Islands featured in Cultural Olympics

  • May. 11, 2009 10:00 a.m.

by Heather Ramsay–Haida Gwaii will be front and centre at the Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver in 2010 in a musical about the removal of totem poles from SGang Gwaay in 1957. The Cultural Olympiad’s first 20 projects were announced at the end of last month, and Bruce Ruddell’s play is one of the highlights. Mr. Ruddell says he’s been working on the play- a fictional account of Wilson Duff and Bill Reid’s expedition to what was then known as Anthony Island – for 20 years. The anthropologist, modelled after Mr. Duff and played by John Mann, the lead singer in the band Spirit of the West, is the main character in the play. The story revolves around his moral dilemma over cutting down the poles from the ancient southern Haida village. The play is historical fiction, and only based on the actual events, but Mr. Ruddell said that Bill Reid himself counselled the composer/playwright to do it that way. “He said I’d get closer to the truth.” Mr. Ruddell interviewed all of the people who went on the 1957 expedition to remove the poles for the sake of preserving them. “They all said it was their most remarkable life experience,” he says. Mr. Reid, who at the time worked with CBC, began to dedicate himself more and more to his Haida ancestry and to art after the trip and Mr. Duff began a sort of spirit quest, he says, channelling the life of Charles Edenshaw and later taking his own life in the halls of the Museum of Anthropology. Mr. Ruddell says the play, which premieres in Vancouver on January 16, will feature seven aboriginal roles and five “European” actors. The director is coming to the islands in June to do auditions for some of the Haida parts, which include the role of an old woman who haunts the anthropologist in his dreams. Vancouver-based Gwaii Edenshaw is the cultural liaison on the production and he designed the raven image that Mr. Mann wears on his head in the promotional pictures. The play is a co-production between Theatre Calgary and the Vancouver Playhouse. After the Olympic run in Vancouver it will play in Calgary. Mr. Ruddell says he’d love to bring it to Haida Gwaii. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. “If it’s a success, anything can happen.”