Chautauqua, a travelling institution begun on Chautauqua Lk, NY, and with Canadian roots in Methodist Temperance rallies, which carried education, inspiration and entertainment across N America. John M. Erickson brought the idea from the US to Alberta in 1917. He established Dominion Chautauquas (Canadian Chautauquas after 1926) with headquarters in Calgary, and with the help of his wife, Nola, operated successfully until 1935. They spread a network of tent circuits across Canada from the Pacific into Ontario, edging into Québec, and pushing into the northern fringes of settlement across the prairies.
Chautauqua programs consisted of 4 to 6 days of musical numbers, lectures, dramatic productions and magic or puppet shows. A different performance was presented daily, and performers then moved on to the next town on the circuit. Keeping workers, artists, tents and equipment moving smoothly along the circuits required careful organization and many employees. A total of some 50 young men handled the tents and approximately 80 young women helped organize local committees and directed the operation. These people, mainly university students, developed initiative, self-confidence and skills that gave them an excellent foundation for success in life.
Chautauqua was good family entertainment and the people loved it. To many it provided their only opportunity for a cultural experience. It broadened horizons and brought colour and beauty into many lives. Its end can be attributed to changes in popular taste, the increasing availability of movies and the spread of radio, as well as to an easing of Depression conditions.