Golden Spruce play author visits islands

  • Sep. 5, 2008 3:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–A Toronto actor who is performing the play he wrote about the Golden Spruce across Canada this summer took a break from his tour recently to visit the islands for the first time. Alex Eddington said it gave him the shivers to see the spot where his play is set and which he imagines during every performance: the bank of the Yakoun River just outside Port Clements where the felled Golden Spruce still lies. His show, titled “Old Growth”, is about two fictional musicians from Toronto who travel to that very spot in October 1997, nine months after the Golden Spruce was chainsawed down by Grant Hadwin. Through the hour-long play, the characters conduct rituals, experience eco-epiphanies, play drums and flute, do magic, and talk about the message of environmental responsibility they want to convey to humanity. Mr. Eddington described the show as “a strong blunt message about environmental responsibility” which also explores questions like “”How far can you go before you’re actually crazy?” and “Is being really passionate and doing the wrong thing crazy?” Mr. Eddington said he was inspired to write the play after hearing John Vaillant, the author of the best-selling book “The Golden Spruce” interviewed on the radio, and then reading the book. Trained as a composer, his first thought was that the story would make an incredible opera. He then decided to tell the story more simply, through the lens of fictional characters and their fictional experience at the site of the very real tree stump. But he hasn’t ruled out writing the opera. “Even more, since visiting the islands, I am thinking about that,” he said. “I am starting to hammer out a libretto.” He finished writing Old Growth, his third play, this spring and then took it on tour. So far, he has performed it at theatre festivals in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Victoria and Calgary. In September, he will present it at the Vancouver Fringe. Between his Calgary and Victoria performances, he realized he had just enough time to drive to Prince Rupert, take the ferry Aug. 13 and spend a couple of days on the islands. He stayed at the Golden Spruce Motel in Port, just like Grant Hadwin did, although not in the same room (Mr. Hadwin had stayed in a kitchenette, which was beyond Mr. Eddington’s budget after paying the ferry fare). He also visited the Port museum where he read the newspaper clippings about the Golden Spruce and marvelled at the size of the white raven. A delicious dinner at the Trout House restaurant after a visit to Tow Hill just about convinced him to stay here, he said. Most of his time was spent on the trail out to the Yakoun River bank where the fallen spruce is still visible on the other side of the river. Mr. Eddington recorded the sounds of the forest and took pictures as he walked along the trail but unlike Mr. Hadwin, he did not swim across the river to get right next to the tree. “I debated for a long time whether I should just make a fool of myself and jump in the river,” he said. “I didn’t, for a couple of reasons… I didn’t want to break the spell by going over and seeing the downed tree.” Mr. Eddington said he was also respectful of the fact that the tree lies on Haida land and that he hadn’t sought permission to go right up to it. The experience will probably influence his performances in the future, he said, as the site was somewhat different than what he had imagined. The real forest does not have as much bare tree trunk visible, the trees were shorter than he had imagined, and there was not much of a clearing around the spruce, he said. Mr. Eddington will be at the Vancouver Fringe Festival this month.