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, science 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 SOO'S 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. 

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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. 

70 Years and Still Going Strong

Past the Box Office

The old 35mm projector now on display in the foyer.

BillBill and Sue-On take their seats

The sell-out crowd await Johnny Cash and Elvis.

Warm up act Johnny Cash  ~   Elvis ushered in by the Memphis Mafia


Lenny Breau ~ Hal Lone Pine ~ Jack Paget ~ Ray St. Germain

The Ray Little Show in the '50s

Bend Stage in the '50s  ::  Bill Hillman and Fern Wilson
A comedy spoof for a 317 Air Cadet party


Ray St. Germain and Lenny Breau

Bend Theatre ~ Strathclair ~ Mid-'50s

Strathclair in the '50s
Strathclair: A Prairie Town with a Past, Present & Future 
William G. Hillman, B.Sc.(Hons), B.Ed., M.Ed. 


Elvis and Johnny Cash




Eclectic Studio

PDF Version

1. Gig Notes: 1-10
2. Album Notes
3. Guitar Tales
4. Prairie Saga
5. Roots
6. Photos
7. Media
8. 100 Songs


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Copyright 2017 - Bill and Sue-On Hillman