Francis and Florette (Kerr)

Vic Polley

Polley's boys

One of the few Places in Stratford, this street is named for Francis Patrick (Paddy) Polley (1892-1962), who was known to several generations of Stratford boys as a friend and leader of their choir, the prize-winning and record-breaking Alpha Juvenile Choristers.

Born in Newry, Ireland, in 1892, as a youth Polley moved to London, England, with his family. He became a boy soloist at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, under one of England's finest teachers of the day, Harvey Grace (1874-1944), an English musician, composer and conductor. At the age of six, he was doing solo work for Grace and visited many parts of England.

Upon moving to Canada as a young man, Polley came directly to Stratford. Unable to earn a living through his music, he got a job in the Canadian National Railways locomotive repair shops. For many years, he was bass soloist at St. James Anglican Church.

Picture: Francis Patrick Polley (centre) with six of the men who sang in Richard III the first year of the Stratford Festival. The program lists the men in alphabetical order: Grant Ellison, Ross Heimpel, Ernest House, George Leinweber, Robert Moorehead and Glenn Richards. Source: Stratford-Perth Archives: Family Ties by Nora Polley

In 1930, Polley organized the Alpha Juvenile Choristers. There were just six boys and their first public appearance was in the Knox Church Sunday school, Flora (Patterson) Polley suggested the name "Alpha" because it was the first choir organized in Stratford in many years. Her husband worked with the choir for 32 years. He was never paid; he just loved working with the boys and girls.

The Alpha Juvenile Choristers' second public appearance was in the Majestic Theatre (now the Avon Theatre). They sang with the CNR Orchestra and the choir grew quickly, both in popularity and in members. The Alpha Juvenile Choristers competed in the music festival in the early 1930s. They lost to Peterborough in their the first year, but never again were the Paddy Polley boys beaten. They achieved a record-setting 96 marks in 1936, a score that has never been bettered.

The one annual engagement the boys never missed was the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, not as competitors, but as "invited guests." For almost three decades the Alpha Juvenile Choristers sang at several locations throughout the grounds and entertained tens of thousands of visitors to "the Ex." They always went on Music Day, and their only pay was a meal ticket and free admission to the grandstand.

Flora Polley died on New Year's Day, 1935. She and Paddy had married in 1914. Their two children were Reta Janet, 1918-2000 (married Spencer Doherty, who for many years worked in the Avon Theatre's box office; and Victor Charles Polley (1916-1995), who became the administrative director of the Stratford Festival.

Paddy Polley's second wife was Stratford music teacher Florette Kerr, who also became the accompanist to the Polley choirs.

The Alpha Juvenile Choristers (boys) were best known, but the Polleys also had the Alpha Maidens (young girls), the Alpha Ladies Choir, the Alpha Ladies Ensemble, and the Canadian National Recreation Association male chorus. Through the years, eight members of the Polley family worked at the Festival. They did everything from box office and front of house to ushering, from wardrobe to production to financial campaigns, up to Vic's job as administrative director. But for Paddy Polley, his choirs always came first. He had almost 800 boys plus several hundred girls enrolled over 32 years. There were 150 boys in his choir at the time of his death in October 1962. By Stanford Dingman

Nora Polley, author

Vic Polley was the father of Nora Polley, who wrote a book called Whenever You’re Ready: Nora Polley on Life as a Stratford Festival Stage Manager

Whenever You’re Ready is an account of her 52-year career at the Stratford Festival. She worked with and learned from and cared for some of the greatest directors, actors, stage managers, and productions in Canadian theatrical history. Source: Stratford Public Library

Thanks Nora for the pictures.