The Peace River Country was incredibly remote in thought and by transportation from Victoria at that time. Mrs. Hurt’s efforts to organize a music and drama festival were strongly opposed by the School Inspector of the day and by the Deputy Minister of Education. Mr. Hurt appealed directly to the Minister, who promptly had the firm of Western Music in Vancouver lay out a syllabus of test pieces and supply music. The Minister’s name is not immediately available to be credited with “far vision”.
Not only the Minister of Education but the drama-director, Major L. Bullock-Webster was intrigued by the idea. In spite of the almost weeklong journey via Vancouver, Edmonton and then by the N.A.R.’s uncertain service, he would be delighted to come!
The Rolla Elks, with the enthusiasm they lent to any community cause, sponsored the event. Teachers Charlie Ovans of Pouce Coupe and Margaret Purvis of Dawson Creek gave their support as well as numerous teachers of other one-room schools. When the event finally took place, Mr. Vaughan of Grande Prairie acted as music adjudicator.
Major Bullock-Webster’s praise of the pioneer effort was high indeed. His help and encouragement sparked a Drama Club in the Rolla High School, which produced classical works such as “The Merchant of Venice” one year”, A Midsummer Night’s Dream” another and finally Goldsmiths “She Stoops to Conquer.”
As Mr. Hurt notes in his memoirs, “When we visited Rolla [again] in 1959…I was very much surprised that my former students — many of them grandparents — wanted most to sit around and discuss the plays we had done and the parts they had acted.”
Mr. Vaughan also was enthusiastic. “There is one scene I shall never forget! On June 5, 1936, a truck from Fort St. John arrived full of kids, black with dust. They were a school choir coming down to compete in the festival! This, I think was symbolic of some kind of hunger for culture”.
“Another rural teacher brought a school orchestra, all the instruments being homemade from willow bark.” Her name has been forgotten, but not her achievement. Mr. Vaughan was thrilled.
Then Mr. Hurt remembers an ironic twist. The Minister of Education is said to have written to the reluctant school inspector, with orders to drive Mayor Bullock-Webster around to visit the small schools all over the Block! Efforts are being made to find the Major’s delightful column about the festival and the culture of the Peace River District at that time.