Stratford News

United Church of Canada’s GO Project comes to Stratford




United Church GO Project members including, from left, Jacob Robertson, Rick Gunn and Hillary MacDonald lend a hand at Stratford House of Blessing Wednesday. SCOTT WISHART The Beacon HeraldBy Mike Beitz, The Beacon Herald

By Mike Beitz, The Beacon Herald

August 1, 2013Thursday, August 1, 2013

Broaden your horizons. Deepen your faith. Serve the community. Make a difference.

It’s GO time.

Some 22 young people from the across Canada are in Stratford this week for a unique 11-day summer program with mission and outreach at its core.

Participants in the United Church of Canada’s GO Project are volunteering at local food banks, participating in clean-up efforts, visiting people with disabilities, touring area farms, and even entertaining local seniors.

When they’re not at mission sites, they’re worshipping, sharing experiences, attending workshops, writing in journals, or just reflecting. There’s even some time set aside for fun.

“It’s busy, and it’s awesome and it’s really transformational for the youth to come alive and engage in the local community,” said Hillary MacDonald, Stratford site co-ordinator for the GO Project.

St. John’s United is the host church and home base for the participants in Stratford, but they spend a good portion of their day around the city.

Wednesday, they were at the House of Blessing, where one group was helping to organize shelves, arrange cutlery and wrap glassware in sheets of newspaper.

Another group provided some entertainment for residents at Spruce Lodge.

Earlier this week, they participated in a food justice bread-baking session, and toured the downtown core to consider the importance of local products.

“It’s exciting, because we’re learning about the community and it’s learning about us,” said MacDonald.

Indeed, one of the key elements of the initiative is encouraging participants to think about how they can take what they’ve learned back to their own communities, noted Michael Shewburg, minister to the GO Project.

He helped launch the first one in Toronto six years ago, and it has since spread to Halifax, Vancouver and St. John’s.

Stratford is the newest GO site, offered for the first time in partnership with the Huron Perth Presbytery, and it was chosen for a reason, said Shewburg.

“We wanted the project to have a strong rural focus,” he said, noting that the city’s location in the middle of an agricultural community make it an ideal spot to examine food and social justice issues.

Fifteen-year-old Jacob Robertson, of Bedford, Nova Scotia, participated in a GO Project in Newfoundland, and chose to come to Stratford specifically for that rural experience.

Big city or a small, the benefits are the same, he suggested.

“It’s a chance to give back to communities across Canada,” said Robertson.

Ruvimbo Musiyiwa, 17, who moved to Canada from Zimbabwe only a few years ago, got involved in the GO Project through her church in Toronto.

“It seemed like a great idea to make new friends and build my faith,” she said.

Musiyiwa said she has been struck by Stratford’s “small-town, friendly feel,” but noted that, like any city, there are challenges.

“You don’t think of it when you drive by. You see a lot of beauty, but you don’t see the poverty. You don’t see the depression,” she said.

The GO Project is an opportunity to learn, and to help, added Musiyiwa.

Only a few days into the 11-day program, the young people are already making an impression in the community.

“It’s so good to see youth involved in a cause,” said Spruce Lodge volunteer co-ordinator Susan Bray Wednesday after the group staged a talent show for residents at the long term care facility.

She was hoping for an “intergenerational experience” and a good connection between the young people and the residents, and that’s exactly what happened, said Bray.

GO Project participants will be in Stratford until the middle of next week, and this Sunday they will lead the worship service at St. John’s United Church in Stratford.

Lakefront restaurant will bring tourists to Goderich, says restaurateur



July 23, 2013

When Herb Marshall looks across Goderich’s shoreline, he sees a much broader vision than a lakefront restaurant created by moving the former CPR station closer to the beach.

As he looks at the heritage building that is now perched on steel beams, awaiting its move west to a prepared patch of ground, he contemplates an attraction that will not just feed hungry tourists during the summer season, but will whet their appetite for a much longer stay in Goderich.

“We’re in a huge competition for jobs with every other municipality around us. We have to get more people here to see what a perfect spot this is. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up opening a business here. But you have to get them here first. And when you get them here, you have to give them an experience that’s memorable,” Marshall said.

Indeed, Marshall, 64, and his wife, Sherri, were tourists from Toronto, visiting the area for decades before purchasing the historic Park House restaurant in 2006.

Last year, he bought the CPR station from the town for one dollar and entered into a 20-year lease of municipally owned land beside Southpier Terminal’s weigh station. He hired Sommer Brothers Construction as general contractors.

The CPR station has architectural and cultural significance, with its hipped roof over the central portion and a cross-gable and lunette trackside. Restored slate tiles top the cupola of the round waiting room. Original interior features include a true ceiling with three large medallions, wooden screens, interior doors, fixtures, trim and decorative plaster. On August 3, 1988, the last train stopped on the bridge to blow its whistle for a final time.

The new restaurant, which will be named Beach Street Station, is scheduled to open in May 2014. It will maintain the historic features of the former railway station, with an interior tastefully decorated with memorabilia. There will be seating for about 300 people, spread out over the former baggage area with the addition of a sunroom, round turret area that will serve as a breakfast nook and coffee bar through the day, catwalk running through the middle of the restaurant, and two outdoor patios. He would like to install a banquet tent next summer that will seat 250 people.

For comparison, the Park House seats 95 in the main restaurant, 68 on the patio, 35 in its dining room and 72 upstairs, for a total capacity of 270.

“What I did was I tried to extrapolate from my own business whether it was viable from May to October” to carry it through the off-season, Marshall said.  “I never approach anything I think I’m going to lose money on. But I never got into this thinking it was going to add a significant number of zeroes to my net worth. Do I believe that this is a venture that will pay for itself and the answer is yes.”

Now that he’s crunched all the numbers, he knows it will work.

“I’ve stopped waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I wake up now and I don’t go back to sleep just because I have things on my mind. I see it and I believe it,” he said.

Even though he knows it’s a good idea, Marshall said he will have to validate the idea to others.

“I’m going to prove that it works for everybody, that everybody is happy with it. I’m not trying to steal from myself or from any other food provider in town. My objective is to have that place full to overflowing so they come to town, they can’t get in and they’re going everywhere else,” he said.

When he’s done that, he’ll begin work on a plan to expand the restaurant to include a convention centre, banquet facility, hotel and theatre.

“That’s all way out there, blue sky thinking. But that’s how things happen,” he said.

For now, he’s focused on the building’s move from its current location to the leased land, which is scheduled to take place next Tuesday.

This week, the CPR station that currently rests on 100-foot steel beams will be slid to the west in a job orchestrated by Laurie McCullough Building Moving, of Whitby, which specializes in historic and masonry buildings. It will be set upon a dozen or so 50-ton dollies that are hydraulically controlled in order to keep the building stable. They will be hitched to a tractor trailer and pulled down an excavated path, then swung around to wait for two more foundation walls to be completed before it’s set into place.

The project has created much talk among tourists, historians and residents who wander down to the waterfront to watch the project.

“The support has been fantastic. I haven’t heard one criticism. It’s just been huge, huge support. And I’ll make sure they get what they think they’re getting,” Marshall said.

Stratford Festival ticket sales up over last year


Antoni Cimolino

By Laura Cudworth, The Beacon Herald

July 26, 2013

It’s a simple philosophy but one that might turn the fortunes of the Stratford Festival around.

Artistic director Antoni Cimolino’s mantra for his first season at the artistic helm has been, “Give them something they can’t get anywhere else.”

“If we try to compete by being like everybody else, and I hope this never happens to the Festival, no one will come because they can get that back home,” he said.

“The idea behind the Stratford Festival is to take the world’s best plays, work with the best people under the best conditions, it’s a great idea.”

Cimolino isn’t the first artistic director to take over at a time of financial difficulty and he’s been around long enough that he’s experienced highs and lows. Last season was a low in terms of revenue. The Festival experienced a 5% drop in attendance which resulted in a $3.4 million deficit.

Cimolino’s response was a strong playbill and affordable peripheral activities through The Forum—an eclectic program of music, comedy, panels and guest speakers.

So far, it looks promising.

The Festival is about 32,000 ticket sales ahead of last year at this time, said executive director Anita Gaffney. Part of that is reflected in the 11% increase in the American market.

“That’s wonderful to see. They tend to come for a longer period of time and stay in the community,” Gaffney said.

Anecdotally speaking there are more Americans staying in bed and breakfasts and they’re staying a little bit longer, said Murray Sanderson, president of the Stratford and Area Bed & Breakfast Association.

Americans made up a substantial part of the Festival’s revenue for years. The after effects of 911, including the need for passports to cross the border, and a weak economy have made drawing in U.S. patrons tough for the past several years.

Many of the hurdles are still in place so why are they starting to come back?

“It’s a combination of things. Maybe they’re feeling a little more comfortable about the economy and (appreciate) the strong classical content and variety of the season. They’re really drawn by the programming this year,” Gaffney said.

The Forum is a big attraction for Americans too because of the time they spend in the city.

The Festival has been offering “two-for-one Tuesdays” to bring more people in mid-week and that seems to be working.

“Its been a little bit of a different season, I can tell you that,” Sanderson said. “We’re getting a lot mid-week, especially Tuesdays. Tuesday is usually very quiet for us but this year it’s very busy.”

Good programming is one thing but inadequate train service is another. To solve transportation issues for people in Toronto who don’t drive, the Festival hired a transportation company to manage a bus. Gaffney acknowledges it’s a loss leader for the theatre—tickets are only $20 round trip—but it’s worth it to get patrons in the door.

“The bus has been really good for us. There’s strong use of it and we’re seeing just over half of the people using it are new to us,” Gaffney said.

There’s been a surprise spin off too. Some of the people taking the bus are tourists to Toronto who have added Stratford to their vacations because it’s easy to get here now.

“We have marketed them but we didn’t expect the pick up would be what it has been,” Gaffney said.

The reviews in various media have been favourable, for the most part. Perhaps what’s more important are the reviews coming from regular patrons who pass on their thoughts to family and friends. Sanderson those reviews are better than last year’s overall.

Cimolino had no sense of how the season might be received until after opening week. He described the winter as “nerve wracking” wondering if patrons would come.

“In effect it’s like having a baby and you don’t want anyone to tell you your baby is ugly,” he said.

That’s not what he’s hearing. Mary Stuart, which he directed, as been extended three times and he’s been told Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best productions at the theatre in decades among other accolades.

It’s been a good inaugural year.

“On the simplest level it’s an enormous relief and on another level it’s the best thing that could happen to any person,” Cimolino said.

Stratford Perth Community Foundation wants to share your passion for community


By Bruce Urquhart, Woodstock Sentinel-Review and Stratford Beacon Herald

July 22, 2013

The Stratford Perth Community Foundation is looking for people who want to share their love for our community.

And by share, the Stratford Perth Community Foundation means, potentially, with the entire country.

In late June, Canada’s 191 community foundations launched an online talent search for people to star in a national television and radio advertising campaign that promotes the message of “community.”

“We’ll be looking for people who embody the spirit of their community, as well as the campaign’s tagline: ‘Your Community Makes You. You Make Your Community,’” Ted Nation, the president of Yield Branding, the award-winning agency that’s producing the campaign, said at the time.

Given how passionately community-minded the residents of Stratford and Perth are — and the simplicity of “auditioning” for this talent search — the folk at the local community foundation are hoping for more than a few “Community Idol” participants.

“It’s exciting,” said Heidi Spannbauer, the executive director of the Stratford Perth Community Foundation. “We’re really putting our energy behind this.”

The audition itself is simple. The tryout involves downloading and recording a sample spoken-word audition poem that’s then uploaded to YouTube by “responding” to the Community Foundations of Canada’s own video. The actual details – and the poem – are available at

“(The audition) doesn’t have to be perfect,” Spannbauer said. “It’s just, ‘I love my community.’ It’s literally two minutes in length.”

To be eligible for this talent search, an entrant must be 18 years or older, involved in the local community, able to travel to Toronto, have access to a YouTube account and, in a stipulation more applicable to Stratford and Perth than other regions, not a professional actor.

The video submission can be as creative as the entrant likes but needs to include:

• The entrant’s first name;

• A short description of the entrant’s community involvement, and

• A performance of the audition poem, which is similar in style to the campaign anthem the winner will perform. Entrants are free to replace the middle verse with their own stanza about their community.

“You visit the Community Foundation website, and it shows you how to put the video up,” Spannbauer said.

The Community Foundations of Canada, who will be notifying the winners via YouTube message, will evaluate every submitted video after the Aug. 30 entry deadline. The talent search winners will be flown to Toronto, with all accommodations and transport paid, where they will star in the Community Foundations of Canada’s first television and radio advertisements, which feature a “powerful anthem about community.”

The Community Foundations of Canada is the national network for Canada’s 191 community foundations, which help Canadians invest in building “strong and resilient” places to live. The Stratford Perth Community Foundation engages local individuals and businesses as community builders by “matching their specific philanthropic interests with community needs.” Currently, the local foundations cares for about $1.5 million in endowments and, through this community philanthropy, has awarded more than $220,000 to local charities and not-for-profit organizations.

“We love the concept of community engagement and ownership of the foundation,” Spannbauer said. We hold assets for the community and we’re owned by the community.

“It just keeps growing.”

Robertson shares highs and lows of career



Chet Greason Gazette staff
Famous newsman Lloyd Robertson signs a newspaper clipping about his last visit to Stratford following a public talk Saturday as part of the Stratford Festival’s new Forum series at the Studio Theatre.

Chet Greason, Stratford Gazette staff

July, 16, 2013

The Forum, a series of talks, discussions, and presentations offered by the Stratford Festival, is offering 150 different events this season. On Saturday morning, storied newsman and Stratford native Lloyd Robertson, accompanied by popular CTV personality Seamus O’Regan, spoke before a gathered audience in the Studio Theatre.

Robertson addressed a number of topics, beginning with the early days of the Stratford Festival, which was one of his earliest assignments when he worked for local radio station CJCS at the age of 18.

According to Robertson, there was a deep divide amongst local citizens regarding the theatrical initiative. He explained how there were two sides to the idea: “The Long-haired actor types, and those of us who carry our lunch pails.”

He had been one of the former, while his father and station manager were among the latter, he added, noting, for many, a Shakespearean theatre simply did not seem like a viable replacement for the loss of the CN Rail manufacturing sector.

As part of the Festival’s opening, Robertson interviewed actor Alec Guinness.

“That tape is long gone … taped over for a Boyd’s shoe commercial,” he said. “We didn’t keep anything back then.”

Robertson’s deep baritone and rich vocabulary make him an engaging subject to listen to. One story he shared included a run-in with a prostitute along Jarvis Street in Toronto while walking to an interview with the CBC. The woman offered Robertson an array of “sexual services on a graduated economic scale,” and he politely declined. By all accounts, a non-event; yet somehow, out of Robertson’s mouth, the story gained magnitude.

Robertson also talked about his decision to leave the CBC for CTV, and how it did not come easy.

“The CBC taught me everything I knew … But the opposition came at me really hard.”

According to Robertson, at the time CBC had strict rules, enforced by unions, dictating who could do what job. Announcers read, reporters wrote, and as a member of the announcers’ union, Robertson could never get truly involved in the telling of a story, as contemporaries in the US like Walter Cronkite were doing.

“I knew that had to be broken … CTV said to me, ‘Come here, you can do it all.’”

Robertson knew CTV was the way to go when he was approached by a union member who told him, “You’re the battering ram being used by the CBC to break us.”

“So I knew I had to go.”

O’Regan pointed out how frank Robertson has been in his recent book, “The Kind of Life Its Been,” about his mother’s mental illness. Robertson explained that there were no medications available at the time to help his mother function normally; she was given a lobotomy when he was 14.

“They were non-persons,” Robertson said of the mentally ill at the time. “They were hidden in attics, experimented on. No one was discriminated against as much as the mentally ill in those days.”

Robertson also turned the tables on O’Regan, noted he had overheard a rumour that the CTV correspondent had chosen to run for the Rosedale Liberal nomination for the empty seat left by Bob Rae.

“Can you believe him?” laughed O’Regan, before answering with an emphatic “No!”

“I just returned from two weeks in Newfoundland, which is what nominees for Toronto Centre typically do,” he added sarcastically.

Both Robertson and O’Regan fielded questions from the audience, the first dealing with the divide between advocacy and journalism.

Robertson said advocacy journalism existed, citing environmentalist David Suzuki as an example, and O’Regan brought up climate change as an issue where the line between advocacy and journalism was often muddied, noting on CTV news programs it is common practice to get a commentator from both sides on a given show.

“The problem was, almost all of the scientists were on the one side. The other side was just denial, denial, denial. And it ultimately came out that they were false groups put there by oil companies.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be used that way,” O’Regan said, adding that it’s a journalist’s job to pursue the facts.

Robertson was asked his best and worst moments as a journalist. After a moment’s thought, he said covering the moon landing was a definite highlight, noting he found himself looking up at the moon from a parking lot afterwards, asking how it was that he was so lucky to be covering such a momentous occasion.

As for a low point, Robertson claimed the massacre at École Polytechnique in 1989, when a gunman killed 14 women, mostly engineering students, had deeply affected him.

“I was angry. As a father of four daughters, I still get choked up. You can never be immune to what’s around you as a journalist,” he said.

Retailers don’t fear big box arrivals


Jackie Catania, owner of Treasures and chair of the Stratford City Centre Committee, says downtown merchants have nothing to worry about with the pending arrival of Walmart and Target, though she suggest it’s a good time to review their operations.

Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff

Tuesday, July, 09, 2013

Rather than take a wait and see approach, independent retailers in Stratford are being encouraged to start now when it comes to distancing themselves from their new corporate competitors.

But don’t take that as a sign downtown business owners fear the impact big box stores Walmart and Target will have on their bottom lines.

“I’ve been asked many times if I’m worried, and my answer has always been no,” Jackie Catania, owner of Treasures and chair of the Stratford City Centre Committee, says. “I really think it’s a chance for us to shine, to show people what we do that’s different, that makes us stand apart.”

Both stores are scheduled to open in the east end of Stratford in late fall ahead of the Christmas season, Target in the former Zellers location and Walmart on Ontario Street.

According to media reports, Target has gained momentum in the domestic marketplace, with brand awareness hitting 92 per cent in 2012, compared to about 70 per cent in 2011 when the Minneapolis-based company first announced its plans to expand into Canada.

Walmart Canada, meanwhile, saw overall sales rise 6.1 per cent during the first quarter of 2013 amid its own cross-country expansion as it braces for Target’s full introduction into the marketplace.

During presentations to business leaders in Stratford and St. Marys last month, retail consultant Pierre Cliche forecasted the two discount retailers will do at least $20 million in sales annually once established.

But Catania says that money doesn’t have to come directly from the pockets of downtown merchants, who rather than fret about not being able to match their competitors’ prices due to limited buying power should be using the opportunity to refine their own customer service experience.

“We stand apart from Walmart and Target and all the big box stores by the service, by the knowledge we have,” she adds, noting in her store, for instance, she knows every detail about each product, including where it was made.

Nigel Howard agrees that small retailers have a distinct advantage over the big chains.

The general manager of the Perth Community Futures Development Corporation and Stratford-Perth Centre for Business, which provide business coaching, financing, and expansion planning, says consumers want a certain level of service they often don’t get at big box stores, where they might have to search for staff only to be directed to an aisle.

“This is where you can beat the box stores,” he adds. “Knock their socks off with customer service.”

Howard says now is a good time for merchants to review all aspects of their store, including the frequency in which window displays are changed and the hours of the operation.

He suggests if any stores aren’t open seven days a week now might be a good time to start.

“If they continue like that, you can believe Walmart and Target are going to be open seven days a week. (The business owners) have to look at that – can they afford to not be open?”

Catania also believes downtown business owners need to be more flexible with their hours, especially on Friday evenings, where an extra hour or two would benefit local residents.

Right now, hours in the downtown vary. Some open 9 a.m to 6 p.m. while others operate from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

As the head of the City Centre Committee, which has a mandate to maintain an active and viable downtown core, Catania is also encouraging those members who close on Mondays – typically a quieter day due to Stratford Festival having no shows – to reconsider.

She says the City Centre has tried in the past to coordinate hours with its retailers but for a variety of reasons hasn’t worked. Trying to get all merchants on the same operating schedule might not be realistic given their small staff numbers and other commitments away from work, she adds.

Catania says local stores can differentiate themselves in other ways, like offering simple services like gift wrapping and deliveries to a customer’s B&B or hotel, both of which she offers at her store.

Even the smallest thing like making sure the store front is clean and well kept can make a difference, she adds, though she notes most downtown merchants already do an excellent job in this area.

“Downtown people do care about their business because it’s there livelihood,” she adds.

Catania and Howard note the tourist season in Stratford has been better than expected this year, with sales surpassing totals from this time last year, something they attribute in part to a well-received playbill from the Festival.

Howard says local business owners should also experience increased demand over the holiday shopping season as fewer people leave the city to shop at the nearest Walmart or Target.

In the past, people would visit Woodstock or Kitchener for a Walmart and end up shopping at other local stores. But now all of that money will stay in the community, he adds.

Sixty years ago Stratford became a theatre town


An aerial view looking east shows the original tent structure of the Stratford Festival 60 years ago. (BEACON HERALD FILES)

By Laura Cudworth, The Beacon Herald
Friday, July 12, 2013

“The testing time will come when the novelty, local and national, has worn off,” warned The Times Weekly Review in London, England in 1952.

Saturday is the Stratford Festival’s 60th anniversary of the first opening night. The novelty has worn off, the Festival has been tested and passed each test as a first-class cultural institution.

It’s well known Tom Patterson’s crazy dream was to leave the hometown he loved with a lasting financial and cultural industry. He was smart enough to know when he didn’t have the answers and brave enough to ask the people who did, most notably big-time British director Tyrone Guthrie.

There were two plays instead of just one that first season – “Richard III” and “All’s Well That End’s Well” — based on the advice of Guthrie in a report to the Shakespeare Festival Committee.

“I suggest for the first year one production is insufficient: 1. Too skimpy an effort to justify all the ballyhoo. 2. Advisable to have a second barrel, in case the first shot is a miss.”

The first shot, “Richard III”, wasn’t a miss. The standing ovation lasted until Alec Guinness (Richard III) made a curtain speech.

“The audience just rose as one person, it went on for 15 minutes,” said actor William (Bill) Needles, who was in the cast opening night.

He recalled some members in the audience were crying.

“We were standing on the stage bawling and crying too. It was a good omen for the years to come. The impact was immediate, we’ve got something here.”

Before that first performance no one knew how the Festival would be received. The whole idea was so extraordinary. Canadian theatre was under-developed and the concept of a thrust stage was outside the box, never mind in a 1,500-seat canvas tent weighing in at three and a half tons.

The tent may seem like a crazy detail in a crazy plan but it was a relatively cautious concept.

“To build would be madness before the idea has been proven seaworthy,” Guthrie concluded.

The famous stage and tent were not ready when rehearsals started June 1 so a mock-up stage, in the agricultural building, would have to do. The first rehearsal in the tent was June 28.

Guthrie wanted a top-notch cast with big names in leading roles. One of those, of course, was Guinness, famed actor of stage and screen.

In a letter to the actor, Guthrie stressed the name “Guinness” would help with fundraising and ensure the whole endeavour wouldn’t become just a “small town jamboree.”

In his letter, Guthrie suggested perhaps Guinness might play Hamlet and Angelo in “Measure for Measure” that first season, “but only if there’s a really luscious lady around for Isabella, eg. Mdme Eileen Herlie.”

“I do most eagerly and keenly hope you’ll embark on this project, dear Alec,” he concluded.

Guinness agreed to come, and like Patterson and Guthrie, he threw his heart into the project. He turned down film and theatre roles (good-paying jobs) to come to Stratford.

Guthrie was keen to have British stars but was just as keen to have a Canadian cast and production staff. In December 1952, Guthrie held auditions in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Stratford and talked to about 400 actors.

Needles recalled his audition with Guthrie as “brisk.” Like most other Canadians with a desire to act back then, he had experience in radio — he spoke clearly — a plus because it was a large tent and the actors needed to be heard. It was one of the reasons Needles was hired, after first promising to do as he was told.

“I was hired for the next 47 years,” he quipped.

James Colbeck was just 13 years old when he was auditioned and hired to play the Prince of Wales.

“(Guthrie) wanted a Canadian but when he heard my Canadian accent speaking Shakespeare’s glorious English he said, ‘Would someone take that boy away and teach him to speak English?’”

On top of it all, the two other dark-haired boys in the production looked like brothers. Colbeck was a redhead. He was demoted to the role of page.

Colbeck thought he had failed his family and his school –Upper Canada College — which released him a month early to join the Festival. He was mortified.

“Alec Guinness took me around then and explained the realities of theatre. He explained the right person had to be in the right job,” recalled Colbeck, who now lives in Stratford.

In his 30-minute pep talk, Guinness stressed the change in roles wasn’t a failure and got Colbeck’s “sniffles” under control.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” said Tony Rotherham, who played the Duke of York in “Richard III”. “It was truly emotional for a star of that calibre to take that much concern for a kid.”

Jack Merigold, assistant stage manager back in 1953, remembered Guinness as a private man who, with time, opened up.

“I used to help with his soliloquies, so did Timothy Findley,” he said.

Irene Worth added glamour but she was so much more than just glamorous, Merigold said. She worked extremely hard at her craft.

She had a “fantastic theatre voice” and practised two to three hours a day, he said.

She became a very good friend, he said.

“She was ahead of her time as a health nut.”

As a busy stage manager Merigold found himself eating more hamburgers and drinking more milkshakes than any one person should. In fact, during one performance, Guinness came off stage and asked who was rustling Kleenex. It was Merigold reaching into the bag to get his hamburger.

There were about 30 members of the company — 10 of them Canadian — and the expectations from Guthrie were high.

“(Guthrie) was a taskmaster. He’d say, ‘I’m sitting in a paid seat back here and I can’t hear a damned thing. Speak up!’ Guthrie was fascinating. He had great training but he was experimental in a way,” Needles said.

Guthrie wasn’t one to pull punches in rehearsals even with humble actors who had relatively little experience.

“Dear boy, do you know what you were doing in that last scene?”

Needles replied, “Yes.”

“Well, don’t,” was the response.

During the last rehearsal before the opening it was unbelievably hot, Merigold said. The heat inside the tent was so intense rehearsals ended early and the stagehands put a clothesline up at the back of the tent to hang the costumes before the actors went on — Guinness’ coronation robe was massive.

After the rehearsals, the unionized IATSE crew was released for the afternoon and there was no one to sweep the stage before the opening. Merigold left on his bike but only made it as far as the Queen’s Hotel before he turned around.

“If I didn’t do it, who would?”

When he got back to the tent he found Guthrie and his wife, Judy, sweeping the stage.

“That night cemented my relationship with Guthrie,” Merigold said.

He went on to work as a stage manager for Guthrie for a decade.

Outside the tent, the excitement was at its peak. Lori Colbeck’s dad Alex Smith was the radio programmer and was one of the few in Stratford fortunate enough to get a part. He played Lord Grey.

Some very big names came to dinner at the Smith home as a result, including Douglas Campbell, Michael Bates and Douglas Rain, who came in shirt and tie and was very shy, she recalled.

Those big names walked the streets of Stratford and there was an understanding they weren’t to be harassed.

“No one was a gawker. You were just really pleased if you saw Guinness walk by,” she said.

But once opening night finally came around there were crowds outside to watch the spectacle. Lori was outside the tent and described it as “magic.”

“There was a fly past, they shot an actual canon, the bells were ringing. And seeing those women in their gowns and the cars …”

Inside the tent actors did their best to quell their jitters.

“On opening night we were all terribly nervous, even the professional actors. We went on apprehensively,” Needles said.

It all went smoothly, for the most part.

“In the battle scene the train went through with the whistle blowing. For us back stage, I suspect we were laughing our heads off,” Colbeck said.

The train times were changed or the whistle was stopped after that, Lori said.

No one knew how this whole venture would turn out. It was a huge risk for everyone involved. There were financial risks taken and careers potentially on the line. Even the staunchest supporters had their moments of doubt.

After rehearsals one afternoon Needles offered Guthrie a ride home in his car. Guthrie, who was living on Norman St. at the time, accepted. He invited Needles in for dinner.

“His wife Judy was in the kitchen making Irish stew with a cigarette hanging over and the ashes falling in,” Needles recalled.

“Early in the meal he grabbed my arm and said, ‘You know this could be the most disastrous failure.’ And he howled with laughter.”

From the start, Guthrie warned the committee the venture would lose money in its first year but that would be offset by “invisible assets of prestige.” The Festival was at 98% capacity that first season with more than 68,000 people attending. The five-week season was extended to six and the theatre pulled in $206,000 over 42 performances.

Like Patterson, Guthrie was convinced this was Stratford’s time.

“If Stratford doesn’t do it, some other Canadian community will,” Guthrie told Guinness.

The Times Weekly Review editorial took a wait-and-see approach even after the success of opening night, but the paper did acknowledge, “something quite unexpected, and potentially important, has happened in Canadian cultural life.”

Perth-Wellington MPP plugs tax break for farmers who donate to food banks


Beacon Herald Staff

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece is supportive of a plan to give farmers who donate food to local food banks a tax credit.

“This idea would help bring fresh, local food to people who are struggling,” said Pettapiece.

“I’ve met with many of our local food banks across Perth-Wellington, and I know they are compassionate and dedicated,” he added. “We should all support them.”

On Wednesday, the PC caucus proposed an amendment to the Local Food Act that would give farmers a non-refundable tax credit worth 25% of the wholesale value of excess food products to food banks.

“Perth-Wellington is the heart of agriculture in Ontario,” said Pettapiece. “Many local farmers are already donating food, but this tax credit would allow many more to help out.”

A statement from Pettapiece’s office said more than 25 million pounds of nutritious food is disposed of or plowed back into fields every year.

Some of that food can’t be sold to grocers simply because it’s not the right size, shape or colour, the statement said. Farmers are willing to donate food but many can’t afford the additional costs of collecting, processing and delivering unsold produce.

“We need a bill that will make a difference by addressing farmers’ concerns and, at the same time, improving distribution. The tax credit proposal would make a big difference, and I strongly urge the other parties to support it,” Pettapiece said.

The Stonetown shines in new online video


Stew Slater
News editor, Stratford Gazette
Wednesday, July, 10, 2013

The Rediscovering Canada production company’s documentary about St. Marys, filmed last year in and around town, had its world broadcast premiere on Monday, July 8, and will now be available in full HD only on The 23-minute segment is currently the featured video on the website’s main page.

Members of St. Marys Town Council praised the video during their Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, July 9. Councillor Lynn Hainer said it would be nice to have the video as a regular element on the television screens in the Pyramid Recreation Centre’s lobby area. And Councillor Carey Pope wondered about ensuring the Town has the rights to replay the video as part of its tourism promotion efforts.

Human Resources Manager Kimberly Richardson responded that the town plans to discuss the rights to the video with its director.

And asked by Councillor Don Van Galen about the cost to the town of having the video produced, Richardson responded there was no cost at all. The director, she said, “is passionate” about promoting what he believes are Canada’s hidden gems. And St. Marys is one of those.

Keep fit – money is just one part of a healthy retirement



Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Jun. 17 2013

Trish Bongard Godfrey isn’t planning to retire right now, but she is doing a lot of planning.

“I have no intention of retiring. I might never retire,” the 54-year-old Toronto real estate agent says. She’s going strong in her second career – she was previously a fundraising manager in the not-for-profit sector – and she’s active and healthy. She enjoys her work.

Yet Ms. Bongard Godfrey recognizes the need to prepare for her future as a senior. It goes beyond financial planning.

Figuring out how we will live securely and comfortably in addition to being financially independent is more important for Canadians as our population ages and seniors’ lifestyles evolve.

Life expectancy for Canadians keeps going up – it’s nearly 81 years and rising, according to Statistics Canada. Many of us will live much longer than that – Ms. Bongard Godfrey’s own parents and her 98-year-old mother-in-law are still going strong.

The new longevity is changing the way people look at their own advancing years. The 50s and 60s used to be when people would consider winding down and figuring out their finances; this still happens, but for many people these years are less twilight and more of an extended middle age.

“In order to get as much as possible out of our old age, we will need to embrace it,” says Lyndsay Green, an author and blogger who writes about seniors.

In her book You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? she challenges seniors to concentrate on their non-financial needs. Where will you live? What kinds of friends will you have? How will you spend your time and what will you have organized for yourself when, eventually, you do slow down?

One important issue to look at beyond financials is intergenerational planning, says Brad Wise, vice-president and portfolio manager, TD Wealth Private Client Group in Markham, Ont.

“There are a whole host of things to consider – your children’s education, long-term care for your parents,” Mr. Wise says.

There are new contingencies, too.

For example, in a job market with persistently high youth unemployment your kids may be living with you for longer than you had originally thought, right into their own adulthood.

Long-term care for parents takes planning. Experts suggest you raise the subject early, as waiting lists for care and homes can be long.

“People wait to make these decisions and then it’s up to CCAC [in Ontario, the provincial Community Care Access Centre] to decide, and there may not be room in the place you wanted,” Ms. Bongard Godfrey says.

What else should you plan for? As a real estate agent, Ms. Bongard Godfrey works with a lot of clients who are making lifestyle transitions, and she offers what she calls the “F’s” – family, friends, fitness, food, flexibility, fun and fashion.


Make clear how you want to dispose of your major assets – not just who gets your money but also things like your Stratocaster, tea set or that ugly lacquered table in the den. You should of course have a will and sign power of attorney documents in case you become incapacitated


Keeping a network of friends is one of the most important keys to a secure old age. They’re your personal support system for the rest of your life. They don’t all have to be old friends – it’s nice to become pals with the couple in their 30s who will check up on you when you’re 90, or the teenaged neighbour who comes over to watch a hockey game. “We’re social animals,” says TD’s Mr. Wise. “It’s what keeps us going.”

Fitness and food

It’s easy to let fitness slip but it’s also easy to stay in shape. Set reasonable goals. You don’t have to do 100 bench presses, but you can walk to the store instead of driving, or golf, swim or garden. “You’d be surprised how popular lawn bowling is,” Mr. Wise says.

Your surroundings need to be fit for you too. You may need to renovate, adding a stair-assist device or a walk-in shower (in some cases, provincial grants are available).

Or you may need to move to a smaller, more manageable home, long before it’s time to consider assisted living.

By “food,” Ms. Bongard Godfrey doesn’t just mean eating right. “It’s my code for consumption,” she says. “We’re placing demands on the ecosystem,” she explains, “so we should be thinking about what we eat, what we drink and what we wear.” Doing this brings the added benefit of helping people live within their budgets – ask yourself: Do I really need that?

Fun, flexibility and fashion

Having fun is a must, but it helps to be strategic. Ms. Bongard Godfrey comes across prospective clients who moved to ski areas such as Collingwood, Ont., only to decide to move somewhere else because they couldn’t ski any more.

Flexibility also means being prepared for the unexpected. Seniors who travel a lot should make sure their home insurance is up to date and that their house is burglar-protected with an alarm or surveillance system, because thieves can tell when nobody is home.

Out-of-country travel insurance is important, too, but beware that the cost can be sky-high in advanced years or if you have had major medical treatment in the past. If you drive, an auto club membership is handy, and make sure you ask for seniors’ discounts. Fashion?

“It’s just a matter of keeping up, with everything. Be aware of the world around you and enjoy it,” Ms. Bongard Godfrey says. “If we’re too rigid, life will hit us. The next 30 or 40 years is going to be [a period] of rapid change.”