Looking Back by Claus Andrup

Thanks to Val Patenaude for sharing this!

Maple Ridge: Act One

Our earliest recorded theatre performances

LOOKING BACK

Claus Andrup

At the time of settlement in Maple Ridge the world was over a hundred years away from the advent of computers, the internet and the digital life which now dominates so much of our time. In that pre-digital era, rather than having to fight off information every day, we hungered for it. And theatre played an important role in communicating ideas and modern notions.

Who then staged the first theatrical production ever in Maple Ridge?

Finding examples of formal theatre productions in our history is not easy, due partly perhaps to the fact most entertainment was left to the imagination of the children of our early settlers. The youngsters doubtless took it upon themselves to amuse their families with skits, made impromptu on dull Sunday afternoons, in the dead of a valley winter.

The Haney, Hammond, Hampton and Laity families may have written letters or memoirs recalling those family moments where little Judy or Ernie had the family rolling in laughter on the living room floor, but such personal records are hard to find. And Thomas Haney may, of course, have refrained from actually rolling on the floor, but one never knows.

Research into the early press, such as the Columbian, and later the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Gazette suggests that day-to-day life in Maple Ridge presented more high drama than the fabricated, theatrical kind.

So, when did Maple Ridge see its first theatrical production? Who was the playwright? Who were the players? Where was the play staged and who came to see it? What did a ticket cost? Was it a Shakespearean piece or was it contemporary? Most important; how was it received?

To answer the question of “where” a report in the Columbian Saturday, January 14, 1893 under the heading “Maple Ridge Enterprise” states:  “The new public hall, built by the enterprise of the go-ahead people of Port Haney, was formally opened last night, a grand minstrel entertainment, followed by a supper and ball, being the features of the occasion.”  Being a Port Haney resident myself I rather enjoyed the reference to “go-ahead people”.

The Columbian piece continues: “The first floor will be used for public meetings, concerts, plays, etc., and is neatly finished and furnished.  The stage is large and well appointed, and two comfortable dressing rooms make it most complete.  The auditorium will seat 300 people comfortably.”  Seats 300? Over 100 hundred years later the newly built ACT seats 500. A bit of a demographic puzzle I think.

The following quote in the Columbian headed Port Hammond Jottings on Friday February 10 1893 appears to be the first sign of organized theatre in Maple Ridge: “The inhabitants of our little burgh are forming an amateur dramatic society and, if rehearsals mean anything, the first piece, which comes off shortly in the Port Haney Town Hall, is bound to be a success.  We understand that an admission will be charged, the proceeds to go towards purchasing an organ for the Methodist Church.  We wish them every success in the venture.”

In the Columbian one finds that the closest reports to anything like theatre are references to choirs or musical performances arranged at local schools. The pages reveal that in the 1800s theatre as such played out on the stage of life and revolved around land use, water and weather and how those three characters acted out forming our future community, usually with Council Chambers as the setting. Apparently some things don’t change a whit.

The dying years of the 1800s saw theatre come to be imagination consciously manifest on stage in Maple Ridge.  A correspondent writing the Columbian on Tuesday January 12, 1897 refers to the audience at a recital of the dialogue of “Five Old Maids” as: “…being kept in a state of suppressed merriment all through the dialogue.”  He further notes that: “The applause at the end of this piece was just deafening, and really too much cannot be said in praise of the manner in which these young ladies gave this real funny piece.”

Hammond TheatreHammond Theatre

Almost 30 years later the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Gazette Thursday, March 2, 1924 reported the formation of a glee club and its first performance which was staged in the newly built Hammond Theatre.

In 1970 the Community Arts Council of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows was founded on the rich artistic talents of the area and in 1971 the council incorporated as a society called the Community Arts Council of T'Lagunna, a First Nations word for "Golden Ears". Today, the Arts Council operates and manages the 500-seat ACT theatre.

In modern-day Maple Ridge theatre has become part of our regular cultural diet. From junior schools through senior secondary schools, interest in theatre remains high and audiences are not hard to find. Organizations such as the Emerald Pig continue to raise the bar by bringing more and more ambitious productions to our stages. 

Later this month, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will host one of the longest-running theatre traditions in Canada. Theatre B.C.’s MAINSTAGE 2006 will run from June 30 – July 8 at the Maple Ridge ACT. Tickets and information are available by calling The ACT at 604.476.2787. 

Note: Claus Andrup’s late father, Hans, enjoyed a life-long career as a producer/director/actor in Sweden and Denmark, and later in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia).