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Paul Templin: Behind the curtain of almost four decades at Hart House

Paul Templin has retired after almost 40 years working at U of T's Hart House (photo by Scott Gorman)

In his 36 years of managing events, programming and the theatre at Hart House, Paul Templin met many fascinating people, but a few memories are etched on his mind: Riding in an elevator with Yoko Ono, writing letters with Christopher Plummer and escaping a fire thanks to a resident, friendly ghost.  
The former Hart House Theatre director worked for the Los Angeles Shakespeare Festival, the Westwood Playhouse and the Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles, but it was during his time at the University of Toronto that he experienced his greatest adventures in theatre. 
He says he will miss the magic of live theatre: Production sets where the imaginations of talented writers, actors and stage crew came alive. But he will also miss the space that he nurtured and helped grow. His favourite seat at Hart House Theatre is at Row K, seat 2 (it has a lot of legroom and allowed Templin to sneak in and out of shows). His favourite room at Hart House (outside the Hart House Theatre) is the Great Hall. 

Watch a 360 video of Hart House's Great Hall, with Paul Templin as a guide


On Nov. 26, Templin celebrated almost four decades at U of T at a retirement reception hosted by his colleagues at Hart House. As he closes this chapter of his life, Templin shares with us three memories of his home away from home, from ghostly to international sensations. 

1. Escaping fires thanks to Bert the ghost 

When Templin managed Hart House Theatre, he would sometimes work long shifts, coming in at 8 a.m. and staying as late as 1 a.m. Sometimes he would even sleep in his office to avoid a long commute home.
One night, the door of his office swung violently open, hitting the cot that he was sleeping on and waking him up. Heavy smoke filled the room.
The door had a frosted windowpane and as it swung shut, Templin saw a figure behind the frosted door. He assumed someone had come to warn him of a fire that broke out at Hart House. 
It turned out to be an electric fire, which spread throughout Hart House Theatre. “The hallway and the room next to my office were filled with smoke. There was smoke everywhere,” Templin recalls. 
As a small group met outside the burning building (the caretakers and the warden of Hart House, who lived there at the time), Templin asked which one of them came by his office. None of them did. “I attributed it to Bert,” says Templin, referring to a ghost that was purportedly spotted at Hart House on various occasions. Bert was a caretaker at Hart House before he died after being struck by a streetcar on College Street. 
“A few years after the fire a woman came to see me and told me that I knew her grandfather,” says Templin.  “I had no idea who she was talking about, but she insisted that I knew him.” The woman’s grandfather’s name was “Albert."
Templin took her on a tour around Hart House to show her where Bert would have worked. “And as far as I know no one has seen the ghost since,” he says. “It’s almost as though her visit expelled the ghost.”

2. Pulling strings with Yoko Ono 

Paul Templin and Yoko Ono

In 2002, Yoko Ono was in Toronto for a retrospective of her work at the Art Gallery of Ontario. “She wanted to do a live performance, and it ended up being at Hart House Theatre,” says Templin. When Ono came by for a rehearsal she asked Templin if she could use his office to get ready. Templin readily agreed and asked Ono if he might be able to get a photo with her.  

Later, hundreds came out to see her performance, which Templin says was an interpretive piece. 
“It started as an interview with her and the president of the AGO, but at one point of the interview she took out a large black bag. She got into the bag and got naked and did the rest of the interview naked in the bag,” says Templin. “She later did a demonstration with a chair – 37 ways of using a chair, or something like that,” he says. “Then she had her assistants work around the auditorium, twisting the blue yarn around everyone, and pulling the yarn around both her toes so that everyone in the room felt the tugging.”  
Templin also says she gave a piece of a puzzle to everyone in the room and told them that in 50 years everyone should come back and put the puzzle together.
“As we were going up the elevator together, Yoko said loudly, ‘Stop!’ and asked one member of her entourage to take a picture of us,” he says. 
Templin didn’t think he would get to see the photo, but a month later she sent it to him in an envelope. “She was quite chatty and very nice and pleasant – a bit wacky.”

Read about Yoko Ono’s first time at U of T: Her iconic concert with John Lennon at Varsity Stadium in 1969 


3. Writing letters with Christopher Plummer

Paul Templin with Christopher Plummer
In 2001, the CBC asked the renowned actor Christopher Plummer to talk about receiving the Governor General's Performing Arts Award. 
Around this time, there were concerns that Hart House Theatre may have to close. Templin was working on a document that outlined incorporating the theatre into Hart House as a response to possible closure. 
Plummer felt personally invested in the cause. “He loved it, all his friends loved it, and he wanted it to stay open to convey how important theatre is to society,” says Templin. “He wanted to give his speech for the CBC at Hart House Theatre."
Templin got to spend the day with Plummer during the CBC shoot, and afterwards Plummer wrote a letter in support of keeping the theatre open, which Templin included in his plea to keep Hart House Theatre open. 
“He was a real gentleman, such a nice man. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times. Extremely talented and generous man with his time and wisdom,” Templin recalls. The two would keep in touch, and had dinner again years later when Plummer received his honorary degree at U of T. 
And Templin’s plan was accepted: The theatre was incorporated into Hart House for three temporary years, and stayed open thereafter.
Below, Paul Templin in his favourite seat at Hart House Theatre. Photo and the 360 video by Veronica Zaretski.
Paul Templin