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News - Aug. 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:40
Racers tore up the track and flew through the air over the weekend at the Walton Raceway as the Rockstar Energy Drink Pro Nationals and The Parts Canada TransCan Grand National Championships were held at the venue. While Saturday’s weather didn’t exactly co-operate, it didn’t seem to hinder racing conditions or attendance as it was yet another great weekend for Walton. (Denny Scott photo)
Racers tore up the track and flew through the air over the weekend at the Walton Raceway as the Rockstar Energy Drink Pro Nationals and The Parts Canada TransCan Grand National Championships were held at the venue. While Saturday’s weather didn’t exactly co-operate, it didn’t seem to hinder racing conditions or attendance as it was yet another great weekend for Walton. To view a gallery of pictures from the weekend, click here. (Denny Scott photo)
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 13:29
 
Walton TransCan Pleases Audiences - Aug. 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:36
Despite some unco-operative weather, Walton Raceway President and General Manager Brett Lee says the annual Parts Canada TransCan Grand National Championships went extremely well over the weekend.
The event, which features the final races of the Rockstar Energy Drink Pro Nationals, was hit hard by rain on Saturday, however, Lee said he still noticed increases at the event.
“Overall, we were happy,” he said. “The racing was great.”
Friday night’s concert featuring Jason Blaine was well attended according to Lee and, as far as racers went, entries were on par with last year, which is always the case.
“The attendance on Sunday, after the rain, was good, if not better than previous years,” he said. “We haven’t figured out exactly how things went.”
While the numbers are still being tallied, Lee said that one thing he did take note of was local attendance.
“We had a way higher local turnout than ever before,” Lee said. “I saw a lot of new faces at the event that I knew were from around the area. That’s the most important thing to me since we want the event to be a community one that everyone can take pride in and everyone can find something interesting at.
“This brings a lot of business to the communities around Walton,” he said. “I want people to benefit from that and when I see local people out, I think that might be happening.”
Racer Mike Alessi of Florida was named The King of Walton and took home the coveted Sword of Walton. He also finished second in the Rockstar Energy Drink Pro Nationals MX1 category, beat out by St. Thomas native Colton Facciotti for the top spot.
Check out The Citizen’s website for a gallery of photos from the weekend.
As part of The Parts Canada TransCan Grand National Championship at the Walton Raceway over the weekend, country music star Jason Blaine took to the stage on Friday evening for a well-attended concert. (Denny Scott photo)
Despite some unco-operative weather, Walton Raceway President and General Manager Brett Lee says the annual Parts Canada TransCan Grand National Championships went extremely well over the weekend.
The event, which features the final races of the Rockstar Energy Drink Pro Nationals, was hit hard by rain on Saturday, however, Lee said he still noticed increases at the event.
“Overall, we were happy,” he said. “The racing was great.”
Friday night’s concert featuring Jason Blaine was well attended according to Lee and, as far as racers went, entries were on par with last year, which is always the case.
“The attendance on Sunday, after the rain, was good, if not better than previous years,” he said. “We haven’t figured out exactly how things went.”
While the numbers are still being tallied, Lee said that one thing he did take note of was local attendance.
“We had a way higher local turnout than ever before,” Lee said. “I saw a lot of new faces at the event that I knew were from around the area. That’s the most important thing to me since we want the event to be a community one that everyone can take pride in and everyone can find something interesting at.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 13:30
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North Huron Water Rates on the Rise - Aug. 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:33
North Huron ratepayers will be seeing a 3.5 per cent increase annually for the next five years on their water bills, as well as a $10 increase in reserve costs per month on each bill.
During a special public information session on Aug. 13, North Huron Township Council was told that its 2008 plan to raise reserves to make its water and wastewater systems is well on track.
Matthew Pearson from B.M. Ross presented a report that stated North Huron has, over the last five years, raised $1 million for both water and wastewater infrastructure.
The report also presented council with what the engineering firm felt is a schedule of logical increases to prepare for the future and better fund the operation of the water systems.
Council members decided that since there were no questions from the public at that point, they were prepared to vote on the recommendations, which they did at North Huron’s regular council meeting on Aug. 18 when they approved the increases.
During the Aug. 13 meeting, Pearson explained that life-cycle estimates have the municipality needing as much as $12 million to replace water mains from 2042-2051 and $18 million to replace sanitary facilities and sanitary sewer mains from 2032 to 2041, so the township needed to have more money available at some point. However, given where council had started, the township is doing well.
Other replacement costs will also be incurred in the coming decades, however those costs will be far lower according to the life-cycle estimates.
In 2008, when the municipality sat down to consider the future of the water and wastewater systems, $500,000 was necessary for operation of the water and wastewater system and $200,000 was necessary for immediate repairs.
“At that time, there was nothing set aside from long-term repairs,” he said.
At the time, Blyth and Wingham didn’t have a standardized water and sewer rate. It was decided to bring both wards’ billings to a new, higher standard charge. Pearson explained that, while it was an increase for ratepayers in both Blyth and Wingham, it wasn’t as severe for Blyth who had been paying more for wastewater services.
Pearson explained later in the meeting that he was suggesting a 3.5 per cent per annum increase over five years on the cost of water usage for metered ratepayers and a 3.5 per cent per annum increase  on the flat rate paid by some customers in the municipality.
That would be accompanied by a $5 per system (wastewater and water) increase in reserve costs per month, or an increase for each ratepayer of $10 per month, or $120 per year.
The report Pearson provided acknowledged that, while the increases are considerably less than what is necessary for the township’s asset management plan and replacement life cycles, it would serve to continue to bring in funds and prepare for large expenses.
He said that if council wanted  reserves to reach levels that could prepare them for replacing the entire water and wastewater system, they would need to increase water reserve charges from $10 a month to $28 a month and for wastewater from $10 a month to $33 a month, changes which he didn’t feel ratepayers would find palatable.
As of right now, average metered ratepayers pay 84 cents per cubic metre of water. Pearson explained that a cubic metre is 2,000 units of bottled water to help council visualize the cost.
“Right now, people are paying 84 cents for the same amount of water that is in 2,000 water bottles,” he said. “It’s not very expensive.”
These increases will see that rate increase by approximately three cents per year over five years to bring each cubic metre of water to $1.
Pearson said that prior to the aforementioned changes in 2008, 83 per cent of the water bills were a flat rate. As part of the change, in the Wingham ward and for certain water usage types including commercial and industrial, the rates changed so 54 per cent of the bill reflects a flat rate charge and 46 per cent is based on usage.
“It was risky then to make that change,” Pearson said. “With a big shift like that, people might over-react and use less water and reduce the income in the system, but it seemed to work.”
Blyth’s lower density residential ratepayers, however, stay on a flat-rate service and, due to the cost of implementing metering being prohibitively expensive compared to the savings, it will likely stay as such.
Another big change that was implemented then was how multiple-unit residential properties were handled. Costs were shifted to the landlord who would then have to recover those costs from renters.
North Huron Director of Finances Donna White, however, said that more changes may be coming for that.
“We want to meter more in Blyth,” she said. “We especially want to look at apartment buildings and make it more equitable. We found it would make it more fair to meter individual apartments.”
That plan, however, will have to wait until a later date.
The last topic to be covered at the meeting was out-of-town users.
Pearson explained that council, under its new policy, would not be charging all that they could to neighbouring municipalities.
“You are charging 150 per cent for usage which is pretty standard, but you didn’t apply it to the reserve costs, which you could,” he said to council. “You could charge that and there is no reason you shouldn’t. I think it just sort of got overlooked or forgotten before.”
Councillors present at the Aug. 13 meeting, however, said they didn’t feel the change-over would be worth the fight.
North Huron ratepayers will be seeing a 3.5 per cent increase annually for the next five years on their water bills, as well as a $10 increase in reserve costs per month on each bill.
During a special public information session on Aug. 13, North Huron Township Council was told that its 2008 plan to raise reserves to make its water and wastewater systems is well on track.
Matthew Pearson from B.M. Ross presented a report that stated North Huron has, over the last five years, raised $1 million for both water and wastewater infrastructure.
The report also presented council with what the engineering firm felt is a schedule of logical increases to prepare for the future and better fund the operation of the water systems.
Council members decided that since there were no questions from the public at that point, they were prepared to vote on the recommendations, which they did at North Huron’s regular council meeting on Aug. 18 when they approved the increases.
During the Aug. 13 meeting, Pearson explained that life-cycle estimates have the municipality needing as much as $12 million to replace water mains from 2042-2051 and $18 million to replace sanitary facilities and sanitary sewer mains from 2032 to 2041, so the township needed to have more money available at some point. However, given where council had started, the township is doing well.
Other replacement costs will also be incurred in the coming decades, however those costs will be far lower according to the life-cycle estimates.
In 2008, when the municipality sat down to consider the future of the water and wastewater systems, $500,000 was necessary for operation of the water and wastewater system and $200,000 was necessary for immediate repairs.
“At that time, there was nothing set aside from long-term repairs,” he said.
At the time, Blyth and Wingham didn’t have a standardized water and sewer rate. It was decided to bring both wards’ billings to a new, higher standard charge. Pearson explained that, while it was an increase for ratepayers in both Blyth and Wingham, it wasn’t as severe for Blyth who had been paying more for wastewater services.
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Central Huron's Lexi Aitken in China for Youth Olympics - Aug. 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:22
On Friday, Londesborough-area athlete Lexi Aitken will be taking to the track in the Summer Youth Olympic Games, which are taking place in Nanjing, China.
Aitken was nominated by Athletics Canada in July to participate in the event alongside nine fellow Canadians. The Central Huron Secondary School student, and former Hullett Central Public School student, who now trains through a club in London, will be running in the women’s 400-metre hurdles.
Two qualification heats will be held on Friday, while the two final races will run on Monday, Aug. 25.
Eighteen athletes, including the 16-year-old Aitken, will be participating in the qualifying heats. Aitken’s fellow hurdlers hail from the Bahamas, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, South Africa, Sudan and Switzerland.
For more information on the games, visit nanjing2014.org and check back with The Citizen next week to see how Aitken did.
On Friday, Londesborough-area athlete Lexi Aitken will be taking to the track in the Summer Youth Olympic Games, which are taking place in Nanjing, China.
Aitken was nominated by Athletics Canada in July to participate in the event alongside nine fellow Canadians. The Central Huron Secondary School student, and former Hullett Central Public School student, who now trains through a club in London, will be running in the women’s 400-metre hurdles.
Two qualification heats will be held on Friday, while the two final races will run on Monday, Aug. 25.
Eighteen athletes, including the 16-year-old Aitken, will be participating in the qualifying heats. Aitken’s fellow hurdlers hail from the Bahamas, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, South Africa, Sudan and Switzerland.
For more information on the games, visit nanjing2014.org and check back with The Citizen next week to see how Aitken did.
 
The Blyth Festival Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary With Cabaret - Aug. 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:18
On Sunday, the Phillips Studio played host to a beautiful retrospective of productions from the Blyth Festival’s 40 seasons, assembling a number of familiar faces, both on stage and in the audience, to make it a special day in the Festival’s history.
Envisioned, composed and directed by Janet Amos, two-time artistic director of the Blyth Festival, the cabaret spanned plays from as far back as 1978 with The School Show to as recent as this season’s Kitchen Radio, showcasing many of the Festival’s greatest successes in between.
The “cast” for the show was a who’s who of the Festival’s history, including Amos herself, who reprised her role from 1981’s He Won’t Come In From The Barn alongside her husband, one of the Festival’s most cherished sons Ted Johns. The cast featured Kelly McIntosh, Gil Garratt, Anne Lederman, Anne Anglin, Lorna Wilson and Beverley Cooper from the Festival’s past, as well as the majority of the company from this year’s season. It was hosted by Artistic Director Marion de Vries and Stag and Doe actor Eli Ham.
In the audience for the event, held on the Festival’s Homecoming weekend, was Jim Schaefer, a member of the inaugural Blyth Festival in 1975. Schaefer acted in both Mostly In Clover and The Mouse Trap. Alf Humphries, a member of the company in 1976 and 1977, was also in attendance, as were Mildred McAdam, Marian Doucette and Marian Zinn, all long-time members of the Festival’s board of directors.
Also taking in the show was long-time Festival supporter and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature, Alice Munro. Also in Blyth for the weekend was long-time Festival contributor Paul Thompson, who has been named to the Order of Canada, and he and Anglin’s daughter Severn, an accomplished actress and director of Beyond The Farm Show, from last year’s Festival season. The crowd also featured a number of local faces who have been involved with the Festival, as well as the Blyth Centre for the Arts, since their inception.
Sunday’s performance began with a collective musical piece from The Outdoor Donnellys of 2001, with McIntosh singing the lead. The play would be revisited later in the afternoon with “Bridget’s Song” performed by McIntosh alongside Melba Bingeman on autoharp.
The Donnellys made another appearance as David Fox, from this season’s St. Anne’s Reel, performed a monologue/song from The Death Of The Donnellys.
The performance continued with a mix of dramatic scenes and musical performances, both of which have been in abundance in Blyth over the past 40 seasons.
Anglin, from past seasons of the Festival, performed a scene from former Festival Artistic Director Anne Chislett’s The Tomorrow Box from 1981 alongside Elizabeth Kalles and Nicole Joy-Fraser from this year’s Festival season.
Johns revisited his one-man show from 1978 The School Show, as well as 1981’s He Won’t Come In From The Barn alongside his wife Amos, who, in the scene, hoped to convince him to finally leave his barn and accompany her on a trip to Ireland.
Wilson reprised her role as Gypsy Savage in Lilly, Alta for a dramatic monologue as the Hungarian immigrant, while Innocence Lost: A Play About Steven Truscott playwright Beverley Cooper performed a number of readings, as several different characters from the Governor General’s Award-winning play.
On the musical side, Lederman, who this season took on the task of teaching violin to St. Anne’s Reel actors Fox and J.D. Nicholsen, performed throughout the show. She played a supporting role to Nicholsen, who played a young Hank Williams, and Greg Gale, who played a young Ernie King, in two songs from Barndance Live from 1996. She took a lead role in a scene from Spirit Of The Narrows from 2005, with featured some awe-inspiring violin.
Rebecca Auerbach, Emily Lukasik, Joy-Fraser and Kalles, alongside de Vries, performed “Good, Good Girls” from 1987’s Girls In The Gang, while Auerbach, Joy-Fraser and Lukasik reprised their roles from earlier this season and performed “I’m Not The One” from Kitchen Radio, this season’s opening production.
Garratt, who spent 13 consecutive seasons with the Festival, reprised his role of Eck, mullet wig and all, from Michael Healey’s The Nuttalls from 2009. Garratt performed the hilarious love song “Pick A Finger”.
Current company members Nicholsen and Auerbach, both of whom performed in the world premiere season of Ken Cameron’s Dear Johnny Deere from 2012, got back into character to perform the duet “Wilder Than Her” while Stag and Doe actor Jason Chesworth closed the show with “Freight Train”, another song by Fred Eaglesmith, on whose songs Dear Johnny Deere was based.
The performance’s closing song was met with a rousing standing ovation and followed by a reception and the cutting of the Festival’s 40th anniversary cake.
The Blyth Festival took a look back at its 40 seasons on Sunday with a cabaret featuring music and scenes from plays spanning all the way back to the late 1970s. The Phillips Studio was the setting for the star-studded affair, which featured many familiar faces both on and off the stage. From left: Festival Artistic Director Marion de Vries, Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro, long-time Festival board of directors member Mildred McAdam and two-time Festival Artistic Director Janet Amos, who also composed and directed Sunday’s show. (Photo submitted)
On Sunday, the Phillips Studio played host to a beautiful retrospective of productions from the Blyth Festival’s 40 seasons, assembling a number of familiar faces, both on stage and in the audience, to make it a special day in the Festival’s history.
Envisioned, composed and directed by Janet Amos, two-time artistic director of the Blyth Festival, the cabaret spanned plays from as far back as 1978 with The School Show to as recent as this season’s Kitchen Radio, showcasing many of the Festival’s greatest successes in between.
The “cast” for the show was a who’s who of the Festival’s history, including Amos herself, who reprised her role from 1981’s He Won’t Come In From The Barn alongside her husband, one of the Festival’s most cherished sons Ted Johns. The cast featured Kelly McIntosh, Gil Garratt, Anne Lederman, Anne Anglin, Lorna Wilson and Beverley Cooper from the Festival’s past, as well as the majority of the company from this year’s season. It was hosted by Artistic Director Marion de Vries and Stag and Doe actor Eli Ham.
In the audience for the event, held on the Festival’s Homecoming weekend, was Jim Schaefer, a member of the inaugural Blyth Festival in 1975. Schaefer acted in both Mostly In Clover and The Mouse Trap. Alf Humphries, a member of the company in 1976 and 1977, was also in attendance, as were Mildred McAdam, Marian Doucette and Marian Zinn, all long-time members of the Festival’s board of directors.
Also taking in the show was long-time Festival supporter and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature, Alice Munro. Also in Blyth for the weekend was long-time Festival contributor Paul Thompson, who has been named to the Order of Canada, and he and Anglin’s daughter Severn, an accomplished actress and director of Beyond The Farm Show, from last year’s Festival season. The crowd also featured a number of local faces who have been involved with the Festival, as well as the Blyth Centre for the Arts, since their inception.
Sunday’s performance began with a collective musical piece from The Outdoor Donnellys of 2001, with McIntosh singing the lead. The play would be revisited later in the afternoon with “Bridget’s Song” performed by McIntosh alongside Melba Bingeman on autoharp.
The Donnellys made another appearance as David Fox, from this season’s St. Anne’s Reel, performed a monologue/song from The Death Of The Donnellys.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 13:32
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The Humble Beginnings of The Blyth Festival - Aug. 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Shawn Loughlin   
Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:14

As with any anniversary, cake should somehow be involved. On Sunday, the Blyth Festival marked its 40th season with a decades-spanning cabaret, capped off by a reception. Here, Festival Artistic Director Marion de Vries, left, and two-time Festival Artistic Director and the brains behind Sunday’s show Janet Amos, right, make sure no one left the Phillips Studio with an empty stomach. (Photo submitted)

BY KEITH ROULSTON

 

This past weekend, the Blyth Festival celebrated its 40th season by welcoming home company members from previous seasons. Now firmly part of the theatrical establishment, it’s hard to realize what an unlikely proposition it was back in the summer of 1975.
It took a colossal naïvety to start a professional theatre in a Huron County village of 1,000 people at the time. Until recently professional theatre in Canada extended not much farther than the Stratford and Shaw Festivals. A few pioneering artists/entrepreneurs had begun small theatres such as Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM), Tarragon and Toronto Free Theatre in church halls and warehouses in Toronto but that was one of Canada’s largest cities. Summer theatre outside major centres was generally in tourist meccas like Gravenhurst – or Grand Bend where the Huron Country Playhouse had started in a tent three summers earlier.
Blyth had one thing going for it that places like Grand Bend didn’t. Following World War I the community had decided to honour the memory of those who died in the war by building a community theatre. The 500-seat auditorium was a precious resource for anyone wanting to start a theatre.
In the summer of 1972 a group of volunteers, under the leadership of the late Helen Gowing who was president of the Blyth Board of Trade, decided to clean up and paint the theatre. This coincided with the residency, down the way in Holmesville, of Paul Thompson and his TPM troupe which was researching and creating The Farm Show.
A connection was made between the Blyth volunteers and Thompson and for the next couple of years there was the hope that Blyth would become the summer base for TPM. Various safety issues in Memorial Hall prevented that happening and by the time an entirely new roof structure had been erected on the building in the winter of 1974-75, TPM had accepted a similar invitation from Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia.
During that winter, however, a young graduate of York University’s theatre program had been working on a small seed show at TPM and while in conversation with Thompson learned of the group in Blyth that was interested in starting a theatre. It just so happened that James Roy had spent his early years just outside Blyth, then after a few years away, had returned to Huron County to finish high school in Clinton.
In March, 1975, he made contact with me, on behalf of the Blyth group, and set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of a theatre season in Memorial Hall.
It all happened so fast. One Friday night we sat in my living room (in what is now Davara Studio) and compiled a list of names of local leaders (including no less than two local clergy) whose presence on the first board of directors would overcome fears that this was some sort of degenerate, fly-by-night operation. When we went out the next day to call on these individuals, every single one agreed to lend his or her name and reputation to the fledgling theatre.
Next was what to program. James mentioned having picked up a copy of Harry J. Boyle’s Mostly In Clover from his mother’s book shelf and asked me what I thought about making a play from it. I loved the idea but I’d always heard it was risky to do Canadian plays.
James decided to bring together a creative, energetic group of performers (Ron Barrie, Angie Gei, Jim Schaefer, Gordon Bradley and Steve Thorne) to read Boyle’s books and pick out stories to improvise into a play. To be safe, he also had the same actors, plus a cast of local amateurs, perform Agatha Christie’s can’t-fail mystery-thriller The Mousetrap.
The first Blyth Festival season opened on July 9, 1975 with a full house, thanks to the Village of Blyth purchasing tickets for a rededication of Memorial Hall. The audience, most of whom were seeing their first live professional theatre performance, roared with laughter at Mostly In Clover. It was a truly magical night.
Word quickly spread about Mostly in Clover and it began selling out. The “safety net” play, The Mousetrap, did a more modest business.
The success of Mostly in Clover gave James confidence to do what, I think, he always wanted to do: produce plays that had special meaning for local people. Four decades later it’s hard to remember how, in those post-Centennial days when our sense of national pride had been raised, artists needed to tell, and audiences hungered to hear and see, stories based on our own experiences, not those borrowed from Europe or the United States.
But there were very few Canadians plays at all and virtually no Canadian plays that spoke to rural audiences. So the Festival had to become a producer of new scripts.
Not only were there new plays to be written, but new writers to create them. In 1977 Anne Chislett adapted Harry J. Boyle’s A Summer Burning as the first script in her award-winning career. In 1978 Ted Johns wrote, and performed The School Show, about a local teachers’ strike. I contributed three comedies: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points (1977), His Own Boss (1978) and McGillicuddy’s Lost Weekend (1979). Most famously, Peter Colley premiered I’ll Be Back Before Midnight in 1979 and it’s still being regularly produced somewhere around the world every year.
When James stepped down from leading the theatre after the 1979 season, Janet Amos took over, followed by Katherine Kaszas, Peter Smith, Janet again, Anne Chislett, Eric Coates and now Marion de Vries. All have been dedicated to producing new Canadian plays and by the time this season is over, 121 world premieres will have been presented on the Memorial Hall stage. Some, like The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom by David Scott, Innocence Lost: A Play About Stephen Truscott by Beverley Cooper and Dear Johnny Deere by Ken Cameron have been produced across Canada. Some, like Chislett’s Quiet in the Land and Another Season’s Promise (the latter co-written with me) have been presented as far away as Tokyo.
It’s quite an accomplishment for a bunch of naïve people starting a professional theatre in a small Huron County farming village where it had no right to succeed – except, of course, that local people wanted to see stories about people like themselves on stage.
This past weekend, the Blyth Festival celebrated its 40th season by welcoming home company members from previous seasons. Now firmly part of the theatrical establishment, it’s hard to realize what an unlikely proposition it was back in the summer of 1975.
It took a colossal naïvety to start a professional theatre in a Huron County village of 1,000 people at the time. Until recently professional theatre in Canada extended not much farther than the Stratford and Shaw Festivals. A few pioneering artists/entrepreneurs had begun small theatres such as Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM), Tarragon and Toronto Free Theatre in church halls and warehouses in Toronto but that was one of Canada’s largest cities. Summer theatre outside major centres was generally in tourist meccas like Gravenhurst – or Grand Bend where the Huron Country Playhouse had started in a tent three summers earlier.
Blyth had one thing going for it that places like Grand Bend didn’t. Following World War I the community had decided to honour the memory of those who died in the war by building a community theatre. The 500-seat auditorium was a precious resource for anyone wanting to start a theatre.
In the summer of 1972 a group of volunteers, under the leadership of the late Helen Gowing who was president of the Blyth Board of Trade, decided to clean up and paint the theatre. This coincided with the residency, down the way in Holmesville, of Paul Thompson and his TPM troupe which was researching and creating The Farm Show.
A connection was made between the Blyth volunteers and Thompson and for the next couple of years there was the hope that Blyth would become the summer base for TPM. Various safety issues in Memorial Hall prevented that happening and by the time an entirely new roof structure had been erected on the building in the winter of 1974-75, TPM had accepted a similar invitation from Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia.
During that winter, however, a young graduate of York University’s theatre program had been working on a small seed show at TPM and while in conversation with Thompson learned of the group in Blyth that was interested in starting a theatre. It just so happened that James Roy had spent his early years just outside Blyth, then after a few years away, had returned to Huron County to finish high school in Clinton.
In March, 1975, he made contact with me, on behalf of the Blyth group, and set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of a theatre season in Memorial Hall.
It all happened so fast. One Friday night we sat in my living room (in what is now Davara Studio) and compiled a list of names of local leaders (including no less than two local clergy) whose presence on the first board of directors would overcome fears that this was some sort of degenerate, fly-by-night operation. When we went out the next day to call on these individuals, every single one agreed to lend his or her name and reputation to the fledgling theatre.
Next was what to program. James mentioned having picked up a copy of Harry J. Boyle’s Mostly In Clover from his mother’s book shelf and asked me what I thought about making a play from it. I loved the idea but I’d always heard it was risky to do Canadian plays.
James decided to bring together a creative, energetic group of performers (Ron Barrie, Angie Gei, Jim Schaefer, Gordon Bradley and Steve Thorne) to read Boyle’s books and pick out stories to improvise into a play. To be safe, he also had the same actors, plus a cast of local amateurs, perform Agatha Christie’s can’t-fail mystery-thriller The Mousetrap.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 13:32
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