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(Posted 11 a.m., Sept. 20)

Shades of the Evening production retells Navan's day of infamy
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Wilma Dent, played by Sam LeClair, gets the news that her husband Cst. Harold Dent, has been shot and killed in Navan. Fred Sherwin/Photo


"Spies don't come here. There are no secrets here. There is no war here. Why here?" It's a question the entire town of Navan was asking itself in June 1940 when a petty thief, thought to be a spy, shot and killed a local OPP constable.

"Murder in Navan" is based on the actual events surrounding the murder of CST Harold Dent on the morning of June 20, 1942. Dent was checking out a tip about a suspicious person who was traveling through Cumberland. He found the man in the Navan railway station.

When he asked the man to produce some identification, he pulled out a gun and shot Dent twice. He tried to escape on foot, but he was tracked down in a nearby wood lot and was shot and killed by Sgt. Al Stringer.

The man turned out to be John Miki, a vagrant and petty thief who had just robbed a country club on the Quebec side the night before and had taken a ferry to Cumberland that very morning.

When he arrived in Cumberland he asked Norm Edwards for directions to the train station. After meeting a the stranger with a foreign accent carrying a ruck sack, Edwards called the OPP detachment in Rockland and informed Dent about the suspicious character.

By the time Dent caught up to Miki, the thief was waiting for the next train to arrive.

Word of the shooting spread like wildfire over the local phone line, which in those days was equivalent to Facebook. Stringer was married to one of the sisters who operated the local phone exchange. They were visiting Navan when the shooting took place.

Stringer immediately ran over to the train station where he Dent lying in a pool of blood on the train station floor. After retrieving Dent's revolver he took off to find his killer with a local farmer, George Smith.

"Murder in Navan" tells the story through the eyes of Harold Dent as he lay dying. Presented in separate vignettes, the play moves through a series of events from the initial shooting, to the ensuing chaos, to Miki's shooting at the hands of Stringer, to Dent's widow being told of her husband's murder.

Playwrite Susan Flemming does an excellent job in lifting the story beyond the mere retelling of an historical event. Using the fallen CST Dent as narrator is brilliant, especially when the character is played by veteran Vintage Stock member Hayden Smith.

This is one of Smith's best roles in a career that has included a long list of standout performances.

Another stroke of genius was Flemming's decision to weave Wilma Dent into the storyline. After kissing her husband goodbye and telling him to be careful. Mrs. Dent, played by Sam LeClair, goes to her church to oversee the preparations for the arrival of Canada's newly-appointed Governor General, the Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice, who have scheduled a whistle stop in Rockland on the way to Ottawa.

Several of the vignettes allude to the fact that she is completely unaware of her husband's shooting and will only find out when the news is brought to her front porch by a total stranger.

"Wilma doesn't know yet. Someone will come to her door and change her life," says one of the woman in town.

The play is riveting with each scene building up to the expected climax. But in typical Flemming fashion, there's a twist. The play does not end with Mrs. Dent receiving the bad news. It follows the ensuing inquest and touches on the fact that Miki was buried in an unmarked grave outside the Dale Cemetery in Cumberland Village.

The final scene is reserved for the two main characters. Holding their infant son in her arms, Wilma speaks about her unfathomable sorrow and tries to remember whether she kissed her husband goodbye before he left.

Dent, tries to tell her that she indeed kissed him and told him to be careful as she had done everytime he left for work, but he is in a place where her can not talk to her and she can not see him. He reaches out to try and touch her hand, but she turns and walks back to their house.

Lit only by kerosene lamps, the scene is heart-wrenching, and in the dark the sniffles in the audience are deafening owing to the incredible performance of both Smith and LeClair.

If you never had the pleasure of witnessing a Shades of the Evening production you should seriously consider seeing "Murder in Navan". Not only will you be thoroughly entertained, you will learn about an incident that will go down in infamy as Navan's only murder.

"Murder in Navan" can be seen on Sept. 21, 22, 28 and 28 at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum in Cumberland Village. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online by visiting http://vintagestock.on.ca or at the door.

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

 

 

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