MEMORIES AROUND THE BEND
The Strathclair Bend Theatre has been one of the major
influences on my love of music, movies, and entertainment. I have fond
memories of the times my grandfather, Jack Campbell, took his 4-year old
grandson to the construction site of what would become the Bend Theatre.
The theatre was a dream project of Grandpa's friend, Paddy Trim. Mr. Trim
made a deal with Alex Kippen, who owned a lumber mill in the Riding Mountain
area, to provide the lumber for construction. I remember standing in awe
in the middle of this huge building which had just started construction.
Up until this time I remember attending the showing of movies in the Strathclair
Hall -- sort of a make-shift theatre. It was a thrill then, when our family
attended the grand opening of the luxurious finished theatre. The debut
movie was "The Egg and I" which saw the debut of the Ma and Pa Kettle characters
which were soon spun off into a series of their own. The theatre derived
its name in recognition of the original
Strathclair settlement which was located some distance north on a "bend"
in the Little Saskatchewan River. The town was moved south for better rail
access when the CPR line was constructed through that area.
The Bend was a magical place. Long before the advent
of television in our community this was my window to the world. From that
opening in 1947 all through my toddler and teenage years it provided wonderful
entertainment to my family -- indeed, my weekly allowance was nearly always
spent at the Bend box office which was my portal to a full night's entertainment
on the giant silver screen: newsreels, Three Stooges amd other comedy shorts,
Warner Brothers and Disney cartoons, adventure and SF serials, and exciting
previews of the upcoming features. Then the house lights would go on and
girls with concession trays full of ice cream bars, candy, popcorn, etc.
would make their way down each aisle. While the girls were selling these
treats, slides would appear on the screen providing local news and ads.
When the lights dimmed we settled in to watch the main feature -- all the
latest films that Hollywood had to offer. My favourites in those early
years were westerns, Tarzan movies,
fiction, musicals and screwball comedies.
The next major construction to the theatre was the
expanding of the stage area in 1954 to accomodate the new wide-screen Cinemascope
films. I remember attending what I believe was the first such film shown
there: Prince Valiant
starring Robert Wagner. It was disappointing to see much of the beauty
of the proscenium arch removed for the expansion.
These influences stayed with me and evolved over the
years -- leading me into becoming a compulsive collector of many thousand
movies and radio shows on tape, disc and computer. The wonder of far-off
exotic places shown on that screen led me to become a compulsive
traveller to distant lands -- something that my wife Sue-On and I have
done constantly since we were married in 1966 -- it was also major impetus
to become a geography teacher and professor.
The Bend also provided a showcase for live entertainment
-- both local and professional. Winnipeg radio stations promoted entertainment
troupes by featuring live music shows on the air. These bands would use
this exposure to advertise their live shows in showhalls and theatres such
as The Bend. The first such show I remember was that of the Ray Little
Gang. I still have the photo and song booklet that they sold at this gig.
In fact, years later when Sue-On and I were looking for good material to
record on our albums I referred to this booklet for the words to The
Kentuckian Song. (This was many decades before the Internet and
Google made such song searches much easier).
I have fond memories of being on the Bend stage in
the early days -- mostly Christmas concerts: doing a poetry recitation
as a scared-stiff grade one student and later performing in a silly skit
in shorts and a sailor hat for an air cadet show, and still much later
playing a guitar solo of "Silent Night." During my 30 years as a high school
teacher at Strathclair Collegiate we often made use of the Bend for school
dramas, initiations and graduation events. I remember, in all my years
as a devoted a movie-goer, that I usually sat half-way down off the right
aisle. Curiously, I chose this same location for every movie I attended
in Brandon's Strand theatre after moving to the Wheat City as a Brandon
College student . . . and even later when we moved to Brandon to take over
Restaurant. Old traditions die hard. Sadly, Sue-On
and I never had a chance to perform our music on the Bend stage.
Click for larger full-size collage
On the 70th Anniversary of The Bend I couldn't help but
think of how things had come full-circle. In the '50s I was a devoted fan
of the early rock 'n' roll that came out of Sun Studios of Memphis: Elvis
Presley, Johnny Cash,
Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis et al. A major event then was when the Hal
Lonepine and Betty Cody Show came to the Bend. This show out of Winnipeg
featured a teenaged Elvis "impersonator" - Ray St. Germain - backed with
the Chet Atkins and Scotty Moore guitar stylings of teenaged Hal Lonepine,
Jr. An awe-inspiring show with good PA and stage lights -- even a spectacular
special effect: black light! There was a great variety of songs and comedy
bits. I took many photos of the event. Ray did a fabulous job on Elvis'
songs and moves and the band was impressive. Ray went on to become a major
recording artist and a popular entertainer on national television. The
guitar player soon reverted to his real name -- Lenny Breau -- and was
acclaimed as one of the all-time guitar greats.
Click for full-size collage poster
Sixty years later, Sue-On and I were excited to again
watch Elvis on The Bend stage. This time "Elvis" also did a Johnny Cash
segment in his show. The "new" Elvis is an award winning performer out
of Steinbach, MB: Corny
Rempel. Through our 50 years as entertainers, Sue-On and I have performed
scores of songs by these Sun Studio artists, and have immersed ourselves
in the lore of their careers, so watching Corny's show provided us with
an evening of excellent entertainment. He sang the artists' biggest hits
to well-recorded backing tracks, wore authentic costumes, involved his
audience, paced the show with amusing patter and had all the moves of "The
King." So great to see Elvis return to the building after 60 years.
When The Bend closed its doors as a movie theatre in
1980 we were afraid that the glory days of the building were over -- that
it would go the way of so many movie theatres in recent times. The Dmyterko
family had run the movie theatre successfully since Paddy's passing but
times were a-changing. Miraculously the community -- and specifically the
Strathclair Drama Club -- came to the rescue. In 1983 they presented
an amazingly popular full-length musical production -- something they have
done every year since. We attended most of these productions until we moved
to Brandon in '91. Sue-On actually worked on make-up for most of those
years and I videotaped the productions from the balcony.
Due to the hard work of the local Drama Club the old
Bend has been rejeuvenated: interior restored, new seats, a large concession
space and modern washrooms added. Originally, there had been fine dressing
rooms in a lean-to behind the stage but this had been torn down many years
ago. Now, in its place, the local committee added a large wing to the side
of the main building. The annual musical and related events carry on to
full houses, drawing audiences from all over the province. An amazing achievement.