It is thirteen years ago that the first Drama and Music Festival was inaugurated by the Rolla B.P.O. Elks. With the exception of the war years 1943-46, these festivals have been yearly events, with an ever-increasing entry, reflecting both the growth of population and the interest of that population in the arts.
The writer well remembers that first festival held in Rolla, then a charming village and the home of the Elks Lodge. There were 85 entries, of which the most interesting was an eight-piece orchestra — seven woodwinds and a dulcimer — from Riverside School. All of the instruments were home made with the woodwinds being made of bamboo.
The Grand Concert was a great success. Mrs. Modhal and Mr. Ivers had to give an encore to their Norwegian Folk Dance . . . Miss Mary Tennhaus, too, with her lovely soprano voice was recalled. And who besides the writer, remembers the Sunset Prairie Male Quartet singing “In the Gloaming”? The tenor solo in it was a delight to any ear.
The festival occupied two days and about 175 people took part – the adjudicators being Mr. H. L. Vaughan of Grande Prairie, Alberta (music); Miss D. Phillips, Pouce Coupe (folk dancing) and Major Bullock-Webster of Victoria, (drama). So much for the first festival.
In 1937, entries and enthusiasm grew. Pouce Coupe received the highest number of awards and Rolla decorated her streets with evergreen arches for the two festival days.
At the Grand Concert there was insufficient room for those who wished to attend and some of the audience even sat on the windowsills.
By 1938 entries had increased to 200 – the drama section especially showing an increase with five adult plays entered, the community of Progress with a performance of (I think) “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”. This was also the year that Mrs. W. A. Watson and Miss D. Phillips presented a Cup for rural school Folk Dancing. This cup was known as the “Dr. Watson Cup” in memory of Dr. Watson. It seems to me that it was about this time that the Montney Concert Group, who were unable to get down for the competitions, staged an hour-long presentation of songs and dialogue at the grand concert, a well-got up act and very interesting. The Swan Lake School Orchestra won first place in their section, and the Sunset Prairie Community Choir won the shield for that class singing “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton”. The blending of their voices was delightful and was a great credit to the Rev. J. E. Whittles, their choirmaster.
So we come to 1939 . . . the Festival this year was held at Pouce Coupe in Murphy’s Hall. It was extended to three days and there were over 150 entries. The awards for best actor and actress went to Clifford Peterson of Sunrise Valley and Miss Georgette Laloge, Pouce Coupe, while Miss E. Curiston of North Pine won the award for the best diction.
In 1940 a three-day festival was again held in Pouce Coupe. The adjudicator commented on the excellence of the Dawson Creek School play, “Who Gets the Car Tonight?” The writer remembers the play well – it went at a fast pace and had plenty of audience appeal.
The outstanding entry must have been a scene from “Alice in Wonderland” acted by the children from the Sudeten colony at Gundy. These children only arrived in Canada in 1938, and their command of English in so short a time was astonishing. Their teacher was I understand, Miss. E. De C. Meand, now retired and living in the South of the Province. The Pouce Coupe United Church and Young Peoples’ Choir was also considered by the adjudicator to be outstanding.
1941 — still at Pouce Coupe — and the standard of work pronounced excellent, the dancing greatly improved and the grand concert was, according to the audience, the best in history. Elmer Orge of Dawson Creek School was the best actor this year.
1942 was the last festival of the war years. It was a most successful venture again, despite handicaps, but even so, it was decided to discontinue until after the war.
So we came to 1947, and Dawson Creek’s Anne Bullen won the Ladies’ “Oscar” for her part in “A Cup of Tea”, and later in the same week received a similar award at the Fort St. John Festival for her performance of the same role. The grand concert was held in the Northland Theatre, Dawson Creek, when all sitting and standing room was occupied and some hundreds of people were turned away.
Entries this year again showed a very encouraging increase. In one class 23 little boys recited — one after the other — the doings of Roderick D’hu and in another class 10 charming six-year-old girls vied with one another to tell us how to treat a fairy. Their efforts were so effective that the adjudicator gave them all the same marks — first class honours. In the ladies’ open solo class there were eighteen entries and the Dawson Creek and Pouce Coupe entrants tied for first place.
1948 and the festival – three days of it — was again held in Dawson Creek. There were many improvements, some classes cut and several added. The Notre Dame School won many competitions – their two rhythm bands and folk dancing were a source of delight to the audiences.
My last words to those of you who wish to see people who are serious about their art are these: “go to see and hear the kindergarten and junior grades in their choral speaking groups. There is nothing to touch them.”
Footnote to the above:
Mr. Harry Giles and his wife Marjorie were long-time residents of Dawson Creek. They took an active interest in both music and drama. Marjorie is remembered for doing, with grace and good humour, two of the most thankless chores of such events. She often acted as wardrobe mistress which including making costumes and property master, making many of the stage props. She also acted as the adjudicator’s secretary. In that capacity she never forgot to provide that important dignitary with the snack, without which one could not survive the hours of composing individual comments for aspiring performers. [DHC]