Elizabeth (Sterling) Haynes

Elizabeth (Sterling) HaynesPhoto: Alchetron.com
Elizabeth (Sterling) Haynes
Photo: Alchetron.com

Elizabeth (Sterling) Haynes (theatre professional) was born on 7 December 1897 in Durham County, England. She moved to Toronto with her parents in 1905. From 1919 to 1920, she acted under Roy Mitchell in the inaugural season of Toronto’s Hart House Theatre. She then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto in 1920. Haynes was strongly influenced by Mitchell’s dedication to the development of local theatre in Canada and his charismatic approach to teaching and directing.

Haynes married Nelson Willard Haynes, a dentist, in 1921, and they moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1922. She began her career in Edmonton by serving as a guest director of the University of Alberta’s Dramatic Society from 1923 to 1924. She quickly established herself as a talented actress and director. She then became a founding member of the Alberta Drama League and the first artistic director of the Edmonton Little Theatre in 1929. She proved herself again when she was appointed the first provincial drama specialist for the University of Alberta’s Department of Extension, where she acquired the reputation of an innovative drama instructor. Between 1932 and 1937, she travelled across Alberta to teach workshops, judge festivals, deliver lectures, and advise on school and community productions. She also broadcasted drama instruction over CKUA radio and was involved in the Edmonton Little Theatre, Chautauqua Community Theatre, the Alberta Drama League, and the first provincial drama festival. She was so involved and influential that she earned the title of “one of Canada’s most influential pioneers of drama” (Hume 66).

In total, Haynes was directly or peripherally involved in the opening of sixty-five community theatre organizations in the West. She was also the co-founder of the Banff School of Fine Arts. In all this work, she sought to prove how valuable the dramatic arts were for preparing children for their futures – and that desire eventually brought her to New Brunswick.

Haynes came to New Brunswick in 1937 to give a course in Creative Dramatics at the first professional summer school for teachers held in Saint John. To Saint John writer Mary Grannan, who encountered Haynes through school drama festivals, Haynes was charismatic, strong-willed, and talented (Hume 66-67). Everyone was so impressed with her teaching abilities that she was invited to stay in New Brunswick until 1938. Her expanded role that year was to assist the New Brunswick Department of Education with an enriched drama-education program. Haynes put all of her talent and energy into the program, training teachers to be artistic leaders in their communities (Day, Potts 10). Throughout her stay in New Brunswick, she contributed to the training of drama teachers, gave lectures, issued reports, built a large collection of resource books for teachers, and established a series of school festivals in music, speech, art, drama, and physical education. After 1938, drama productions were being held in Sussex, Sackville, Marysville, Woodstock, Debec, Hartland, and many other rural areas of the province.

A wide array of individuals and organizations that came into contact with her soon sought her input. The provincial Women’s Institutes and Study Clubs wanted her help with their dramatic arts and literary endeavours. The Catholic Women’s Leagues followed suit. In her short time in New Brunswick (roughly two years) she contributed much to the provincial arts landscape. Haynes died at the age of fifty-nine in Toronto on 26 April 1957. Her legacy lives on through Alberta’s Sterling awards and in the continuing tradition of community theatre in New Brunswick.

Martyna Thomas, Winter 2015
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Haynes, Elizabeth. RS116. Records of Chief Superintendent [Fletcher Peacock] of Education, Music, Drama, Art 1937–1938. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. Fredericton, NB.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Day, Moira, and Marilyn Potts. “Elizabeth Sterling Haynes: Initiator of Alberta Theatre.” Theatre Research in Canada / Recherches théâtrales au Canada 8.1 (1987): 8-35.

Hume, Margaret A. Just Mary: The Life of Mary Evelyn Grannan. Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2006.