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County residents step up to tell Tales of A Town

Regent-moviesIt’s not called “downtown” it’s called “upstreet”  and “downstreet” depending which direction you’re travelling.

“When your mother wanted to know where you were going you were going ‘upstreet’… You go ‘downstreet’ because you know everybody.

Fixt Point theatre, on a nation-wide Tale of A Town journey, shared audio stories told by Prince Edward County residents  Saturday, acted out by members of the Festival Players young company, at the Picton Town Hall.

The hall was lined with cardboard boxes representing the County’s three main centres – Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton. Visitors listened to audio memories of 60 County residents including well-known story tellers Margaret Haylock Capon, Steve Campbell, Robert Quaiff, Phil Ainsworth, Peter Lockyer, Frank and Arlene Wright, Dorothy Fraleigh, Suzanne and Georgia Larner.

Producer Alison Broverman was asking participants if the presentation changed their perception of their downtowns.

“It didn’t change anything for me,” said Steve Campbell, after the show. “But it brought back so many fantastic memories.”

Campbell was pleased to have recognized almost all the voices from the sentences and stories voiced.
“Wellington is a wonderful, working village. It’s not a town. Everything’s here. We have doctors, dentists, we have a drug store, liquor store, food stores, everything you need to live here… At one time there were several grocery stores… five gas stations… There were two hardware stores… We had a drug store with a soda fountain… There’s so much history here, the earliest settler from the 1700s built their house here.”

Stories told of a sheep on the run, a store-owner who battled a flood by moving his merchandise higher and higher on the shelves, contentious issues including parking lots and saving buildings respecting heritage.

Wellington Grill was remembered by many. It was the place to go when there weren’t many restaurants.

“I got chased by a clown during Pumpkinfest, so I went into the Wellington Grill to eat with my parents because I got scared and the clown came into the back room. I hid under the table and then he saw me get scared so he looked under the table. It was probably scarier than most things I’ve done.”

“We’re seeing a lot of new faces now but also a lot of the same faces.”
Continuing down the road to Bloomfield, storytellers reminisced about the farmers and their crops for sale –  corn, peas, tomatoes, pumpkins.

“We had a lot of canning factories here… the young people would pick the berries… canning tomatoes was a hard, hard job…”

“The drug store was my second favourite place because the owner liked comic books, he was a collector. For some reason, the entire place smelled like hair cream. He would let me sit cross-legged on the floor and just read comic books for hours. He never said a word, never turned me out, or asked what I was doing.”

“Once the canning factories started to close in the 70s that sort of took the heart out of the village because there was no place for people to work… All those buildings sat there near empty for a time… When I was a kid there was nothing going on there…”

“I can remember the first special stores as people started to fix up the old stores… It’s very exciting to see the changes… Angelines was one of the first fine dining restaurants in the area.”

“That’s the nice thing about Bloomfield. The people who have come in, have made Bloomfield a viable community again.”
Memories continued in Picton.

“I remember it was a very active Main Street… My grandfather would give me a quarter to go to town… Eatons… Master Feeds.”

“My dad would come into town to look at farm machinery. I was sooo bored. But when we were finished he would take me across the street to the bowling alley and we would sit on the stools and he’d say ‘What would you like to have?'”

“My father used to go to town every Saturday morning to pay our bills, and to get gas. He would take me to Inrig’s where he would get me a sundae at the soda fountain, and a comic book.”

“I didn’t like Cream Soda but I ordered it anyway. That is one of my earliest memories in Picton… My earliest memory? Coming down to buy candy at the Stedmans store… I went into Inrig’s Drug Store and I watched a man eat a chocolate sundae and I wanted the lady to give me one but she wouldn’t and she called my mom asking ‘Have you lost a child?'”

The Guild Restaurant for tea and cookies.
“Earliest memories were back in the pool halls… six or seven pool tables… the back door where you’d get in… Baileys… An arcade up front. Cigarettes and candy and junk food… It was loud. Older gentlemen telling stories, farmers in there taking their breaks. Smoke-filled atmosphere that’s for sure. Just the sound of the balls cracking and snapping  and pool cues slamming on the floor and the sounds of the owner hollering at somebody ‘be careful’.”

“Main Street Picton had a lot of bars. Back in the 50s there was  a lot of drinking going on… The Royal Hotel… took my cousin’s birth certificate… playing pool… the jukebox.”

All across the County came stories about the Regent Theatre – and owner Louise Cook.

“We never missed a show. Saturday night was a big deal… The very first show I saw was Tony Curtis in Trapeze… Ben Hur… Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… the Fox and the Hound.. Lady and the Tramp.”

“I remember my mother was shopping and she deposited me at the Regent. Matinees.

“I go back to the days when Louise Cook was the owner… behind the ticket booth there… she was quite a character and she was a little bit scary… very stern and very protective of her theatre… She smoked a lot.”

“She used to stand in front of the theatre quite often on weekdays… she had an apartment above and I only saw it once but there was no expense spared… Like her father she was keenly interested in theatre. She loved it. It was very much a family business. ”

“The theatre didn’t open for a while… I still remember the evening they had restored the marquee and it was lit again for the first time and there were hundreds of people on the street to see that. There was just this great feeling that this town’s going to be OK. Everything’s going to work out. And it has, more or less.”

The Tale of a Town Canada is a nationwide theatre and media initiative aiming to capture the collective community memory of Canada’s main streets.

The “Storymobile” travel trailer-turned-mobile recording studio has been visiting small towns and big cities, collecting oral histories. The adventure is to culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, in commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

The local stories are to be available digitally.

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