My Stratford Festival trip for 2017

I have been going to the Stratford Festival since 1964.  I saw King Lear with a Canadian All-star (of the day) cast including John Colicos, Leo Cicero, Bruno Gerussi, William Needles, Douglas Rain, Frances Hyland and Martha Henry. I may not have realized then that I was watching the creme de la creme of Canadian Theatre but the effect on me was lasting.  And I have probably gone to 30 productions or more there since that time.

Last weekend I took in three plays at Stratford.

Romeo and Juliet

I wondered how to write about this one. Everything has been said.  It also made me realize how it must be daunting to put a unique spin on it as a director.  I have been in the play twice and seen it another two times.  What was new?  Well, this time I was certainly more aware of Romeo and Juliet’s teenage youth than I usually am.  Most productions tend to make their quick infatuation with each other ooze with sexual tension and palpable emotion.  In this one, both Romeo and Juliet seemed like impetuous teenagers who made impulsive silly decisions that led to their eventual demise.  Juliet screamed at her nurse in a hissy-fit more than once.  Romeo lay on the floor like a five-year-old  bawling his eyes out and thrashing.  Whereas I am used to the Friar’s lines “Art thou a man?…Thy tears are womanish…I though thy disposition better tempered” given in a sort of avuncular empathetic fashion, this Friar delivered them with a “Grow up, you wimp!” tone.

I did enjoy the interaction between the Nurse and Juliet and  I also liked the Friar.  They were able to accomplish the play in less than three hours (we never did) but sometimes that was because they thrashed through some lines without taking a breath.  I am very familiar with this play and still missed some of the lines.  If you were at all hard of hearing it would have seemed like garbled nonsense.  The couple beside me left at intermission.

Later in the week someone asked me if the acting at Stratford was that much better than the productions I have been in.  I thought for a moment and then realized that we likely did as good a job on the acting. It is all the rest of the production accoutrements that comes with a big budget that makes a difference to the how the show looks.

(Remembering our Kingston  production of Romeo and Juliet in April 2013.)

My friends will be glad to know that they put the intermission just before Prince Escalus returns to asks “Who are the vile beginners of this frey? – presumably so he would not miss his entrance  (See an earlier post in this blog – Better late than never) as it started the second act and the actor had all intermission to be in his place.   I  give this production three stars out of five.

HMS Pinafore

IMG_7337I also have wonderful memories of Gilbert and Sullivan productions at the Avon Theatre, particularly recalling the late Richard McMillan and Eric Donkin in the Mikado (1982) or a hefty Maureen Forester as the Fairy Queen gliding in on a rope in the 1988 Iolanthe.

This production took me by surprise.   Mainly because I thought it was Pirates of Penzance and only realized on my way to the theatre that it was a different G&S.  No matter.  They are kind of all the same anyway.

And it was delightfully silly and airy and visually lovely.  What is not to like about a good G&S? I give it 4 out of 5 stars since it is hard to go wrong with a good cast and orchestra and, once again, money for costumes and staging.

Treasure Island

IMG_73692I was happy to take two of my granddaughters to this and we had a fun day that started at 11 with a “Treasure Hunt” lunch where we dressed up as pirates, met one of the pirates who later was seen in the show, got tattoos and then walked through town stopping at various places on our map to say “Arrh” to a pirate and get more candy or a cupcake or ice cream.  By the time we reached the theatre for the production the kids were high on glucose and food colouring.

The show was pretty thin on plot and dialogue and anything meaningful but it was entertaining. Paper mâché birds flying in from the balcony.  A trap door to the belly of the ship, a boat sailing through dry ice fog, pirates giving lines from one of the boxes with wide-eyed audience now in the show.

The kids liked it and I did too, but only because there were lots of kids in the audience who got into yelling back at the actors and looking for the treasure on their maps.  Maybe the highlight of the weekend for me was when my six year old granddaughter whispered to me during a particularly vigorous storm scene in Treasure Island  “It must be fun to be an actor in this.” and then “I think that their fights with those real swords were all planned”.   I know my theatre friends will smile at this, knowing that this is why we do it!  I hope that some day Maia joins the fun of participating in theatre. Her happy discovery made the weekend for me.   Treasure Island as a production, however only ranked  3 out of 5 for me.


I was a bit disappointed in professionalism at a couple of spots in two of the plays. Once, in a quiet part of Romeo and Juliet, there was laughter and talking going on in the hallway behind the audience that was quite noticeable.  Not sure if it was ushering staff or even actors who soon after entered through the audience doors. Twice I momentarily saw actors in the wings waiting for an entrance.  Nevertheless it detracted from the show (as did the mobile phone that went off for a minute at least).  In Treasure Island I could see some backstage light and movement and actors waiting to come on stage and one could see in a gap in the curtain by the orchestra pit where actors were descending down through the stage floor.  These things tend to spoil the magic and really are not expected in a professional production company like the Stratford Festival.









Surprise. I do have a spiritual side.

I have spent the past few days on what has turned out to be a Reminiscence Tour of Huron and Bruce counties, visiting longstanding friends and familiar locations from my past.
I have camped out for a couple of nights at my brother’s cottage just south of Kincardine and on the wall in the living room is a painting that was done by my late mother sometime in the 1960s. This morning when I looked at the painting, I decided to go there, to sit on that beach and see if that rock was still in the water.
For years, our family had a cottage at the top of the hill in the community known as Bluewater Beach. I spent many summers there from about age 5 on. My kids also remember Grandma and Grampa’s cottage well.   
I picked up a coffee in Goderich and a Danish at Culbert’s bakery. I parked at the top of he hill across the street from where Vasiloff’s had their cottage and walked along the road past Hartman’s and Haskett’s and Footwinkler’s and Halpin’s. None of those people are there – most of them are dead. The buildings, most of them drastically changed are there but with different owners they feel empty and foreign.

No one was home at the cottage that used to belong to my family – we had called it Tip Toe Inn –so I went out onto the front yard, sat down and had my coffee there looking out over Lake Huron. The cottage was built by my Dad starting in 1952. The structure remains the same although it is now brown, not white with red trim.

I then took the well-worn path and steps down to the beach.

At the bottom of the hill I could see the rocks in my mom’s painting. It’s true, she did take some artistic license with the size and perspective but the rocks are still there with waves crashing over them just as in the painting.

While I was on the beach, I met a fellow who was wandering along with his dog. He had a beard and long hair pulled back with an elastic. I know he would not call it a man-bun.  He said he had a place at the top of the hill that sounded like it was where Art Johnson, the local woodsman, used to live fifty years ago. He said he spent a lot of his time wandering the beach and kayaking, – a bit like a Robinson Crusoe.  He has built a little hideaway up against the cliff under some trees. His kayak was there, some places to sit and a painting of a whales tail in the water. We talked at some length about the beach, the way the lake changes from year to year but also the way that certain things stay the same. I told him about Benny Daer, the local bootlegger, and Miss Salkeld’s blue cottage tea room. I may have bored him but he listened politely. For me it was a flood of memories. 

This year the water level in Lake Huron is high. Everyone thinks this is an anomaly. But I remember this beach in many years past exactly as it is today. We would have to clear rocks away to make a sandy spot to put our beach towels. Some years there was sand in the water and some years there was not. Some years the shore was polluted with seaweed, other years it was clean.  Some years we would have to walk a couple of kilometers along the beach to Black’s Point to have a good swimming. Along the way we would stop at “the big rock”, another large flat table-like rock 100 m from shore. My new-found friend assured me he knows that rock well. And yet another  “big” rock –in the picture below– at the base of the stairway to the beach was sometimes almost out of the water. But I also remember it exactly as it is now. When I was 10 we would go out to that rock and jump off of it into the water. All the rocks seemed bigger then.
As I stood there, I  reflected how the rocks in my Mom’s painting will be there 100 years or 200 years from now as well. But I won’t. There is something both comforting and disturbing about that thought. How small and temporary we are in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not religious but sometimes I do have a spiritual side. These rocks are as close to God that I can get. They are steadfast, immovable, reliable and enduring. And there is something reassuring about knowing that, although we are only on this planet for a very short time, there is something greater that lasts… and lasts…and lasts.
Addendum: As I stood taking the photo above, looking toward Goderich, beyond the point in the distance,  it reminded me of the time when my “cousins”, my 7 year old brother and I decided on the spur of the moment to walk along the beach to Goderich, maybe 5 km away.  We neglected to tell our parents and, needless to say it took us longer than we anticipated. It was before the days of mobile phones or even a phone at the cottage.  Our parents were frantic and at 4 pm found us walking along the highway in an attempt to head home.  Brother Bob was exhausted. Parents were relieved to find us safely but were pretty angry with us.  As a kid, this just seemed like a reasonable adventure.  As a parent and grandparent I can understand our parents’ panic.

James Stevenson – mixing his metaphors in a letter – 1880

This is a letter from my great great grandfather, James Stevenson ( b.1810 ) in July 1880.  He died  in September 1880. I think it is to his brother-in-law James Crinklaw who lived in Marietta Nebraska.

Sand Creek, 24th July 1880

Friend James,  Your letter was received …time and thanks for the information which was contained in it. Janet paid us a visit 2 weeks ago and I showed her your letter, as those you sent to her were all short ones. I got through taking the cures for a good  time but I have been sick ever since; in fact I was not well when I began it.  But you know that “need makes the wife trot” _ I wished to calm a little to keep the wolf from showing his nose at the door.  If we sit all day with our hands folded it is not to be expected that the Almighty will put a piece of bread into our mouths. He helps those who help themselves. This waiting, for “something to turn up” has been the rumination of thousands. Looking to the top of a ladder will never get one to the top of a building. So if we wish to surmount difficulties which may be in our way, we must not listlessly look at them as obstacles which it is out of our power to overcome; but with a firm resolve and a disposition which will stand no opposition, trample them down one by one as they approach as mountains in appearance will make them dwindle down to the size of molehills; and with health of body and God’s blessing added, success must ultimately follow. _ My liver is badly affected, and I have been taking medicine for 2 weeks. It has helped me somewhat, but the pain in my side is not gone yet.  My strength and what ambition I had, seem to have left me.  I have a sluggish feeling and am inclined to sleep. Bess has stood out all summer hoeing + weeding. I could get no one to hire. Not a potato or any other vegetable would we have had is she had not seen to the garden.  We will have more potatoes than will serve us, if they are a good crop.  Besides working in the garden she has all along seen tot he watering, feeding and pulling weeds for the hogs, which have done well under her management.   She is in good health being able to eat her breakfast between 5+6 every morning.  There is some talk of Ellen Fleming going west in September to take up hadn’t in Holt Co where her brother Andrew and John Gaiene are going. She told Bess that she was going your way to get a carpet wove and offered to take Bess + her carpet along with her.  I have no doubt but what she will go , provided my health Improves any, as she is anxious to see all who are connected with her.Harvest has just commenced, Wheat is late this season but will be a better yield than was expected some time ago, _ Corn will be an abundant crop.  Bess wished Georgina to tell Ellen that she is well and will perhaps see her before too long.  I send you a “Face Press” along with this letter,  I should like to go to Knox Co to see the folks, giving you a visit as I passed along, but I must wait for more strength to undergo the journey. My respects to Georgina and all your family, in the meantime believe me to be yours truly,  


James Stevenson

P.S. write when you feel like it.

*** Linda D. Crinklaw,  who has done extensive research about the Crinklaw family adds this information about James and the “James” to whom the letter is addressed:

“I believe the letter was sent to Neligh, Antelope Co., Nebraska to James Bainard [1817 Coventry, England- 1894 Neligh, Antelope Co., Nebraska] , husband of Georgina Spiers (Crinklaw) Bainard, half-sister of your Elizabeth (Crinklaw) Stevenson, wife of James Stevenson.   Georgina (Crinklaw) Bainard is Family #9 in George Fraser’s book.  Note that the letter ends, “My respects to Georgina and all your family.”  I think the Janet to whom the last letter from the James (person being sent this letter by James Stevenson) is Janet Elizabeth Bainard, daughter of Georgina (Crinklaw) and James Bainard.  In other words, James Stevenson showed her the letter written to him by her father, James Bainard, who wrote her only short letters.  Janet Bainard was a school teacher, and after teaching in Illinois in the 1870s, she taught by 1879 in Saunders Co., Nebraska four miles from the home of her uncle, Walter Crinklaw, Sr., in Marietta, Saunders Co., Nebraska.  Her aunt, Janet (Crinklaw) Gilchrist and her husband, James Gilchrist, also lived in Marietta, Saunders Co., Nebraska in 1880. Your Stevensons were living in Sand Creek, Saunders Co., Nebraska in 1880.  The Bainards (James and Georgina) moved from their farm in Illinois to Neligh, Antelope Co., Nebraska in 1880.  James Crinklaw, Jr. had apparently from your letter left the Stevensons after setting up the garden for them in 1879 according to my letter. He must have been gone in 1880 and not there to help your Elizabeth.  James Crinklaw, Jr. had his own homestead in Antelope Co., Nebraska by 1885, but left it c. 1886 and disappeared for awhile. “

Exploring my ancestry -the Stevenson link

I have shared the diary of Peter Porterfield as he crossed the Atlantic in 1855 and told you about James Crinklaw who came from Scotland in 1833 to London Ontario.  How did these two families unite?


Betsy Crinklaw Stevenson.

Betsy Crinklaw, my great great grandmother, born in Minto, Scotland in 1807, was the third child of James Crinklaw and Elizabeth Watson.   In 1836, in St. Thomas, Ontario, she married James Stevenson, also a Scotsman who had immigrated to Canada.  They had four daughters, all born in London Ontario within six years.  Then the family up and moved to Nebraska where a census in 1880 lists James as a teacher and Betsy as a housekeeper. In a letter from James to a relative just before his death, he describes “Bess” as a hard worker and gardener in 1880. She died in Neligh, Nebraska at the age of 86.


mary stephenson porterfield


The only one of the James and Betsy Stevenson girls to stay behind in Ontario  when the rest moved to Nebraska was their second daughter, Mary, who married Peter Porterfield and became my great grandmother.  Now, all of the photos that I have of the Stevenson’s make them look pretty severe.  Betsy, as an old lady, was a bit scary.  Even as a young woman she looked like a guy in drag.  James Stevenson had eyes that bugged out of his head.  But Mary, my great grandmother, their daughter looked quite refined.  And my grandmother, Mary and Peter’s daughter (photo below) was a beautiful young girl.


Mary Porterfield with new boots

My grandmother, Mary Porterfield Geddes in 1895, age 12.

Leather masons apron belonging to James Stevenson mid 1800s

This leather Mason’s Apron belonging to James Stevenson.

My father passed on to me a leather Mason’s apron that belonged to James Stevenson. It is not very big and pretty fragile but it is intriguing to possess something that belonged to my great great grandfather in the mid 1800’s,  maybe 175 years old.

I also have the Western Union telegram sent from North Bend Nebraska from his daughter Margaret (Caddick)  to her sister Ellen (Thorson) announcing the death of their father, James.  It spares no words.  “Father dead. Buried on Wednesday.”



J Stevenson Death

Ellen’s nephew, James, also ended up with a poem written by James Stevenson the year before he died.  It was found tucked in his daughter, Ellen’s family Bible.  It is a long ode with lots of Scottish brogue, entitled,  The Dying Christian Scottish Father. Copies were made and distributed to various family at the time of his death but I have the original, typed on pinkish paper and signed by James Stevenson, himself.

The Dying Christian Scottish Father

You can also read a letter that James Stevenson wrote just a couple of months before his death in 1880 in the next post.


Finding my past relatives – 1. The Crinklaw’s

My exploration into the diary of my great grandfather, Peter Porterfield, got me looking further back into my family ancestry.  Using a combination of links that I found on,  some hints from newly discovered 4th to 8th cousins using the Ancestry DNA analysis and a book that my Dad had left me called The Crinklaw Families in the United States and Canada, compiled in 1972 by a fellow named George Mason Fraser,  I was able to learn more about that side of the family.

Peter Porterfield, whose diary of his journey to Canada in 1855,  I shared last month, married Mary Stevenson on January 25, 1863 in a little hamlet called Belgrave Ontario. Belgrave is where my father was born. Periodically we would drive through this little town and he would point out the house where he was born.  My parents and Geddes grandparents are buried in the Brandon Cemetery just north of town and about half a mile from where Dad was born.

Belgrave 1910 1

My Grandfather,  Ernest, was a blacksmith in Belgrave for some time and four of the Lanark County Geddes boys moved to that district in the  early 1850’s.  But I digress.


My great great grandmother,                    Betsy Crinklaw  1807 – 1893

Mary Stevenson’s mother was Elizabeth Betsy Crinklaw.   I have long had a photo of this woman when she was quite elderly,  taken in Neligh, Nebraska.   In fact, I blew this photo up to poster size and gave it to my son-in-law when he married my daughter so he could brace himself for old age with one of Betsy’s great great great grandchildren.  For some time Kate and Dave had that poster hung in their kitchen.

Betsy was born a Crinklaw in Minto Scotland in 1807 to James Crinklaw and Elizabeth Watson.  James had two wives and scads of children by the time he was done and his issue now includes thousands of descendants.

Rumor had it that the family lived across the river Tweed from Sir Walter Scott and that James Crinklaw and Sir Walter were “friends” on some level.  Sir Walter Scott was the early 17th century equivalent of J. K. Rowling,  turning out books of poems and novels ( e.g. Ivanhoe, Rob Roy).  Apparently James Crinklaw was a farmer or gardener and Sir Walter loved the garden in his Abbotsford castle, across the river from where James and Elizabeth lived.   Scott died in 1832 and James moved the family to Canada in 1833. Conjecture has been that he was jobless when Walter Scott died and this precipitated his move to London Ontario.

But this is probably just a Crinklaw legend.  In 1972 James C Corson, honorary librarian for Abbotsford sent a letter to George Fraser basically bunking the idea that James Crinklaw ever knew Walter Scott because the famed Sir Walter wrote voluminously and journaled and never mentioned a Crinklaw.   Nevertheless, James did live across the river when Walter Scott was at Abbotsford and in those days the region was not heavily populated so there must have been some neighbourly acknowledgement or recognition.

James Crinklaw

My 3rd great grandfather James Crinklaw and his second wife, Janet Smith

A visit to Abbotsford castle will have to be on my bucket list since it has been restored to its original grandeur and even if James Crinklaw was not sipping scotch with Sir Walter, he was, at least living in the neighbourhood when this castle was at it’s peak and Sir Walter was cranking out books by the dozens

James Crinklaw (my 3rd great grandfather) died in 1864 at the age of 87 and is buried along with his two wives in Pond Mills Cemetery in London, Ontario. ( at the eastern end of Southdale Road near Highbury Ave).   I grew up just a few kilometres from there about 100 years later, not knowing anything about this ancestry.

Next up- James Stevenson,  Betsy Crinklaw’s husband and my Great Great Grandfather.