Dates refer to the first production by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
VILLAGE THUNDER (1978)
Thor and Joanne are outsiders who have settled in a Maritime village, integrated remarkably well with village life, and become respected voices in the community’s affairs. Philip is a local youth who spent much of his time with them before moving to the city. Now he comes home — a committed homosexual who demands that the village accept him on his own intemperate and combative terms. The resulting conflict rips the village apart, kills Philip, and drives Thor and Joanne out of the idyll they had hoped would be permanent.
THE BIG COFFIN REEL (1982)
Alex has returned from Boston to Moidart, the Highland Scots village in Nova Scotia from which he emigrated 30 years ago. He has come to build a motel, and he has brought his son Johnny with him to learn the business and to encounter his roots. Into their lives comes Angus, an ancient itinerant fiddler who is Alex’ uncle and whose serene, other-worldly perspective and haunting violin music dominate the play. Angus has being clinically dead, and his knowledge of death and its implications for the living stands in sharp relief against Alex’s commercial ambitions. By the end of the play, Johnny has achieved some understanding of his father, and has known his first experience of love. Angus has died, but his going is like a benediction, and he has left Johnny with a disturbing and exhilarating vision of life, love and art.
Also produced in New Zealand.
AN AWFUL PRICE TO PAY FOR COAL (1985)
On October 23, 1958, the earth’s mantle shrugged — and 174 men were plunged into darkness, chaos and death. Number 2 Colliery, in Springhill, Nova Scotia, had been ripped apart by an explosive rock burst known as a “bump.”
While the world watched in awe and sorrow, teams of miners struck into the mine — and, for days, found nothing. But after nearly a week, 12 men miraculously emerged alive, and two days later, eight more survivors were brought up to the surface. This play recreates this gripping story, alternating between the perspective of the trapped miners and that of the grieving families on the surface, helplessly waiting with hope and dread.
THE LAST HOOK (1986)
In October, 1938, the great Canadian schooner BLUENOSE II met the American schooner GERTRUDE L. THEBAUD in the last of the championship races between the fishermen of New England and those of Atlantic Canada. BLUENOSE, since 1921 the undefeated champion, was old and tired, and her legendary master, Angus Walters, knew he was racing into history. The play ranges back in time to explore the fishing and sailing culture of the North Atlantic, and the perennial rivalry between Gloucester, Massachusetts and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It includes storms at sea, world celebrity and the end of working sail, and it ends with BLUENOSE’s magnificent charge to victory in the dying moments of the fifth and final race.
ACTRA Award finalist, 1986
IN BOURBON ARMS (1987)
In 1745, Captaine LaMolitiere sells an Indian slave girl named Louise to Jean Seigneur, proprietor of a tavern in Louisbourg. But the girl is pregnant, and Seigneur sues. The captain has to make amends; he takes the girl to the Caribbean, and sells her there, along with her child — his own son.
In 1981, Jack Matheson is in trouble. Louisbourg’s premier merchant, he is locked in a tempestuous marriage with Diana, whose repeated infidelities humiliate him, though he has a mistress of his own. As the recession tightens like a vise on his business, his marriage also moves towards a crisis. Then a hypnotist takes Jack and Diana back to an earlier lifetime, making them confront sins which have never been expiated, guilts which have never been acknowledged. The two stories merge as the two discover who who they are, and who they have been.
Against a backdrop of imperial conflict for the future of North America, the characters struggle towards an accommodation with their past, in a context they could scarcely have imagined. Sweeping across two centuries, IN BOURBON ARMS moves easily from historical fact to contemporary fiction, from modern Canadian offices to 18th-century Caribbean slave markets, from ocean storms, barbaric cruelty, fortifications and sieges to moments of passion and lyricism. Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose — and one never truly evades responsibility for what one does.
IN BOURBON ARMS was produced and directed by John Juliani for the series SEXTET TWO. It was first broadcast in February, 1987.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO PEGGY? (1987)
Two Acadian brothers inherit an island from their uncle — and can’t agree what to do with it.
Jimmy, 50, is now a telephone lineman in Toronto. He wants to sell it to one of the German speculators who have been buying up Nova Scotian real estate. Artie is 48, a manager and computer programmer in Ottawa, and he passionately believes the island belongs in the family which has owned it for over two centuries.
They resolve the problem with a summer-long game of “peggy,” which they played long ago as children. In those days, Jimmy was the golden boy — the best peggy player, the charmer, the one girls fell for. Artie was shy, withdrawn, very much in Jimmy’s shadow.
Now the situation is reversed: Jimmy is childless, stuck in a dead-end job, married to a shallow and selfish woman. They haven’t been home to Nectar Harabour, Nova Scotia, in years — until Jimmy inherited half an island.
And what ever happened to Peggy? Peggy O’Neil was Jimmy’s high-school sweetheart, and she married Artie, who is both the father of a 29-year-old daughter, Ariel, and a grandfather. He loves his job, and often even thinks in the form of dBase II programmes. He’s been home every summer for 20 years, helping his parents, paying the taxes on the woodlot, preserving the continuity of the family by bringing his daughter and grandchildren with him.
In the course of the play, Ariel — a journalist — gets an assignment to write about peggy, and discovers the game was widely known (like kick-the-can, or Red Rover, or marbles) but was never really noticed by social historians. Meanwhile, the game (and the stakes) call up all the childhood rivalries, the ancient allegiances, the memories, the jealousies. There’s an irreconcilable conflict, and a deep affection. There’s a current love affair, and the echoes of a past one. There are startling secrets in the family’s past, and difficult resolutions to arrive at. In the end, we know what happened to Peggy. And to Artie and Jimmy. And to Ariel…
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO PEGGY? was produced and directed in Toronto by Bill Howell, and first broadcast in May, 1987, in the national literary series STEREO THEATRE and SUNDAY MATINEE. Silver Donald Cameron later adapted it for television as the award-winning half-hour drama PEGGY.
The Fletchers are a Maritime business dynasty headed by old G.A. Fletcher. (“G.A.” is short for God Almighty, say his workers.) His two middle-aged sons are taking over the business — except that G.A. won’t leave them alone to run it. The play follows Garth, the younger son, attempting both to come to terms with his family and to sustain his relationship with his wife Ruth, whose interests are in arts and culture and who never wanted to make her life in the tight little world of the Fletcher family businesses.
Into these tensions steps Louis Maroun, the cultivated son of a leading Lebanese-Canadian business family, attempting to take over one of the Fletcher companies. Ruth is attracted to Louis and sees his advent as an opportunity for her and Garth to escape. But the family strongly resists the takeover, and Garth has hard choices to make.
THE PROPHET AT TANTRAMAR (1989)
In 1917, on his way home to Russia after the abdication of the Tsar, Leon Trotsky was apprehended by British naval police in Halifax and interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Amherst, Nova Scotia. He remained there for a month, fretting at his confinement but using the opportunity to teach and agitate among the 850 German prisoners of war. His efforts ultimately fomented an effective mini-revolution within the camp itself, and the play concludes with his triumphant departure from Amherst while an improvised band plays The Internationale.
The play uses flash-forwards to demonstrate the errors of judgment which would prove fatal during Trotsky’s later conflict with Stalin – but it stresses the scale of Trotsky’s vision, his ability to convey that vision, his qualities of leadership, humour and passion. By implication a tragedy, THE PROPHET nevertheless is a moving portrait of a great leader at the height of his powers.
Silver Donald Cameron also wrote this story as a magazine article for Canadian Geographic, and as a stage play for The Ship’s Company Theatre.
SEA SIKH (1989)
Professor Bill Suraweera and his daughter Debbie have rented a quaint fisherman’s home in southwestern Nova Scotia from Brad Comeau, who grew up in the house but has since built a new one. Brad is a thoroughly modern fisherman, who fishes from a half-million-dollar vessel, uses spotter aircraft and dye markers to locate swordfish, pursues them with sonar and radar, and records the catch on videotape. At the end of the day, he reserves his table at the local restaurant by VHF radio.
Before the Suraweeras have fully settled in, 175 Sikhs wade ashore one night shouting, “Khalistan! Khalistan!” and asking the way to Toronto. The villagers make them tea and sandwiches and arrange for school buses to take them to the local fire hall, while immigration officers, Mounties and the media swirl around the village. The evidence suggests the refugees had confederates ashore preparing for their arrival. Who? Local people? The mysterious visitor, Mr. Keenan? Dr. Suraweera?
The plot twists and turns. Debbie Suraweera and Brad’s son Jamie meaneuver to get together; Keenan is driven nearly daffy on a stakeout by a French-speaking Mountie who loves English poetry; the refugees severely tax Brad’s toilet facilities; the TV networks pay huge prices for Brad’s home videotapes, and very little turns out to be what it seems.
All is revealed in a wry surprise ending….
PROGRESS IS A COMFORTABLE DISEASE (1971)
A fantasy, in which a frantic suburbanite on his way to work is abruptly stopped by two mysterious women who demand that he explain himself — his work, his family life, his marriage, his values. This relentless inquiry turns out to be both distressing and comic, as layers of superficiality are stripped away to reveal — nothing. His real life has been avoided. The play features plenty of sound effects, and stylized, stichomythic dialogue. The sensuous, upbeat ending includes a passage out of the poem by e.e. cummings from which the title is taken.
SNAPSHOT: THE THIRD DRUNK (1974)
A dramatization of a widely-anthologized short story. The urban, middle-class narrator is brought up sharply against the matter-of-fact, irreverent and occasionally farcical manner in which a fishing community deals with death. The play opens with a photograph of three men, all apparently drunk, one to the point of unconsciousness. By the end of the play, the third drunk has turned out to be dead. Between these points, the play explores the life and occasional death of the fishermen — bawdy, poignant, dangerous, funny and profoundly human.
ACTRA Award finalist, 1975, 1976; also broadcast in Ireland by RTE.
THE SISTERS (1979)
Mary is blind and beautiful, and Isaac loves her. Their fathers, however, are mortal enemies. Rachel, Mary’s sister, is plain, bitter and envious. In this dramatic version of a Nova Scotia folk-tale, the resolution involves betrayal, murder, revenge and suicide — and the two sisters pass into legend, which is where the author himself discovered the story.
ACTRA Award finalist, 1980; Prix Italia entry by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1980. Also produced in France and in Yugoslavia.
The CBC production featured original music and lyrics written and performed by the late Stan Rogers, and is now available on the Stan Rogers CD Poetic Justice.
THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (1980)
Three divers find the lost treasure of the 18th century privateer WASP on a reef known as The Devil’s Backbone — but when they try to raise it, they are attacked by something monstrous and evil. Two of them abandon the venture. The third, who arranged the attack in order to drive the others off, returns to collect the treasure. But just as he is about to raise it, he is attacked by something monstrous and evil….
Belinda is a blind, legless diabetic who is taken from hospital by her nephew Godfrey — who will not deliver her to her sister Vivian unless she signs her farm over to Godfrey. Belinda is free to leave Godfrey’s sinister farmhouse, but she is physically unable to do so. If she signs, will he kill her? What will he do to make her sign? She tries, vainly, to escape, and Vivian tried vainly to rescue her. Finally, Vivian’s son and his girl friend devise a ruse that frees her from the brooding terror of her situation — but not before her captor erupts in shocking violence.
THE ZWICKER SERIES (1978)
The Zwicker series consists of six half-hour plays about the adventures of a Halifax private detective, Arnold Zwicker, who in his other persona is a mild-mannered philosophy professor at Dalhousie University. He has a private income, and lives with a stunning Acadian French lawyer named Diana Theriault. He has considerable panache, left-wing political sympathies, the savoir-faire of old money, and deep human feelings. The same brilliance which allows him to solve his cases stylishly and quickly has made him, as Dr. Edward Crouse, a world authority on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein — and the despair which engulfs him at the conclusion of some cases is what drove him to the study of philosophy in the first place. He is a charming, challenging and ambiguous man.
Zwicker’s client is a candidate for high political office — and he is being blackmailed. Through some technical sleuthing with typewriters and documents, Zwicker is able to establish that his client himself has arranged the whole thing in order to discredit a political rival, shed an unwanted wife, and extricate himself from serious financial difficulties.
THE FIEND IN THE FORTRESS
Dr. Crouse and his elderly mother are holidaying together. During a candlelight tour of the Reconstructed 18th century Fortress of Louisbourg, they visit the scene of a 1741 murder — and the murder is repeated in reality, right on the spot. The dead man is an American tourist, but Zwicker traces a buried connection to the violent labour disputes of the 1920’s and 1930’s in Cape Breton, and discovers that the victim, George MacLeod, was himself a killer who was murdered for revenge. The police, meanwhile, have been exploring MacLeod’s career as an arms manufacturer with close ties to the U.S. government. They conclude that MacLeod was killed by an assassin who has since fled the country, and close their files. Zwicker’s sympathies are with the real killer — and the files stay closed.
Zwicker becomes curious about how drugs enter Nova Scotia, and resolves to find out. Careful undercover work brings him to the kingpin, an antique-store owner named Ginger, whom he already knows. Ginger is alarmed when Zwicker confronts him, but Zwicker reassures him. Zwicker has no interest in turning Ginger in, and in fact offers him some free advice about his security arrangements. Overcome, Ginger asks whether he can do something for Zwicker, too. Well, says Zwicker, smiling, now that you mention it….
THE WHITE SAILS PULLIN’ STOUTLY
Zwicker is defending Nova Scotia in the International Schooner races when the American challenger begins sailing some very odd courses along the foggy coastline. Inspired guesswork and daring seamanship allow him to intercept the other vessel. Her owner has been denied access to his children by his bitter ex-wife, and he has been trying to kidnap them by simply sailing away instead of completing the race. The children had no idea their father cared so deeply about them, and with their aid Zwicker is able to negotiate a better arrangement.
THE IRON GATES
This is an earlier version of the BELINDA story, above, but in this case Zwicker and Diana rescue the old woman. Zwicker is terribly depressed both by the horrible joke which the old woman’s life has become, and by the emotional and moral bankruptcy of her nephew’s heartless stratagem to gain control of a practically worthless hillside farm. It is left to Diana to hold him, and to point out softly that there is more in life than greed, injustice and suffering.
As Diana and Zwicker return from sailing, they are accosted by a Lunenburg German farmer named John Meisner. Two of Meisner’s hired men have been killed, and one has been driven mad, by attacks during the night — and the attackers seem to have been domestic cats. His farm is evidently haunted, the neighbours are talking, and he can’t hire a man. Zwicker, in disguise, hires himself to Meisner and spends a night in the hired man’s room. He is attacked by ghostly cats, but beats them off with a silver knife, cutting the paw off their leader. In the morning, the paw has become a woman’s hand — and the farmer’s wife is dead, with her hand cut off.
Witchcraft? Yes, says Zwicker, whose family is itself Lunenburg German. A century ago, if you didn’t believe in witchcraft, you were considered mad. Today if you do believe in it, you’re considered mad. We should not be quite so arrogant about our particular historical perspective.
The Log of Coast Guard 228 Series
Coast Guard 228 is a 45-foot rescue boat stationed just outside Halifax Harbour. These five short plays about the adventures of the people associated with it were produced for CBC Radio’s MORNINGSIDE in 1984.
George, an older man, torments a new young crewman, Kevin, about fear and manhood — but in a daring rescue of a lightkeeper’s wife, Kevin proves himself every bit a man.
Modest Vertue is a small yacht being sailed by Graham, an ocean-crossing Englishman who has an affair with George’s wife. When Graham’s boat is holed, it is up to George to save him — or simply to let him drown.
Amanita puzzles Raish, the captain of CG228: the big foreign ketch sounds worried, but doesn’t want help. What is she hiding? CG228 and the Mounted Police sail out looking for the answer — and find themselves enmeshed in international smuggling.
Richard, the young skipper delivering Orestes to the Caribbean for her owner, experiences engine trouble, and calls for help. CG 228 tows her in — and Richard finds the father he never knew.
CG 228 goes out looking for a boat that called Mayday — and doesn’t find it. But Raish and Kevin do find a terrified family in an outboard cruiser — and lose old Billy, the gentle retired Newfoundlander who served as relief man. A unique floating funeral ends the play — and the series.
Le Renardeau Series
Le Renardeau — “The Little Fox” — is Xyste Belfontaine, a scrappy, cunning French Acadian whose more-or-less illegal capers distress his schoolteacher brother, amuse his cheerful wife, enrage the local police, and make him a hero to his 10-year-old son Bucko. Produced for MORNINGSIDE in 1985.
As an “independent businessman,” Le Renardeau switches from selling liquor to making it — and his still catches fire just as Constable Scott comes to raid him. The conclusion is farcical, but Le Renardeau goes free.
Isabel threatens to leave Le Renardeau unless he gets her a new house before the winter to replace the ruin they live in. Le Renardeau finds a house — but it’s on the wrong side of the bay. His solution: float it across.
PLYWOODS FROM HEAVEN
Up in the hills, Le Renardeau comes upon some plywood spilled from a truck. He takes it home. When the police finally come looking for it, he agrees to give it up — but only upon payment of a “salvage charge.” He has not stolen it, and legal recovery would cost far more than paying the salvage. Checkmate.
Le Renardeau agrees to take care of some fighting roosters — and to breed them for profit. By the time Constable Scott catches on, the roosters are on a rampage, ended by a mad old soldier who makes war on them.
MY DEER MAN
Every fall, Le Renardeau shoots plenty of deer — enough to sell to urban “hunters” who don’t really fancy the rigors of the woods. But when he contracts to supply a buck, and only bags a doe, it takes all Le Renardeau’s ingenuity to secure his fee.
The Venture Capital series
The five stories which make up VENTURE CAPITAL centre around Algernon McKnight, a successful businessman in his mid-fifties who has sold his holdings in Alberta and “retired” to his native Prince Edward Island. But McKnight’s notion of retirement involves developing small business ideas brought to him by a variety of odd characters with whom he forms partnerships. His young mistress, Marie, serves as ironic chorus (and sometimes partner) to these ventures.
And if the listener gains an insight into the way an entrepreneurial imagination moulds its world, so much the better.
The government wants to raise beef cattle in PEI. Algy McKnight points out that Kobe beef is worth $40/pound, and wins a contract to try raising that, instead. But the Aberdeen Angus bull, rubbed down regularly in baby oil, becomes a family pet at Harry “Horse” Munro’s farm, and the government insists on testing the beef by slaughtering the bull prematurely. All the same, Algy turns a profit — and so does Harry.
Colonel Jeremy Willoughby-de Freitas, late of Her Majesty’s Pomeranian Hussars, has an idea: garden ornaments made of PEI beach sand bonded into quasi-marble by a modern adhesive. The bird-baths and sun-dials are a hit in Boston and Toronto — but the business, located on the second floor of a warehouse, literally collapses, bringing down the building, the landlord’s ire, the law, and the curtain.
THE QUEEN OF HILLSBOROUGH BAY
Algy finds a surplus car ferry, and converts it into a mini-cruise ship for tourists travelling by bus. On its maiden voyage, alas, the engine fails. The senior citizens spend a stormy night at anchor, and 72-year-old Florence Persons has a one-night stand with a local fisherman. The tour operator is furious, but Florence is delighted — and she saves the business for Algy.
“The real money today is in franchising,” Algy tells his godson, a young lawyer. Together, they set up a franchised lawn-and-garden maintenance service called Terracare. It flourishes — and then Algy discovers that his protege has learned only too well about the hard, unsentimental world of business. The young lawyer has seized control of the company, and Algy is out, consoled only by a 300% profit.
THE BLACK SWAN INN
Algy buys a company cheap, and sells off all its assets at a profit. But nobody wants The Black Duck Inn, run-down, gloomy and by-passed by a new bridge. Marie challenges Algy to operate it succesfully. Algy renovates it, and markets it to people who want to be hidden away, such as the cults. Alas, the Assembly of Redeemed Sinners of Eternal Salvation are reluctant to pay the bill — until Algy reveals a new version of baptism by immersion.
VENTURE CAPITAL was produced and directed in Halifax by E.S. “Sudsy” Clark, and was first broadcast on MORNINGSIDE in January, 1987.
The Down North Series
The Black Swan Inn Series
Developed from the last episode of VENTURE CAPITAL, THE BLACK SWAN INN was a series of five-minute episodes which dramatized the further adventures of Algy and Marie as proprietors of the Inn. All stations in the Maritime network of the CBC broadcast these plays as part of their “driving home” shows on Friday afternoons between 1987 and 1989. More than 50 scripts were produced over the two-year run of the series. Silver Donald Cameron supervised all the scripts, and wrote seven of them himself.
Two one-hour scripts which do not easily fit any category.
FIFTY YEARS FROM THE ENORMOUS ROOM (1972)
This is a celebration of the life and work of e.e. cummings, consisting of an illustrated discussion of the poet’s life and work. Substantial use is made of music, and an actor and an actress render passages from cummings, while the narrator points up the continuing freshness, vitality and relevance of cummings’ prose and verse.
THE IDEA OF SCOTLAND (1974)
This is a meditation on industrial society and the heroic clan world it displaces — a conflict which rocked Scotland in the 18th century, and which is still taking place elsewhere in the world today. In this script, Sir Walter Scott suddenly materializes with two of his characters, Baillie Nicol Jarvie and Rob Roy MacGregor, in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Port Hawkesbury is rapidly becoming an important industrial centre, and Big Angus Campbell, the incarnation of Cape Breton Island, proudly shows them around. Scott and his two characters go at the subject (and each other) just as they did in ROB ROY. The idea of Scotland turns out to be the idea of a clan, a community or a nation that has some orgaic wholeness, and it is always and forever under attack by commerce, industry and technology. In the end, Scott and his companions fade away, leaving Big Angus to make up his own mind about the clash in values, the sacrifices and trade-offs which are inseparable from what is too glibly described as “progress.”