Volume 10 Week 10

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(Posted 12:30 p.m., Sept. 28)
Vintage Stock production loosely based on 'Riel'ity
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Louis Riel, played by Nicolas Dubus in the Vintage Stock Theatre production of 'Nothing But My Heart', talks to Father Boucher, played by Pierre Villeneuve. Fred Sherwin/Photo

The year is 1874 and Louis Riel is on the run from the authorities after authorizing the execution of Orangeman Thomas Scott during the Red River Rebellion.

While on the run, Riel is said to have stopped in Ottawa where he briefly took his seat in the House of Commons before disappearing once again. No one knows for sure where he went to next, but it's been assumed that he traveled to Quebec either by steamer down the Ottawa River or on horseback to Quebec and then on to the United States where he spent the next 10 years in self-imposed exile.

While his movements before leaving Canada are sketchy, there is one piece of evidence that places him in Cumberland Village in April, 1874.

While writing her memoirs in 1947, long time Cumberland resident Hattie Dunning included the rather cryptic passage "Louis Riel was once brought into the Dunning House when he was being taken through the place....Mother said they were warned to keep away from the dining room and not let on they knew he was there."

The tidbit of information was uncovered by Vintage Stock Theatre director and playwright Susan Flemming while researching another project and immediately took on a life of it's own. Flemming decided to share the information with fellow writer John Cook and together they produced "Nothing But My Heart", the latest installment in the theatre company's popular lamplight series being performed this weekend on the grounds of the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum.

While the play is loosely based on the possibility that Riel once hid out in Cumberland, it's more of an examination of the relationship between the township's earliest settlers who were largely French and Irish, Catholic and non-Catholic.

The Red River Rebellion and Riel's role in it stirred up a great deal of antagonism between the two communities across Upper and Lower Canada at the time and "Nothing But My Heart" examines the idea that the good residents of Cumberland were not immune to the political climate of the time.

The play itself is presented in a series of five vignettes performed at different locations on the museum grounds with only a half dozen kerosene lanterns used for lighting.

In the opening scene, Navan founder and the town's first postmaster Michael O'Meara is waiting for the mail to arrive in Cumberland Village when he recalls a time 11 years earlier when there was a commotion in the village over the arrival of three strangers.

In the second scene, Father Boucher is handed a note from Riel given to him by one of the village's youngsters. While the audience doesn't find out the exact contents of the note, it's assumed that Riel is looking for a safe place to hide from the detectives who are close on his heels.

In the third scene Riel talks to the local shopkeeper about purchasing a horse and is partially overheard by two prying spinsters eager for more fodder for their gossip. As the plot thickens, tensions rise and the undercurrent of resentment between Catholics and non-Catholics moves closer to the surface.

The play ends with the two detectives giving up their pursuit after no one in the village is willing to co-operate with them.

The production is a wonderful history lesson even if it is loosely based on an urban legend (or should that be a rural legend) and serves as an introduction to a number of historical figures from the township's earliest days including Michael O'Meara, Rev. Thomas Garrett, Reeve William Wilson and Thomas Delaney who founded Sarsfield and was that community's first postmaster.

The cast includes Nicolas Dubus as Louis Riel, Alan Meltzer as Michael O'Meara, Pierre Villeneuve, Albert-Nicholas Nasrallah, Michael Yuill, Micheline Mathon, Sherry Thurig, Marni Hunt-Stephens, Denis Bruyere, Tyler Smith, Peter Frayne, John Cook, Emilie Perron-Clow, Dan Smythe, Vanessa Corcoran and Sarah Benfield.

The final two performances will be held this Friday night and Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. Admission is $12 per person and audience members are asked to wear appropriate clothing and foot wear.

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


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