Volume 9 Week 3

Tuesday, Dec. 309


Updated March 18

Orléans Ward
Bob Monette

Updated June 1

This week:
Rob Jellett

Orléans Ward
Bob Monette




(Posted 1 p.m., Oct. 2)

Vintage Stock Theatre production a wonderful walk through history
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

William tries to explain to his skeptical wife Jeanette that an old shovel he bought for $2 would help him find a trunk of gold coins in the Vintage Stock Theatre production of "Last Seen in Cumberland". Fred Sherwin/Photo

Trust the folks at Vintage Stock Theatre to come up with a production that is 50 per cent theatre, 50 per cent history lesson and 100 per cent entertaining.

"Last Seen in Cumberland" is the fourth instalment In Vintage Stock Theatre's "Shade of the Evening" series which explores the history and folklore of Cumberland Township with the added touch that all the plays take place on the grounds of the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum, illuminated only by lamplight.

As the play begins, Althea and Madeleine Conroy are busy searching for Madeleine's lost engagement ring with a metal detector when they come across a gold coin with King George IV's relief on it.

After rubbing off some of the tarnish, the date of the coin is revealed -- 1826. Althea is immediately reminded of a recent conversation she had with some of the townsfolk about an old legend. Apparently, a paymaster from Montreal had stopped in Cumberland on his way to Bytown with a trunk full of gold coins to pay the Rideau Canal workers.

During his brief stop in the village, he received a letter requesting that he return to Montreal at once. Not wanting to lug the trunk back with him, he buried it in the village for safe keeping. As the legend goes, he was never seen or heard from again and the gold coins remain buried in the ground waiting for someone to dig them up.

After hearing the story, Madeleine seems more interested in the gold than her engagement ring.

Althea starts telling her sister about the early history of the village and one of its first inhabitants, Amable Foubert who ran a trading post that double as an inn for wayward travellers.

As she starts talking about Foubert, the focus of the play shifts to one of the buildings on the museum grounds. A young man hurriedly approaches the door and starts calling out Foubert's name.

The young man is the paymaster who has come to solicit Foubert's help in getting the gold coins to Bytown. The year is 1828.

Foubert agrees to help the paymaster hide the gold coins in bales and transport them by wagon to Bytown. After they agree on their course of action, Foubert retrieves a letter from the house informing the paymaster to return to Montreal immediately.

The paymaster asks Foubert to help him bury the gold for safe keeping, but the older man wants nothing to do with it. Instead, he convinces the paymaster to bury it himself and not tell anybody where he put it.

As the paymaster walks off, he's followed in the darkness by a shadowy figure carrying what appears to be a knife. The two men disappear behind a building. After a few minutes the stillness of the night is interrupted by a blood curdling scream.

As the audience moves on to another location guided by the lamp-bearers, Althea and Madeleine pick up their conversation where they left off.

And so the play unfolds. Each of the four subsequent vignettes capture a moment in time that make up the human history of Cumberland Village with the common thread being the legend of the Rideau Canal workers' gold.

In the second vignette set in 1852, the town Reeve bemoans the fascination of the village's young men in trying to find the hidden gold.

'They've taking their minds off of hard work and all for the love of gold. Money is the root of all evil," says the Reeve.

It's also in the second scene that the audience is introduced to the long ago concept of statute labour. When the township of Cumberland was first being developed in the 1850s, it was the duty of every man between the ages of 18 and 80 to provide at least a day's labour to work on the township's roads. The law remained on the books until the First World War.

The third vignette takes place in the museum church in 1895 where Alice Dunning makes her daughter Hattie practice her class speech. The talk soon turns to Hattie's future and her expresses her desire for her daughter to find a man.

Hattie has other intentions, however, which don't include getting married or having children. Besides the man her mother wants her to marry is off looking for the gold armed with a map that supposedly shows where its buried.

The third and most poignant vignette takes place during the depression. William and Jeanette are about to have their house repossessed. Desperate to keep their home, William takes two dollars from the food jar and buys an old shovel he's told was used by Amable Foubert to bury the canal workers gold. He was also told that in the right hands, it acts as a devining rod.

Armed with the magic shovel, William goes out in the dead of night to try and find the gold coins. Meanwhile, Jeanette, not knowing what her husband has done, finds him digging away at the ground in a local farmer's field.

When she explains to him that if the shovel really worked, the man who sold it to him would have used it to find the gold himself, he realizes the error of his ways.

As the two turn to go back to their house, a silhouette of a man can be seen standing on the front porch for several moments and then leaves.

The fifth and final vignette is set in 1952 when the Transcanada Highway is buying built near the village. Ernie and Hank are sitting in front of Hank's house that's about to be razed to make way for the highway.

As the scene plays out, Ernie finds a gold coin in Hank's coat pocket. In an instant their conversation turns to the legend of the canal workers gold and before long the two make a pact to share the rest of it 50-50, if they ever find it -- which they did not, but for several weeks in the spring and summer of 1952 gold fever once again swept through the village.

The play ends with Althea finding Madeleine's ring. As for the gold, to the best of anyone's knowledge it's never been found. Some say the legend is merely a hoax, while others like Althea believe that it was never meant to be found in the first place.

"Maybe it's just one of those legends that should just continue because it's part of the history here. It's helped shape the community," Althea says as her sister turns the metal detector back on "for one last try".

"Last Seen in Cumberland" spins a great yarn, or several yarns, that when sewn together form a historic tapestry of the local community.

I've been to all four "Shades of the Evening" productions and I must say that the acting just keeps getting better every year. "Last Seen in Cumberland" is the strongest by far with a handful of performances standing out in particular.

Richard Marquis sets the stage with a simply terrific performance as Amable Foubert in the first vignette. East End Theatre veteran Peter Frayne was equally great as the township's reeve as was Liz Bakken as Pauline Foubert in the second vignette. Finally, Sherry Thurig is wonderful as always as the flighty and slightly annoying Madeleine.

Other performances include: Marni Hunt-Stephens as Althea, Paul Sales as the paymaster; Pierre Larocque as Amable Foubert's grandson; Miranda Forbes and Olivia Best as Alice and Hattie Dunning; Dan Smythe and Micheline Mathon as William and Jeannette; and Chris Story and Michael Yuill as Ernie and Hank. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the knife-wielding stranger in the dark was played by none other than myself on Friday night and Bay Ward Coun. Alex Cullen on Saturday night.

The play was co-written by John Cook and Susan Flemming who is also the director, while Ron Yuill does yeoman's work looking after all the lanterns and managing the set along with stage manager Kathi Langston.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)


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