Fonds IP - Irene Prothroe fonds

Note from Mme. Ouspenskaya to Irene Prothroe accompanying flowers Widger's Way program Photograph of Irene Prothroe outside a building at (the University of British Columbia?) Photograph of Irene Prothroe as Beatrice in the 1958 Banff Centre production of "Much Ado Ab... Photograph of Irene Prothroe with friends Photograph of "Man of La Mancha" Photograph of Irene Prothroe in makeup Photograph titled "New Years Eve 1979, Sly Harris + Irene cutting up" Thank you letter with caricature of Irene Prothroe Irene Prothroe's ID card from the Department of Immigration and Colonization Chinese Immigration ...
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Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Irene Prothroe fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Graphic material
  • Object

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the contents of the fonds.

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pfla IP

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Dates of creation area


  • ca. 1924-1989 (Creation)
    Irene Prothroe

Physical description area

Physical description

ca. 93 cm of textual records
ca. 388 photographs : b&w and col.
30 strips of negatives : col. ; 16 mm
22 slides : col. ; 75 mm and 35 mm
2 silk ribbons
1 cloth calendar with metal pins and buttons attached

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Irene Prothroe (née Powlan, 1925-1989) is 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 was born on March 19th, 1925 in Winnifred Alberta to father Frank Yuen Powlan (b. 1887) and mother Mary Organ. Frank immigrated to Canada from Sunwui (Guangzhou, China) in his late teens, and is described by his son Henry as one of Alberta’s original Chinese herbalists. Mary was born in Liverpool England and met Frank in Raymond, Alberta. Irene has eight siblings, including Vi and Ron, both of whom also worked in the theatre.

Raised in Calgary, Prothroe was an original member of Workshop 14, organized by Dr. Betty Mitchell in classroom 14 of Western Canada High School. Prothroe continued her studies at the American Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles (1946-1949), where her tutors included Russian actress and teacher Maria Ouspenskaya. Prothroe was subsequently invited to join Charles Laughton’s Shakespeare Foundation in Los Angeles (1949), and later studied with Morris Carnovsky, and the dance instructor Hanja Holm in New York (1950). While visiting home during her studies in America, she married Jack Prothroe, a lawyer based in Calgary.

Irene taught drama at the University of Alberta (1951 to 1954); and at the University of British Columbia (1954-1957; 1970-1974). She received a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Alberta (1960) and a Bachelor’s of Education at the University of Calgary (1963).

As the recipient of two Canada Council Senior Arts Fellowships (1965, 1967), Prothroe was able to survey international theatres and theatre schools as well as attended conferences as the Canadian Representative of the International Theatre Institute.

While engaged at the Banff Centre during summers, 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). She worked the Radio Drama Producer for CBC Calgary (1974-1981) and founded the 85th Street Players, a touring dinner theatre group, and Powlan Productions with her brother Ron, in Calgary in the early 1980s.

Irene died of a brain aneurysm on October 11, 1989.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of material relating to Prothroe's professional life, personal life, and personal interests. The fonds is divided into nine series which reflect the many items found in the fonds. Materials in the fonds include textual records (both by Prothroe and by others), scripts, programs, articles (about Prothroe and others), photographs (personal and professional), and other material.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

In 1990, the executor of Irene Prothroe's estate transferred the materials to the Banff Centre Archives. The material was initially organized and itemized by Elizabeth Kundert-Cameron. Two supplementary boxes were found at an unspecified date.


Arrangement imposed by the processing archivist. Only archival material in the donation was preserved. Contact the Archives for a full listing of the material that arrived with the donation.

Language of material

  • English
  • French

Script of material

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Restrictions on access

There are no restrictions on access.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

Itineraries generated by the estate and by previous processing archivists are available in the accession file.

Associated materials

"Interview with Irene Prothroe by Peggy Leighton July 16, 1981" (Tape 1993-41.02), 1990-44.04, LE08A.004.

Related materials


The fonds consists of the following accruals: 1990-58. No further accruals are expected.

General note

Only some material in the fonds has been digitized. Please contact Banff Centre Archives to explore the whole fonds.

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  • English

Script of description


Brennan, Brian. "Theatre Pioneer left mark." Calgary Herald. Wed., May 28, 1997.

Leighton, David & Peggy. Artists, Builders and Dreamers. McClelland and Stewart Limited: Toronto.

Morrow, Martin. "Prothroe is praised by former students." Calgary Herald. Wed., October 18, 1989.

Powlan, Henry. Interview. The Chinese Canadian Oral History Project, University of Calgary. 2006.

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