Portia Boulevard

  • The Merchant of Venice

  • Wartime housing

  • Postwar Christmas

Frances Hyland

Frederick Valk

The Merchant of Venice

Laid out by the Stratford Housing Co. in 1920, the name Portia Boulevard originated from the Shakespearean tradition that was well established in the "Classic City," as Stratford was then called. Other streets in the subdivision were Arden Park, Canterbury Avenue and Verona Park, all of them familiar in England and in the works of the Bard. All these streets appeared on the 1922 map of Stratford, but were not fully developed until much later.

Named for Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Portia Boulevard runs through the middle of the subdivision. The first houses were built in about 1935 on Stratford's first boulevard. There only other boulevard in the city, C. H. Meier Boulevard, was named much later. Portia is well-known to every student who studied The Merchant of Venice in high school. It is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays.

Tyrone Guthrie directed The Merchant of Venice in Stratford during the Festival's third season, 1955. It was staged in the Festival tent on the same site as the present Festival Theatre. Portia was played by Frances Hyland, Bassanio by Don Harron and Shylock by Frederick Valk. The production was designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch, with music by John Cook.

Guthrie engaged The Elizabethan Singers of Stratford, directed by Gordon Scott, to play an ensemble singing group during several scenes in the play. He had heard the Elizabethans in concert in the Festival tent in the previous season, and had been overwhelmed. The madrigal singers acted as attendants to Portia during scenes in which the suitors tried to prove their worthiness for marriage by choosing the appropriate casket. Source: Gord Conroy

The Czechoslovakian-born Valk was lured from England by Guthrie, who had directed him in a production of the same play at the "Old Vic" in London. Valk was described as "a Shylock of titanic dimensions." He died in 1956. Born in Saskatchewan, Frances Hyland grew up in Regina. She went to England to further her acting career, but was drawn back to Canada to appear opposite James Mason in Measure For Measure at Stratford in 1954. She had acted with Valk in London's West End and returned to Stratford in 1955 to co-star with him.

Like so many other Canadians, Hyland's talent was not fully recognized at home (in Canada) until she had achieved professional acting status abroad (in Britain). She returned to Stratford many times as an actor, and directed a production of Othello in 1979. There have been other productions of The Merchant of Venice at Stratford. In 1970, Jean Gascon directed Donald Davis as Shylock and Maureen O'Brien as Portia, and in 1976 Bill Glassco directed Hume Cronyn as Shylock and Jackie Burroughs as Portia.

Tanya Moiseiwitsch donated a framed sketch of Portia’s costume. It which was given a place of prominence in the Portia school, which opened on St. Vincent Street in 1967. By Stanford Dingman Photos: Festival Archives

From the Stratford Beacon-Herald in 1955: "The Stratford Elizabethan Singers, (see John Street) who have been delighting concert audiences for the past two years, will sing onstage in a Stratford Shakespearean Festival production this season. The Singers are shown in their costumes as Portia's attendants in Tyrone Guthrie's production of The Merchant of Venice, which has its first performance Wednesday." Standing, from left: Keith Elliott, John Boyden (see Waterloo Street), Velda Scott, Gordon Scott (director), Audrey Conroy (see Water Street), Miriam Root and Lloyd Bradshaw;. Sitting, from left: Jean Moorehead, Ilene Hunter and Helen Baumbach.

Wartime houses

The houses in this photo are good examples of wartime houses. Between 1941 and 1947, a federal Crown corporation called Wartime Housing Ltd. built 46,000 wartime homes across Canada. They were first built as rental units, but by 1944 the government had started to encourage ownership. Most of the houses were prefabricated and shipped to building sites. This resulted in homogenous developments in almost every major Canadian city.

Mickey the spaniel watches five-year-old Gail Plaskett hang her stocking in this Beacon-Herald photo from Dec. 24, 1946. Stratford-Perth Archives

Postwar Christmas, one of celebration

Christmas 1946 was a magical time for several Stratford families, as many veterans had returned home from the Second World War.

Two families in the city received Christmas presents they probably appreciated more than anything else Santa could deliver. They had their own houses, each with a chimney that Santa could use to facilitate his Christmas eve visit.

The families were George L. and Helen Ogden and their children Michael, 3, and Joseph 1; and Mr. and Mrs. A. G. Rosso and their son Leonard, 18 months. They were assigned by Wartime Housing Ltd. the first two houses on Portia Boulevard. Source: Reflections: by Ellen Thomas, Stratford-Perth Archives.