Our History

In 1956, George Merten founded the OPA, an umbrella organization for various puppetry guilds throughout the province of Ontario. Arriving from the United Kingdom in 1950 with his wife Elisabeth, Merten was hired by the Ontario Ministry of Education to conduct puppetry workshops, train trainers, and stimulate interest in the art of puppetry which, according to contemporary historians, was experiencing the rise of the second wave of modern puppeteers. Closely linked to its southern neighbours, the OPA was established to function in the image of the Puppeteers of America [PoA], founded in 1937, of which three of its presidents will be Canadian, including George Merten, Ken McKay.

 While PoA helped to found UNIMA-USA in 1966, it was not until 1969 that Ken McKay organized the foundation of UNIMA-Canada, which he led from 1976 to 1980. The opening of the Puppet Centre in 1980 marked the beginning of the golden age of puppetry in Ontario, which ended in 1994 when government grantors cut off funding to the centre (UNIMA). In 1995, all the OPA and Puppet Centre archives were donated to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. (Canadian Musem of History)

The OPA is now adapting to a paradigm shift: the numeric. Between 1998 and 2019, five directors of production companies took turns at the presidency. Since 2010, UNIMA-Canada has been the umbrella organization for the various Canadian chapters. In 2020, OPA officially becomes the Ontario Chapter of UNIMA-Canada.

As we enter the 2020s, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected our community. At the time of writing, it is difficult to know the full impact of this major crisis. Everything leads us to believe that the next wave of puppeteers will represent the diversity, the inclusion, and the dynamism of a millennium-old living discipline, more than ever connected to the major issues of today’s world.

First Wave Puppeteers (1920–1942)

• David and Violet Keogh
• Rosalynde Osborne Stearn
• Muriel Heddle
• Hal and Renee Marquette

Second Wave Puppeteers (1945–1968)

• Merten Marionettes (George and Elizabeth Merten)
• Hamilton Marionette Club (Kenneth and Dorothy McKay) (McKay, 1980)
• Canadian Puppet Festivals (Leo and Dora Velleman)

Third Wave Puppeteers (1969–1979)

• Frog Print Theatre (Nikki and Bob Tilroe)
• Lampoon Puppettheatre (Johan Vandergun)
• https://puppetmongers.com/ (Ann and David Powell)
• https://famouspeopleplayers.com/ (Diane Dupuy)
• Ronnie Burkett
• Noreen Young

The Puppet Centre (1980–1994)

• First Director (Dorothy McKay)
• Canadian Museum of History (Constance Nebel)

Puppeteers of Today (since 1995)


Ashby, J. B. (2015). From the Inside Out, from the Outside In: Devised Puppet Theatre in Toronto. University of Toronto. Retrieved 10 14, 2021, from https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/81442/3/Ashby_James_B_201511_PhD_thesis.pdf
Ashby, J. B. (2017). Riding the Wave, Enduring the Trough: Historical and OrganizationaL Patterns in Canadian Puppet Theatre History. Puppetry in Education. Retrieved 10 14, 2021, from https://www.unima-usa.org/pi-42-selection-2
Canadian Musem of History. (n.d.). History of Puppetry in Canada. Retrieved 10 14, 2021, from The Art of Puppetry: https://theatre.historymuseum.ca/narratives/details.php?lvl2=4810&language=frenc
McKay, K. (1980). Puppetry in Canada: An Art to Enchant. Toronto: Ontario Puppetry Association.
UNIMA. (n.d.). Canada. Retrieved 10 14, 2021, from World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts: https://wepa.unima.org/en/canada/