VOLUNTEERING: Good for the community; even better for you

By Diane Burke

Diane Burke is an avid and hard-working volunteer for the Classic Theatre Festival, and a valued board director for our parent company, Burning Passions Theatre.

Chances are, if you are reading an article with the word ‘volunteering’ in the title, you have been considering the idea. Perhaps paid employment is providing a cheque to meet your financial needs but lacks a higher purpose. Perhaps your children are now needing less of your time which leaves you with an opportunity to rediscover yourself by exploring new interests. Or, perhaps you are retired and finding yourself isolated and missing the socialization that comes with being a member of a team. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are feeling a desire to try something new, or to become more engaged in the larger world, or to make a difference in your community. You are searching for greater meaning in your life.

Once the basics of life are satisfied―the bills are paid, there is food on the table, the children are cared for―many experience a need for personal growth and fulfillment that the work that supports their daily lives cannot always fulfill. There is growing evidence and awareness of the existence of this intrinsic human need and the benefits that accrue when that need is met.

“Volunteering can satisfy that deep-seated need to make a difference.”

The research of psychologist Frederick Herzberg reveals that work that allows one to experience a sense of recognition and that allows for personal growth is a more significant motivational factor than additional money. This type of research is the basis of the subject matter of Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink explores the “deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

Sociologist, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, expresses the same idea in her book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50. She describes an individual’s need to “move from an experience of working that is competitive, individualistic, that’s achievement oriented, that’s about status, going up the ladder of success to the kind of work—a very different kind of work—that’s collaborative, generative, that’s about giving forward to society.”

“Volunteering has proven physical and mental health benefits.”

We all have an intrinsic need to enrich our lives by performing work that is meaningful and purposeful and volunteer work can be the means to satisfy this human need. Volunteering can also contribute to your physical and mental well-being.

Studies demonstrate that volunteering leads to greater physical and psychological benefits and to longer and healthier lives. A study on the health benefits of volunteering to adults age 65 and older found that “the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment that an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities,” (Herzog et al., 1998). While much of the research reveals the beneficial effects of volunteering on retired persons, younger people also stand to benefit in that they experience less health-related issues later in life. A study of a group of women who had volunteered on an intermittent basis from the time that they married until the age of 55 “scored higher on functional ability…than those who had not,” (Moen et al., 1992). This positive outcome persisted regardless of social and economic status, previous illness, age, and gender.

“Discover a unique volunteering experience at Classic Theatre Festival.”

The takeaway from this research is that work that you find most personally satisfying and that gives back to society can contribute to a longer and healthier life and may ultimately be one of the best ways to look after yourself. Fortunately, every community has countless volunteer opportunities that can be uncovered by a little research of your own.

That is how I arrived as a volunteer at the Classic Theatre Festival. Volunteering gives me another reason to get out and interact with the world. It means that I change my at-home leisure wear for something a little less informal. I apply a touch of makeup, fix my hair, and put on some pretty earrings. My presence at the theatre is needed and desired and this makes me feel good.

Volunteering with the Classic Theatre Festival allows me to indulge my love of live theatre. I get to see every production. I can engage with the actors and the many behind-the-scenes people who make these productions successful. It is an opportunity to discover another aspect of live theatre that most others do not get to experience.

I meet other volunteers of retirement age, like myself, and we compare notes on life. The theatre also has a contingent of young people of high school age. Talking with them, I get an interesting perspective of the world as they are experiencing it.

One of the theatre’s mandates is to make the theatre experience available to those who would not ordinarily attend the theatre. The Save-A-Seat program is funded through a 50-50 raffle draw and when I am working a performance you will see me volunteering to sell these tickets. The positive response to this program on the part of the theatregoers is heart-warming and I am aware that, in a small way, I am contributing to the program’s success and to the success of the theatre overall. I have been volunteering with the theatre for six years and you will see me there again this upcoming season.

By the way, in case you are wondering—yes, Classic Theatre Festival is looking for more volunteers. For further information on this opportunity, contact Matthew Behrens, Volunteer Coordinator, at (613) 264-8088, or email info@classictheatre.ca. You can also visit our volunteer webpage: classictheatre.ca/volunteers-needed/


Mallory Brumm (left) and Brooke Trealout in rehearsal for Androcles and the Lion, the show featured in this year’s Classic Dinner/Lunchtime Theatre at Michael’s Table, opening June 4.

Following its completely sold-out inaugural year, the Classic Dinner Theatre returns to Perth this summer with an additional lunchtime sitting at Michael’s Table (110 Gore Street East). Featuring Laurel Smith’s new adaptation of the Shaw comedy classic Androcles and the Lion ( a satire on life under the Roman Empire), the play, accompanied by a three-course home-cooked meal, will run June 4 to August 27, 11 am to 1 pm (show first, followed by lunch) and 5 to 7 pm (meal, then show).

Directed by Joanna McAuley-Treffers and presented by talented up-and-coming performers from Ottawa, Lanark and Renfrew Counties – Mallory Brumm, Abigaile Gagnon, Tyler Street, Brooke Trealout and Connor Williamson – the second year of the project is part of a rural youth theatre training program run by the Classic Theatre Festival.

“People had a great time at last year’s first show, and because it sold out so quickly, we have expanded the number of performances, but even with that, tickets are selling so fast that folks might want to reserve a seat now before they’re all gone,” enthuses Smith, who notes Androcles and the Lion‘s June 4 opening begins a summer-long celebration of the Festival’s 10th anniversary.

While dinner theatres sprang up across North America after World War II and reached their heyday in the 1960s and 70s, they have been enjoying a resurgence as companies like the Classic Theatre Festival and Michael’s Table come together around shared values of artistic and culinary excellence. “It’s a great opportunity to tickle your funny bone, please your palette, and create a memory you’ll enjoy long after the final curtain,” Smith says.

This year’s show features an elevated stage for improved sightlines as well as stunning backdrops that bring to life the Roman era. “There’s also quite a few comic surprises that will keep you laughing all the way home,” Smith says.

To reserve dinner/lunch theatre seats, as well as learn more about the Festival’s 10th anniversary season, contact 1-877-283-1283 or visit ticketsplease.ca.

CLASSIC THEATRE FESTIVAL: Announces 10th Anniversary Season

A group of war brides sits on the set with performers Krista Leis, Michael Dufays and Sara Joy Bennett following the 2010 Classic Theatre Festival production of The Voice of the Turtle, a reprise of which will be featured during the Festival’s 10th anniversary in 2019.

The Classic Theatre Festival in Perth is planning to kick off a year-long party as it marks its 10th anniversary of producing award-winning classics from the golden age of Broadway and the London Stage.

What began in 2010 with two mainstage shows playing 7 times a week has expanded to 17 shows a week, with three mainstage shows, a series of summertime heritage walking plays, and an expanded dinner theatre as well.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Festival is offering loyal audience members and newcomers alike the opportunity to save up to 25% off their 2019 season when they purchase a Season Flex Pass before December 31.

Kicking off the mainstage season in 2019 will be The Voice of The Turtle (June 21-July 14), the 9th-longest running play in Broadway history. This remarkable comedy about the passions and excitement of World War II-era New York City is a reprise from their first season, when war brides and veterans alike were part of adoring audiences. The story follows young people from across the nation converging on the Big Apple, discovering new loves, sharing their dreams, and navigating the challenges of rapidly changing moral codes. Playwright John Van Druten is also the author of Bell, Book & Candle, I Am a Camera and There’s Always Juliet (part of the Festival’s 2018 summer season).

Following is Pygmalion (July 19-August 12), George Bernard Shaw’s most popular play. When a bombastic professor of dialects tries to turn a working-class flower girl into an upper-class lady, comic sparks fly in this perfectly constructed story (the basis for the musical My Fair Lady). Full of unforgettable Shavian characters – Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, Colonel Pickering, and Alfred Doolittle, among others – it’s a legendary satire on class, gender, and particularly British mannerisms all served up with gentle and loving humour.

The annual season-closing mystery will be Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (August 16 -Sept 8), the longest-running comedy thriller in Broadway history. It follows a formerly successful playwright who engages in a deadly game to steal what he feels would be a “killer script.” Filled with ingenious plot twists and a string of bodies, the play is by the author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil, and The Stepford Wives.

While a heritage walking play on how residents of rural communities came together to survive the Great Depression will play five mornings and two evenings a week, the Festival’s Classic Dinner Theatre at Michael’s Table will return with a new play, Shaw’s classic satire on the Roman Empire, Androcles and the Lion. In response to audience demand (last year’s season was completely sold out), the dinner theatre is doubling its capacity, and will run Tuesdays from 5 to 7 pm, along with a lunchtime show from 11 am to 1 pm, beginning June 4.

For discounted season passes and more, call 1-877-283-1283 or visit ticketsplease.ca.


DONATE TODAY: Support our Save-a-Seat Program

Every year, the Classic Theatre Festival’s Save-a-Seat program opens up hundreds of free theatre seats to low income and socially marginalized community members who might otherwise never have a chance to experience the joy of live, professional theatre. Working in partnership with a range of social service agencies, the Festival is able to provide tickets in dignity: Save-a-Seat tickets look just like everyone else’s, so confidentiality is always respected.

Because poverty can be socially isolating, the program has also been successful because ticket recipients sometimes call to volunteer with the Festival, bringing their skills and talents to a welcoming arena where they can connect, network, make new friends, and sometimes secure employment as well.

In the Festival’s first nine years, over 2,600 people have come through our doors under the program.

“The Save-a-Seat program was inspired in part by my parents,” explains Associate Producer Matthew Behrens. “Deborah Cass and Bernard ‘Bunny’ Behrens were part of that post-war generation of artists who took theatre to the people across the country after finishing the much shorter season at Stratford. They always believed live, professional theatre should be made accessible to everyone, regardless of their social or economic status.”

Tax-deductible charitable donations to the Save-a-Seat program can be made by clicking here:


THE STRANGEST DREAM: A Play on Body Image and Self-Esteem

The annual Listen Up youth theatre troupe will once again tour Lanark County and Smiths Falls youth centres and schools in April with a new play about body image, The Strangest Dream.

Based on research and conversations with young people and in consultation with the Hopewell Centre – Eastern Ontario’s only clinic dedicated to working with those dealing with eating disorders – the show is being staged at a time when teenagers especially face a barrage of images in print and electronically that make them question their self-worth and can lead to harmful behaviours.

“In addition to all the expectations we place on young people, the social pressure to conform to looking a certain way can have devastating impacts,” says Smith. “While this is certainly not a new thing – we know eating disorders have been with us for a long time – it is magnified by the 24/7 access we now have to a bombardment of visual images and voices that get into our heads and tell us to look and act and feel a certain way.”

The Listen Up! project has served as an inspiration for inter-generational dialogue over the past four years, with parents and adult community members taking part in post-show feedback discussions with teenagers.

“It has opened the eyes of a lot of people who aren’t always as well connected to what is happening in the world of young people as they could be,” says Smith, who notes that young people in rural eastern Ontario face many challenges, not least of which are long waiting lists for a number of services to meet the needs of the teen population. “Through theatre, we tell stories that we hope will provoke the kind of discussion needed to hear what young people’s lives are really like and hopefully to generate the kinds of changes they need to live healthy lives.”

The play tours throughout Lanark County on the following dates: Wed. Apr. 17 at 4:30pm, WAK, Smiths Falls Youth Arena,
71A Lansdowne Street, Smiths Falls
Thurs. Apr. 18 at 6:00pm, Carambeck Community Centre, 351 Bridge Street, Carleton Place
Wed. Apr. 24 at 5pm, Mississippi Mills Youth Centre, 134 Main St. E., Almonte
Thurs. Apr. 25 at 6:30pm, Royal Canadian Legion, 26 Beckwith St. E., Perth;
Fri. Apr. 26 at 6pm, Lanark Highlands Youth Centre, 61 Princess St., Village of Lanark.

For further information call 613-264-8088 or email burning@web.ca.

Felix Evangelho and Ryan Kreissler, seen in last year’s Listen Up! play on sexual assault, return for the 2019 project, The Strangest Dream, focused on body image and self-esteem. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

SEEKING PERFORMERS: For Summer Youth Training Program 

In this scene from last year’s walking play The Prisoner of Petawawa, Mallory Brumm plays a young Perth woman comforting her veteran husband (Connor Williamson) who experiences PTSD after World War II. Applications for this year’s summer theatre troupe with the Classic Theatre Festival are being accepted until Feb 10.

The Classic Theatre Festival is accepting resumes from young people aged 15 to 29 to take part in this summer’s paid youth theatre training program. While experience is not required, the Festival is looking for people with a strong interest both in performing and in working behind the scenes.

Successful applicants will be featured (and will also stage manage) the Perth through the Ages historic walking plays, a popular tourist attraction each summer that brings to life the stories and fabled characters of Perth’s past. Those familiar with this beloved annual ritual will recognize the costumed characters singing, dancing, and re-enacting Perth history on Gore Street, Foster Street, and in the unique alleyways of the downtown core.

The 2019 walking play will focus on how residents of Perth came together to survive the economic austerity of the Great Depression during the 1930s.

In addition to performing street level all summer long, program participants will also appear in playwright Laurel Smith’s new adaptation of the hilarious Shaw comedy about the Roman Empire, Androcles and the Lion, the entertainment portion of this year’s Classic Dinner Theatre with Michael’s Table. Building on the success of last year’s inaugural show, the dinner theatre is adding a lunchtime component too. Both will play on Tuesdays.

“It’s always wonderful to work with the very talented young people in this area who are looking for a career in the arts,” explains Smith, who notes that some graduates of the program have gone off to major in theatre at schools as diverse as Queen’s and York University. “And when you can get paid to do what you love, that’s a real bonus.”

Interested individuals should send a resume and letter of interest to info@classictheatre.ca by February 10.

LISTEN UP! 2019 YOUTH THEATRE PROJECT: Seeks Youth Actor and Stage Manager



Youth Actor and Stage Manager Wanted (2 positions)

Reporting to the Artistic Producer, the troupe will be involved in the research, creation rehearsal and performance of scenes for a play based on youth issues during the winter/spring of 2019. This year’s play will focus on how to overcome negative issues around body image, self-esteem, media and peer pressure and eating disorders.

Specific duties include:

  • research of facts and events relating to local youth issues to be used in the creation of theatrical scenes
  • be involved in the improvisation, creation and rehearsal of theatrical scenes
  • present scenes as part of public performances
  • be prepared to participate in after-show audience talkbacks at all performances
  • assist with load in, load out and setup at all performances
  • in addition, the Stage Manager will support the rehearsal process and run sound during all performances

Qualifications, skills and interests include:

  • interest in local youth issues
  • interest in theatre and/or performing arts
  • excellent literacy and dramatic skills
  • willingness to train
  • keen sense of responsibility
  • able to work in a team setting
  • punctual at all times
  • able to be self-directed and motivated
  • take instruction and direction well

An honorarium will be provided.
Preferred Age Range:  14-25 years of age
Hours:  Part-time from approx.  Feb. 1 to Apr. 30, 2019

To apply, please send an email outlining why you’d like to be part of this project and why you feel you would be a good fit, as well as a resume.

APPLICATION DEADLINE:  January 25, 2019               

Email application to:  burning@web.ca

More information: burningpassionstheatre.com

CTF: Takes Home Two Capital Theatre Awards

The Classic Theatre Festival’s Associate Producer Matthew Behrens, Board Secretary Stephen Dale, and Actor Catherine McNally celebrate at the National Arts Centre’s Capital Theatre Awards, where the Perth-based company was again recognized for artistic excellence.

When members of the national capital region’s theatre scene gathered at the National Arts Centre on December 3, the Classic Theatre Festival was honoured with two Capital Theatre Awards, capping off its 9th successful summer season in heritage Perth.

The 20th annual awards ceremony, organized by some of Canada’s top theatre reviewers, presented Toronto-based performer Catherine McNally with a Best Actress Award for her performance as Kitty Warren in the Festival’s 2018 production of the GB Shaw classic, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, which was directed by the Festival’s Artistic Producer Laurel Smith.

In a new surprise category for an outstanding body of work in publicity and outreach, Festival Associate Producer Matthew Behrens was given the Audrey Ashley Award, named for the late writer who worked as the Ottawa Citizen’s music and drama editor for an unprecedented 25 years.

Since the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth was founded by Laurel Smith in Perth in 2009, it has garnered consistently strong reviews as well as multiple awards nominations for artistic excellence. Smith herself was nominated this year both for Best Direction – her third nomination in the category since 2016 – and Best Production (again, her third consecutive nomination) for the nail-biting thriller Angel Street, aka Gaslight.

“As we get prepared to mark our 10th anniversary season, we are grateful for many things, not least of which is the recognition of our professional peers, who clearly appreciate the way we have built a Festival that not only produces new interpretations of classics from the golden age of Broadway and the London stage, but also celebrates local heritage with our walking plays,” say Smith. “It’s also been an important economic driver for the summer tourism market, when thousands of Festival guests are spending more and more time enjoying the sights of Perth and Lanark County, eating in restaurants, shopping downtown, and staying overnight too.”

Smith says the latest round of awards is a nice boost as the Festival enters its anniversary season. “As people call in to order their 2019 tickets, we hear time and again how much people enjoy the experience of coming to Perth,” she says. “The feedback we get is particularly strong when it comes to being welcomed by our fantastic Front of House volunteers as well as our young summer staff, who have become real brand ambassadors for this beautiful town.”

As part of a company that appreciates Canadian theatre history, Behrens says it was humbling to receive an award honouring someone who played such an important role in promoting and documenting the capital region’s artistic milieu.

In an article on Ashley, retired Carleton University professor and  Classic Theatre Festival attendee James Noonan wrote: “Ashley suffered the fate of many theatre critics whose editors were not always sympathetic to their work. While she received support from some editors, she served under one who had no use for ‘culture’ and felt the main focus of The Citizen should be national affairs. Music and theatre were extras, to be inserted where space was not needed for more important events. She endured the indignity of one editor who “vandalized” her stories, and eliminated a column on the arts which she had written for several years. Eventually, in 1977, Ashley was replaced as Music and Drama Editor. A critic’s lot is not always a happy one, and we can only admire her tenacity and dedication to her work in remaining with the newspaper after being treated so shabbily.”

The Festival is now busily preparing for its 10th anniversary season in 2019. Next season’s mainstage offerings will feature the 9th-longest running play in Broadway history, the remarkable WW2-era romantic comedy The Voice of the Turtle (by John Van Druten); George Bernard Shaw’s most popular play, the hilarious Pygmalion (the basis for the musical My Fair Lady); and the longest-running comedy-thriller in Broadway history, Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (by the author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil and The Stepford Wives).

The Festival also plans its 5th annual season of Perth through the Ages theatrical walking plays with a brand new show on how residents of Perth came together to survive the Great Depression (running five mornings and two evenings a week).  In addition, after the Festival’s huge success of its completely sold-out dinner theatre run at Michael’s Table, a new dinner theatre show will play both Tuesday evenings and Tuesday at lunchtime from June 4 to the end of August. It will feature the Shaw satire on the Roman Empire, Androcles and the Lion.

Those interested in enjoying deep discounts to the 10th anniversary season can receive 25% savings on a season flex pass between now and December 31, and they don’t have to pick their dates until next summer. “They make great gifts for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and ‘just because’ moments, too,” Smith says.

Tickets can be ordered online at ticketsplease.ca or by calling 1-877-283-1283.

CTF NOMINATED: Three Prestigious Capital Critics Circle Awards

Some of Canada’s top theatre reviewers have honoured the Classic Theatre Festival with three Capital Critics Circle Awards nominations for artistic excellence during their 2018 summer season in Perth. An awards ceremony will be held at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on December 3rd.

The Classic Theatre Festival’s Artistic Producer Laurel Smith has just picked up her third consecutive Best Director nomination from the Capital Critics Circle Awards for her work helming last summer’s Angel Street. She will also represent the company at the December 3 awards ceremony in Ottawa for the Best Production nomination. (Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle)

Laurel Smith, a Perth resident and the Classic Theatre Festival’s Artistic Producer, was nominated both for Best Direction – her third nomination in the category since 2016 – and Best Production (again, her third consecutive nomination) for the nail-biting thriller Angel Street, aka Gaslight. Meanwhile, Toronto-based performer Catherine McNally garnered a Best Actress nomination for the title role in the G.B. Shaw classic, Mrs. Warren’s Profession.

It’s the third season in a row that the Capital Critics Circle has nominated Classic Theatre Festival shows: the 2016 season saw four nominations that were followed by an additional five in 2017.

“We are blessed to host amazing talent here every summer, both on the stage with Canada’s top professional performers as well as behind the scenes, from stage managers and assistant stage managers to folks who bring us the beautiful look and feel of the show, like our lighting designer, Wesley McKenzie, our costume designer, Renate Seiler, and last year’s set designer, Roger Schultz,” says Smith. “And while it is wonderful to have theatre critics praise the high quality of our shows, it is incredibly gratifying that our audiences are having such a great time here as well.  Over 80% of them are tourists, and they really help pump up the summertime economy by eating in restaurants, staying overnight, and shopping in our local stores while they’re here.”

In the meantime, the Festival is busy preparing for its 10th anniversary season in 2019. Next season’s mainstage offerings will feature the 9th-longest running play in Broadway history, the remarkable WW2-era romantic comedy The Voice of the Turtle (by John Van Druten); George Bernard Shaw’s most popular play, the hilarious Pygmalion (the basis for the musical My Fair Lady); and the longest-running comedy-thriller in Broadway history, Ira Levin’s Deathtrap (by the author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil and The Stepford Wives).

The Festival also plans its 5th annual season of theatrical walking plays with a brand new show on how residents of Perth came together to survive the Great Depression (running five mornings and two evenings a week).  In addition, after the Festival’s huge success of its completely sold-out dinner theatre run at Michael’s Table, a new dinner theatre show will play both Tuesday evenings and Tuesday at lunchtime from June 4 to the end of August. An announcement of the lunchtime and dinner theatre show will be made shortly.

Those interested in enjoying deep discounts to the 10th anniversary season can receive 25% savings on a season flex pass between now and December 31st, and they don’t have to pick their dates until next summer. “They make great gifts for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and ‘just because’ moments too,” Smith says.

Tickets can be ordered online at ticketsplease.ca or by calling 1-877-283-1283.


As the Classic Theatre Festival’s historic theatrical walking plays bring history to life, its performers and crew often meet those making contemporary history. Last summer, troupe members were privileged to meet with MP Romeo Saganash (who has worked for over three decades to create and pass the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and who authored a Parliamentary bill recently passed to adopt and implement the Declaration in Canada). They also met tireless Indigenous rights activist Leah Gazan, a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota Nation and co-founder of the #WeCare campaign to end violence against indigenous women and girls. Saganash (upper left) is seen here with (clockwise, standing to sitting) director Joanna McAuley Treffers, performers Connor Williamson, Brooks Knapton, and Keegan Carr, and Leah Gazan (sitting, far left).

Every year, the Perth through the Ages historic theatrical walking play uncovers stories and characters from Perth’s past. Often, a historic event or character will be supplemented by fictional creations who are true to the era and which aid in the development of the story.

For playwright Laurel Smith, who writes both the morning walking plays and the evening Lonely Ghosts Walks, “I always find playwriting/storytelling to be a spiritual, mystical process, as well as a serious responsibility.” For the past two summers, her works have focused on historic wrongs committed against Indigenous people in and around Perth, one of many communities that was settled in what is still unceded Algonquin territory.

Numerous histories of Eastern Ontario still rely on the inaccurate notion that this area was uninhabited until European colonizers arrived, ignoring the fact that the Algonquin people have lived in the area since time immemorial, and still do. Much of Algonquin history is either buried or paved over and renamed.

In 2016, Smith’s play River of Memory reminded audiences that when Europeans first arrived in the area, they could not have survived were it not for the generosity and knowledge of the Algonquin people who were already here. The story focused on a young man discovering his Indigenous heritage following the death of his mother.

A Serendipitous Connection

Last summer, A Nation Lost and Found  told a story of conflict at the time of Confederation, when a Scottish woman, Bridget O’Leary, experienced community disparagement after hiring an Indigenous man known as John Stevens to work on her farm. O’Leary was also criticized by her fiancé for helping care for Stevens’ baby, Marie.

Over the winter, Smith was contacted by someone researching their family history. While Smith had consulted with representatives of numerous Algonquin nations to ensure the play’s historical accuracy, the Stevens name never came up in her research, and was instead, she thought, a fictional creation chosen to help represent Indigenous-settler relations at the time.

But according to an email she received, the Stevens were in fact real people, and Smith’s choice of first names and approximate dates of both was uncannily in sync with family records. Indeed, Peter Stevens was the adopted name of Algonquin Chief Shawanipinessi, who along with his community at Bob’s Lake experienced an all too familiar tale of land dispossession and dishonourable treatment on the part of the Crown.

“Peter Stevens’ son was John Stevens who was born in 1831,” read the email. “Marie Stevens was born between 1863 and 1867, which was a perfect match for the baby in your play!”

The backdrop to A Nation Lost and Found was based on the less than savoury historical record, one of constant attempts by local Indigenous people to petition colonial authorities to end acts of violence and theft against the region’s first inhabitants.

Unsavoury History

According to archival records, “The Government of Sir Charles Bagot granted a license of occupation to Shwanapenesi  and his band of 90 or so souls in 1844. They lived on an island in the East Basin of Bob’s Lake. Shawanapenesi and the people of the community dreamed of having a sawmill, school and farms. In that same year, loggers arrived in the upper watershed of the Tay River and began felling timber on the 2000-acre Reserve. Men were beat-up, women were raped and the only valuable resource was cut and floated down river.

“Shawanapenesi complained. He received a letter from the Government of Upper Canada explaining that he had received a license of occupation and that the timber license had been given to a Mr. Flint. Shawanapenesi complained of the treatment that the band members had experienced at the hands of the loggers.” But the Commandant at the Perth garrison, instead of protecting Shawanapensi and his people from sttler violence, instead wrote to “assure him that should the Indians harm the loggers or settlers he would dispatch soldiers to the area, but for no other reason. Within a few short years of the beginning of the Bedford Reserve it was devastated.”

As Joan Holmes wrote in a 1998 paper,  Hidden Communities: Research Difficulties encountered in Researching Non-Status Algonquins in the Ottawa Valley, “The British Crown never entered into formal treaty relations with the Algonquin and Nipissing, despite the fact that the Algonquin and Nipissing repeatedly petitioned British authorities to compensate them for the loss of their traditional lands and the destruction of the resources upon which they depended for their livelihood. On several occasions, authorities acknowledged their claims but no action was taken.

An Untenable Situation

“….In the last half of the 19th century,  the Algonquin and Nipissing occupying lands on the Upper Canada or Ontario side of the Ottawa River were in an untenable situation. They were not eligible for the free homestead grants being offered to settlers moving into the area, because they were Indians, nor could they claim squatters’ rights or exercise pre-emptory rights to lands they occupied like whites that had settled in the area. Thus,  the free grants offered to whites from 1868 to 1908 were not available and lands upon which they were settled were not protected.”

The social and environmental destruction wrought at Bob’s Lake was no aberration, but rather a pattern that was repeated throughout the territory. Despite Indigenous people originally befriending newcomers to the area, settlers took over more and more of the traditional territory, pushing aside Algonquin people with little regard for their cultural, material or spiritual needs, nor for the land that sustained them.

In the book At Home in Tay Valley, Algonquin writer, activist and educator Paula Sherman quotes Kaondinoketch, an Omamiwinini leader from 1840, addressing a Perth council meeting with a complaint similar to that of Shawanapensi: “Our hunting grounds that are vast and extensive and once abounded in the richest furs and swarmed with deer of every description are now ruined.  We tell you the truth, we now starve half the year through and our children, who were accustomed to being comfortably clothed, are now naked.  We own, brother, that we are partly the cause of these present misfortunes; we were too good and generous; we permitted strangers to come and settle on our grounds and to cultivate the land; wood merchants to destroy our valuable timber, who have done us much injury, as by burning our rich forests, they have annihilated our beaver and our peltries, and driven deer away.”

Building Truth and Reconciliation

For a number of years, Lanark Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation have worked diligently to ensure such history is not forgotten, while also addressing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In a presentation they delivered to numerous area town councils, they pointed out: “The land on which we stand was then and continues to this day as unceded Algonquin territory.  No agreements have been signed to state how the land shall be shared.  It is a fundamental truth of our collective history that the Perth settlement was established in contradiction to British law and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which stated that no land could be granted to settlers without a prior agreement between First Nations and the Crown. The Proclamation was ratified at the Treaty of Niagara in 1764 where delegations from Indigenous peoples from across what is now southern Ontario met and exchanged wampum belts with a representative of the British Crown. Through this peace process the Algonquin people agreed to share the land but did not then nor ever since surrendered their title and rights to the land. The history of broken treaties began almost immediately as the Crown granted parcels of unceded land to reward soldiers for their service.”