Travel Ontario: A Visit to Blyth and Learning about the Blyth Theatre Festival

Our last day on Ontario’s West Coast had begun. It started with a nice home-made breakfast at our bed and breakfast, Clair on the Square, where a colourful fruit salad, freshly baked scones and over-easy eggs would give us a solid base for our explorations today. Our hostess Clair Soper told us about the extensive renovations that had gone into turning this 1850s house on the main square into an updated hospitality establishment with three bedrooms, all equipped with private bathrooms.

Impressions of our last breakfast in Bayfield

Impressions of our last breakfast in Bayfield

Clair is also a world traveller, and as a former Latin teacher, she has visited many places that were part of the Roman Empire. During the slower winter months, Clair also likes to travel south to warmer climates and has been exploring several different Caribbean islands. Having lived in Bayfield for more than 20 years, Clair is a real expert on the area and a great resource to her guests. With her outgoing nature, she makes everyone feel welcome and many of her repeat guests have turned into personal friends.

Unfortunately our time in Bayfield had come to an end and we had to say goodbye. Our next destination was the small nearby village of Blyth, home of the famous Blyth Theatre Festival. On the way there, we briefly stopped at Phil Gemeinhardt’s antique market, which consists of a collection of wooden sheds filled with quirky items and a wild assortment of disused objects that are more or less strategically placed all over the property. On the grounds you can see a collection of old boats, rusted farm implements, washing machines of various vintages and other objects. I was most impressed by an old Ford Aerostar van that was adorned with a fax machine on the dashboard, a veritable post-industrial still life.

Creative recycling at Phil Gemeinhardt's antique market

Creative recycling at Phil Gemeinhardt's antique market

Past rolling farmland and grazing cows we reached the village of Blyth, a small community of less than 1000 inhabits with a Victorian-era main street. I had an appointment with Eric Coates, the Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival, a theatre festival that specializes in the production and promotion of Canadian plays. Eric took me from the administrative offices to a large rehearsal room and from there to the back stage area of the theatre and explained that the festival was started in 1976.

The festival organization has a full time staff of 5 people that balloons into 60 people when the theatre season starts. The Blyth Festival actually runs four plays concurrently during the summer months, so visitors to the town can catch several productions. Some of the plays touch on topics such as the First World War, the concept and meaning of “home town”, Al Capone’s local visits to Southwestern Ontario during the Prohibition years and the disenfranchisement of a black family in Saskatchewan in the 1940s. All of the plays have substance and touch on meaningful topics.

The country village of Blyth

The country village of Blyth

Then Eric showed me the facilities, from the crossover area behind the stage that holds the somewhat vintage-era lighting equipment, to “back stage left” and the main auditorium of the Blyth Memorial Hall, which was built in 1920 to commemorate the fallen soldiers from this village that lost their lives in WWI. The theatre hall is also the cenotaph of the town and a wooden plaque commemorates the names of the dead soldiers.

On the right side of the stage a desk was set up holding various objects to produce sound effects for an upcoming play. A foley artist is going to use a typewriter, a rain stick, a thunder stick, bells, whistles, a clock maker (which produces a cookoo call), a cow, two shoes for footsteps, and a wooden box with a door knob to produce the sound of a door opening and closing. This upcoming play is a fundraiser for a women’s shelter and Eric is donating his own personal time to direct it.

Eric Coates tells me about the Blyth Theatre Festival

Eric Coates tells me about the Blyth Theatre Festival

My next stop in my discoveries in Huron County was the Benmiller Inn, so I had to say goodbye to Eric, but hopefully I’ll have a chance one day to catch on of the Blyth Festival’s theatre productions.

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