Down North
A Dependent's Notes of Interest
© Jean Watts 2002


Page 13: Entertainment

As well as the various activities listed in the Whitehorse Star article there were other sources of entertainment for residents. National and local news and information on events and entertainment were available on Whitehorse's CBC radio station. I remember as being especially appropriate its excellent drama program on the construction of the Highway. There was also some television, via WHTV (Channel 4), although I am not sure whether it was available in Camp Takhini. There were two movie theatres downtown, the more upmarket one being the Capitol Theatre Yukon, and there was also a movie program at the camp

On one memorable occasion, opera came to Whitehorse - Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. This excellent production was organized by the Choral Society of Elsa-Calumet, whose president, Rotraud Lopp, a professional musician, produced, directed, and played the piano accompaniment. The school music teacher, Ken Roberts, recruited fourteen local schoolchildren to play the parts of angels and gingerbread children, and Ian was one of the children liberated from the witch's magic spell. Ken Roberts was famous among the children for being able to play the piano while facing away from it. The opera performance proved to be both excellent and a great success.

Whitehorse had no live theatre, so some energetic citizens founded a drama club to fill the gap, regularly putting on comedies and melodramas. Somehow Dick and I became involved with the club, which had its workshop at Fourth and Hogue, not very far from the Officers' Mess. We started off painting scenery, building sets, operating bits of equipment, and prompting, etc. After gaining experience in this way we ended up acting in the comedies and melodramas that were the club's usual productions.

The Shooting of Dan McGrew

Stage: Shooting of Dan McGrew
The Shooting of Dan McGrew: (left to right) Mary McLachlan, Betty Perrin, Vi Blair, Dick Watts, Muriel Jones, Gladys Preston, and Marge McLean (Jean Watts's leg at far right).

Dick and I put our new expertise to use at mess parties, and our first production was, appropriately, a revue entitled "The Naughty Nuggets of '98" (a reference to the Klondike gold rush of 1898). This hit show included a version of the perennial northern favourite, Robert Service's The Shooting of Dan McGrew. Our cast was composed of army wives, except for Dick, who got roped into the part of the barman, none of the wives having enough experience for that part!

The Brigadier's wife, Muriel Jones, in a full beard and moustache, played the lead role of the miner who came in from the cold to shoot Dan McGrew. She was a wonderful woman, a really good sort and an excellent wife for a commanding officer. The cast and the behind-the-scenes workers particularly appreciated her presentation of two great stage props: "Wanted" posters for rape and murder, one with a picture of the brigadier and the other, I think, with a picture of the camp commandant!

During this production, I seem to remember, some Whitehorse citizens, keeping up the local traditions of gold rush days, brought little bags of gold dust and flung them to the dancing girls onstage. Unfortunately for our actresses, these gold-rush descendents came around to the dressing rooms after the show and asked for their bags back. But we did appreciate the gallant gesture!


Stage: The Secret of the Mine
Because Their Hearts were Pure, or The Secret of the Mine
Back row: Goodwin Dalrymple (Tommy Tomlinson); the School Board: Mr. Grimstone (Dick Watts), Miss Hatchett (Jean Watts), and Mr. Bleakly (Ken Watts); Patience Faithful (Colleen McCaffrey); Will Faithful (Ron Carr)
Front Row: Widow Dalrymple (Bonnie Cameron); Melody Truelove (Irene Irons); Widow Truelove ( Margaret Sex); Sebastian Hardacre (Ken Lilley)

The Whitehorse Drama Club's production of Because Their Hearts Were Pure, or The Secret of the Mine was a great success, the setting of a mine being particularly appropriate for a Yukon production. The audience enthusiastically cheered the hero and hissed the villain, playing their part like veterans. Both the hero and the villain were played by Camp Takhini actors, the villain our RCAMC doctor, a young Englishman with the north of England in his accent and exactly the right tall, dark, and masterful qualities for the part. Bonnie Cameron, whose husband was the mayor of Whitehorse, played one of the two hard done by widows. The three members of the play's school board were all Wattses: Dick, Jean, and Ken, who was a local resident and no relation. We managed to get our share of hisses by being very unkind to the schoolteacher, the long-suffering heroine, Melody Truelove.

After the success of this production, it was thought that a similar melodrama would be a great draw for the expected influx of tourists in the spring. We all started working with renewed enthusiasm on a Victorian melodrama, The Drunkard.

Unfortunately, HQ in Edmonton needed Dick there in the summer as a temporary replacement officer. The CO in Edmonton was somewhat taken aback to receive a telegram from the brigadier requesting that his Signals officer remain in Whitehorse. The reason: Dick was in rehearsal for a leading role in the melodrama that the Whitehorse Drama Club was hoping would attract summer tourists! His plea, however, was in vain. Dick duly went to Edmonton for the necessary few weeks and the play had to be abandoned, much to the disgust of the drama club and the possibly deleterious effect on the tourist trade.


Cassiar Church 1960
Cassiar, BC, 1960

One Whitehorse Drama Club play, an English farce called See How They Run, was first produced at the local school. It was such a success that we were asked to take it on the road to Cassiar, a small asbestos-mining town about eighty miles south of the BC/Yukon border.

This being wintertime, cast and backstage people, with some scenery and props, drove there in a chartered bus. A play was such an unusual event in Cassiar that, before the performance, our eager audience watched us making up through the windows of the building in which we were to appear. We were warned not to worry if there seemed to be a lot of talking going on in the audience during the play. It was not that they intended to be impolite, but many of the miners were foreigners, and their seat neighbours would be translating our lines for them! Although the cast was somewhat thrown by this information, the play went well. The audience members were attentive, their simultaneous translation was not overwhelming, and they seemed to enjoy the play. We enjoyed doing it, too.

Stage: See How they Run
See How They Run: Don Stone, Jean Watts, and Marilyn Stone.

Although we had brought some scenery and props with us, Cassiar provided the furniture. Fortunately, we rehearsed beforehand. The seating provided at stage centre was a two-part sectional sofa. At one crucial moment our leading lady, Marilyn Stone, had to collapse onto it, and was horrified to feel it begin to slide slowly but implacably apart beneath her. A one-piece replacement sofa was found before the actual performance. Of course, we might have got an extra laugh if we had kept the sectional!

Bus off the road
In the ditch, Cassiar, BC.

On the way home, the bus driver had difficulty negotiating the snowed-in road that ran from Cassiar to the Highway, and our bus went into the ditch. The cast and crew climbed carefully out of the bus and gathered to discuss this appropriately dramatic debacle. We wondered what time of night we would be able to get back to our beds in Whitehorse. Fortunately, help soon arrived from Cassiar in the form of a heavy-duty tow-truck, which pulled the bus back on the road. All was well, and we took off again for home with a little extra excitement to add to the tale of our venture into touring.

Bus out of the ditch
Out of the ditch.

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