Murray Hill Road

Barbra Collier, soprano

Murray Hill Road was named for Dr. Leo Murry. He was associated with Lloyd Drummond as vice-president of the Victorian Inn when it was expanded in the 1960s. Drummond added the name Hill onto the name Murray because he thought it sounded better. 

Barbara Collier discusses her singing role with director George McCowan, Henry VIII in 1961Stratford-Perth Archives

Barbara Collier, soprano

In the summer of 1961, Barbara  Jean Collier was at work in the Stratford Festival box office. There was a scene in Henry VIII where Katherine of Aragon needed cheering up by a song from a lady-in-waiting. Louis Applebaum decided to write a song that could be sung by an actor or singer for the scene. Tom Patterson said, "There is a kid in the box office who sings, give her a try." Gordon Scott (see John Street), with whom Barbara was studying,  came and got her and she sang for Lou and George McCowan, who was directing the play. They said, "Fine, you're hired." Lou wrote a beautiful song called  Orpheus With His Lute for her to sing (taken from Dean Robinson's book Not the Last Waltz and other Stratford stories.

Barbara had not been on stage before, and one afternoon, Kate Reid, who was playing Katherine, offered to teach her the ropes about being on stage.  They met alone on stage though the theatre lights were on, and Kate taught her how to move with her heavy costume, how to manage stairs, how to kick her dress out if she was going to stand up, and how to react to lines as if she had never heard them before.  

Barbara studied voice from 1956 to 1959 with Gordon Scott, choirmaster at St. Johns Church (see Waterloo Street). Then she studied singing in London, Salzburg, Cologne and Budapest after graduating from Trinity College, University of Toronto.

She has been acclaimed internationally for her appearances with orchestras in Europe, the United States and Canada. Her repertoire extends from the oratorios of Bach, Haydn and Mozart to the music of Richard Strauss, Villa-Lobos, Canteloube and Gilbert and Sullivan.

Barbara was born and grew up in Stratford. Her father Bill had come to Canada in 1923.  William Henry Cormode Collier (1900-1975), was a railway engineer and sang in the choir at St Paul's church at the corner of Waterloo and Douro Streets as did his daughter before she joined St. John's across the street to sing with Gordon Scott in his exceptional church choir. Her mother had arrived in Canada in 1924 and had married Bill Collier in 1937.  Barbara was born in 1940 and attended Romeo Public School and later Stratford Collegiate before Trinity College at U of T. 

Barbara's memories from her early days in Stratford are rich indeed.  Here's one from the train station just a block from her home at 205 Nile Street.  "Does anyone remember as a little kid, standing on the platform in the middle of winter, waiting in the dark for the early morning train to Toronto? All of a sudden, you'd hear the whistle, then a bright light lit up the snow and the train pulled into the station and you were off to a day in the exciting big city. The train arrived in time for breakfast at Murray's in the Royal York, then it was off to Eaton's, Simpson's, perhaps a show at the Royal Alex, etc. AND, if your parents wanted to stay and catch an evening theatrical or musical event, you could walk to Union Station and get the late train (it left some time around 11:00) home. Those were the days, my friends. "

Barbara also remembers Beattie's grocery Store at 34 Ontario Street where her mother first worked though she later worked as a proofreader at The Stratford Beacon Herald.  Barbara loved visiting and meeting people in both locations. "My Mother (Isobel Mary Hislop Collier 1908.1956) came from Scotland in 1924 to work for her uncle, John Hislop, who owned Beatty's. She lived with her aunt and uncle in a gorgeous home at 60 Daly Ave., since torn down. She returned to Scotland a couple of times before returning in 1937. Emerson Wright, who eventually owned the store, started out as a young man working with my Mum. Charlie Dadswell was another employee, who may have owned it before Emerson. Needless to say, we were patrons of the store and Em and Charlie were among my favourite people to visit. They had the best British products for sale, as well as bins for potatoes and onions. The smell in the store was magical and on the counter where you gave your order was a huge chunk of cheddar, on an elevated plate, covered by a bell jar. The original ceiling and light fixtures remain - the premises eventually became the Gospel Lighthouse. "

Barbara also remembers her time singing with The Elizabethan Singers, in the late 1950s, led by Gordon Scott. The Elizabethans were a group of very talented madrigal singers all from Stratford who sang at The Stratford Festival and gave concerts not only in Stratford but throughout Ontario and further away when family responsibilities made it possible. (see John Street). I joined the Elizabethan Singers who operated from 1953 to 1959 near the end of their time together. Madrigal singing was such fun. I started out singing second soprano, which was a great way to learn to read music when you did not have the advantage of the melody. We had some lovely concerts out of town. Gordon always warned us not to break up when we sang funny songs: "You make the audience laugh, you mustn't." Years later when I sang the role of Mimi in La Boehme with the Canadian Opera Company, we had one rehearsal where we were all in tears. Jan Rubes, our director, said: "This is the last time you cry - from now on you have to make the audience cry." I thought back to Gordon - same advice, different emotion. I was very young when I joined The Elizabethans and I remember with great fondness how nicely I was welcomed by older singers like Velda [Scott, Gordon's wife], Miriam [Root] (see John Street]  and Ilene [Hunter]. If I can trust my memory, John Boyden, (see Waterloo Street),  had already left [to study voice further in]  Europe, [1955], replaced by Jim Chalmers. " 

One final memory concerns her home, her father, his sense of fair play and the rent the Collier family paid at 205 Nile Street.  

"Having grown up in Stratford, when I walk in the cemetery I like to pause at the gravesites of people I knew, remembering them and how I knew them. Yesterday I came across the headstone of Raymond and Helen Sinclair. Ray taught math for years at Stratford Collegiate. His lovely wife's maiden name was Humber.  Her father owned the semi-detached house where I grew up. Seeing that name took me back decades to when Mr. Humber, a well-dressed older gentleman, used to visit his tenants to collect the rent. My Mother always made tea and they sat at the kitchen table and had good conversations. What a lovely time that was, when people had time to chat person to person. It was the same with the local shopkeepers.  A gentler age for sure.

"Mr. Humber wanted to sell the house since he was aging and offered it to my Dad. Dad never wanted to own, so Mr. Humber sold it to Bert Jones, who lived in the other half. Bert was a railroad man as well, a few years older than my Dad, with four grown children. We had a very close relationship with the Joneses, over the back fence, the front porch and my Mum and Mrs. Jones would talk through a window in the cellars - no pane, just bars. Both used to hang their laundry in the cellar in the winter. We paid rent to Bert Jones and one day my Dad went over and told Bert he was raising his own rent - Bert was just charging $7.00 a month for our side of the house. Hard to believe when you look at rents today. I don't remember how much he raised it but the story always amuses me. Those were the days when neighbours were an integral part of community living. "

In Barbara's storied career, she has sung with the Toronto Symphony, Orchestra London, the Calgary Philharmonic, the Hamilton Philharmonic, the K-W Symphony, Toronto Philharmonic and the York Symphony, and as soloist with the Stratford Concert Choir.

Barbara has performed with Toronto Operetta Theatre to showcase the music of Ivor Novello and Victor Herbert. A most memorable concert was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, held at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre. She was partnered with Mark Dubois, Mark Pedrotti and the late John Arpin.

Frequent radio and television appearances in Europe and Canada include CBC’s  Play Gypsy, a special on the music of Imre Kalman, and an appearance with the legendary Tito Gobbi, filmed in Rome as part of the Masters of the Performing Arts Series. Barbara now has a teaching studio at 52 Murray Hill Rd.  Source: Stratford Music Teachers; If you grew up in Stratford... FB;   William Henry Cormode Collier (1900-1975) - Find a Grave Memorial