part of the third Prince of Wales College building, following a devastating fire that razed the college’s former brick and stone building in 1932. The new building, which was completed in less than a year, was celebrated in The Charlottetown Guardian as, “Modern in every detail, admirably suited to the educational requirements of Prince Edward Island and a structure in which may well be upheld the finest traditions of the building which it replaces…”. The newspaper was equally enthusiastic about the new assembly hall.
“Much care was taken in the planning and construction in order that the assembly has been given the best possible acoustic properties…. The electric lighting was a detail to which much attention was given,” an article celebrating the completion of the building reports.
The auditorium became the heart of the Prince of Wale College. It was in this room that students and staff would gather for a variety of activities, from amateur theatre to concerts by world-famous artists, to music festivals, graduation exercises, examinations, and sporting events.
As part of the Community Concert circuit, Prince of Wales College hosted distinguished internationally acclaimed musicians of the day, such as Conchita Gaston, The Danish National Orchestra, Edwin Steffe, Jan Rubes, John Knight, and Samuel Sorin. Other performers who appeared in the auditorium in that era include Lois Marshall, the von Trapp family. The students delighted in staging ambitious productions such as Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and Trial by Jury. The college’s very popular Red and Blue Revue was held in the hall, as were countless winter carnivals, talent shows, and movie nights.
Many famous acts performed in the hall during the early years of their careers, including Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Anne Murray, and Gordon Lightfoot. Impersonator Rich Little put on a show there, as did Crowbar, the Irish Rovers, and a wide variety of hypnotists.
More recently, with the opening of the Centre for Community Engagement’s large gymnasium in 2011, the old auditorium was only used as an auxiliary weight room.
With the establishment of the School of Performing Arts, a partnership with Confederation Centre of the Arts, the need for performance space became pressing, and in 2014, following a successful fundraising campaign by the Holland College Foundation, the transformation began.
The renovation project has brought the auditorium to life again. Once again, great attention has been paid to the acoustical and lighting requirements of the room. The décor reflects the rich history of the venue, and its deep emotional significance for Prince of Wales College alumni.
Although in many ways the interior of the room has been changed significantly – the wire screens that protected the windows for the last eight decades have been removed, and the venue is now a soft-seater for 303 – the ambience remains, and the charm of that bygone era lives on in the millwork, the architecture, and the finishing touches.
School of Performing Arts students have already started using the hall for rehearsals and performances, and bookings from within the college and from the greater community are increasing daily. The new Florence Simmons Performance Hall celebrates its opening almost exactly 83 years after the Prince of Wales College first celebrated the opening of the building, and promises once again to become a hub of activity not only for Holland College, but for all Islanders.
Find out more about Florence Simmons here.