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In the Archives: Irene Prothroe

By Meg Shields Posted on August 21, 2019

This project was made possible with the generous support of The William and Nona Heaslip Foundation Endowment for Archives for the Performing Arts and Archives Society of Alberta’s Access to Holdings Program.

The Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives has processed the archival collection of one of its faculty: Irene Prothroe, an actress, teacher, director, and producer who taught at the Banff Centre from 1958 to 1970, and served as the Head of the Theatre (1969-1970) and the Musical Theatre Division (1970-1974).

Irene Prothroe

Irene Prothroe (née Powlan, 1925-1989) was born on March 19th, 1925 in Winnifred Alberta. Her father, Frank, immigrated to Canada from Sunwui, China in his late teens, and is described by Irene’s brother Henry as one of Alberta’s original Chinese herbalists. Over her long career, Irene taught drama at U of A (1951 to 1954); and UBC (1954-1957; 1970-1974). When not engaged at the Banff Centre, Prothroe served as Artistic Director at the Calgary Arts Centre Theatre (1960-1964), and as a drama advisor to the University of Calgary (1961-1974).

The Irene Prothroe fonds offers a captivating record of the Albertan performing arts scene from the 1950s to the late 1970s. Her records document still-extant institutions and paint an evocative portrait of a woman who acted as one of the driving forces in the establishment of a provincial performing arts scene: who introduced big mainstream musicals to Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, toured children’s theatre in the rural corners of the province, and dedicated her life to the stage. Prothroe’s drive, dedication, and love of the theatre are evident in the record she left behind.

Photograph of Irene Prothroe as Beatrice in the 1958 Banff Centre production of "Much Ado About Nothing"

Photograph of Irene Prothroe as Beatrice in the 1958 Banff Centre production of "Much Ado About Nothing."

The Collection

The collection consists of material relating to Irene Prothroe’s professional and personal life and interests. The materials include correspondence, scripts, programs, newspaper clippings, reviews, photographs, slides, and administrative documents. The archival collection was donated to Banff Centre through Prothroe’s estate in 1990, and upon its receipt, the collection was itemized and partially organized. Now fully processed, it is our pleasure to have this fantastic research tool more accessible for those interested in the history of repertory theatre in Alberta.

Archival Processing

Project Archivist, Meg Shields, completed the processing of this collection. This work included arrangement and description, creating a finding aid (now accessible via Alberta on Record), re-housing all records in archival storage enclosures, and digitizing selections from the collection.

Digital objects

Once the collection was processed, textual and photographic records were selected for digitization. The goal of the selection process was to make compelling and representative objects from the collection more accessible and to minimize handling damage through the use of digital surrogates. We have also created digital preservation copies for objects with conservation issues. All of the collections’ digital objects can be viewed on Alberta on Record. We hope that you enjoy learning about Theatre History and Banff Centre through the Irene Prothroe fonds. If you would like more information, please email Banff Centre’s Archives.