Zoe Marini and Simone Wiebe in a recent Footlighters Theatre Society production on the stage at the Kootenay River Theatre. Brian Lawrence photo

Zoe Marini and Simone Wiebe in a recent Footlighters Theatre Society production on the stage at the Kootenay River Theatre. Brian Lawrence photo

History of the Kootenay River Theatre

On a Wednesday night in April 1980, a fire occurred at Prince Charles Secondary School, now Kootenay River Secondary School, that devastated the community. It started in a small building where some materials were ignited by a floor heater. The fire quickly spread to the main building and as the school was a wooden structure, the fire quickly consumed the school. Firefighters and local citizens worked hard to control the fire and hose down nearby residences.

For the remainder of the year, classes were held in the rec centre. In the fall of 1980, portables were installed at the school site. Teacher Bob Ferguson recalls slogging through the mud with PA systems blaring. Community facilities were used and students were bused to the rec centre and the Catholic Church hall for physical education classes. Teachers and students coped with this situation but found it very frustrating. Classes were in the new building by 1983.

In October 1981, plans for the new school were developed, including a drama teaching/multipurpose room. This facility would not be adequate for the type of entertainment desired in Creston. The facility would not allow symphonies, dance troupes or visiting artists to perform. If this venue were expanded to include 400 seats, a state-of-the-art theatre could be included in the school. The benefits for the Town of Creston would be economical boosts for local businesses, a venue for student performances and provide an enjoyable experience for seniors. It was felt that young people would benefit from seeing live performers, thus broadening their interest in the arts.

A group of visionary citizens — Meta Beduz, Chuck Truscott, Ruth Mitchell-Banks, Marjorie Comm, Ann Alexander, Steve Smith, Dan Miller and Ed Walters — saw an opportunity to have this area expanded to become a performing arts theatre. They put forth a proposal for more seats, a sloping floor, enhanced acoustics and lighting to the Ministry of Education, which had already committed thousands of dollars for the multipurpose room. The ministry agreed and gave them a date of March 1, 1982, to raise the extra funds of $120,000. On Aug. 10, 1981, the Creston Community Auditorium Society was incorporated as a charitable organization.

Fundraising began in earnest. Donations were received from local citizens, clubs and organizations in the community. Variety shows and quilt raffles were held. A joint use agreement with the Town of Creston and the former School District No. 86 (Creston-Kaslo) was required so that the society could apply for regional, provincial and federal grants. This agreement meant that insurance, maintenance, CUPE personnel (theatre technician and booking secretary) and custodial services would be provided. The SD86 secretary-treasurer at the time, Dave Douglas, worked closely with the auditorium society. The district held the funds, ordered materials and negotiated with municipal government. This was an excellent working relationship. It was hoped that the auditorium would make Creston the cultural centre of the area. A first-class auditorium at this price would never be possible again.

Once the money was secured, the auditorium society began work with an architect and the present theatre was built on the school site. The theatre was gradually equipped with seats, curtains, and sound and lighting. The formal opening was on March 27, 1987.

Since the opening of the theatre, fundraising has continued. The first theatre technician, Nancy Pridham, was responsible for the current sound booth, which the school district built. Prior to this, a hole had been cut in the cement wall for the projection of films. The Creston Rotary Club built the green room (washrooms, makeup stations, couches for entertainers) with the school district providing $4,000 and the club supplying $5,000 and labour. Recent acquisitions in the past 35 years have included replacement curtains, replacement and expanded sound and lighting, and upright piano, for a total of $316,063 raised by the Creston Community Auditorium Society through local businesses and donors, as well as grants from the Town of Creston, Regional District of Central Kootenay, the BC government and federal funds.

Seats were purchased from the Tivoli Theatre and refurbished. They became very uncomfortable and the auditorium society actually rented cushions to patrons as part of a seat campaign in 2014. In 1998, people could purchase a seat for $100, but in 2014 seat contributions were $250 per seat. These donations plus grants from the RDCK, Creston & District Credit Union, and the Creston-Kootenay Kootenay Foundation (now Creston Valley Community Foundation) enabled the auditorium society to purchase new seats and carpeting for the theatre for a total of $115,000. Community members came out and removed seats, and School District No. 8 (Nelson-Creston) repaired and refinished the floors. A band of seniors and other community members installed the new seats. This would not have been managed without the help of Tim Vogel and a consultant from Calgary. High school students, as well as the Creston Valley Thunder Cats, helped.

The grand piano was provided by the Creston Concert Society, which raised $25,000 for this purchase. There is a fee for usage in the rental agreement so that costs for professional tuning can be covered. The school pays for regular tuning of both pianos.

The Creston Community Auditorium Society would like to acknowledge the contributions from SD8, the Town of Creston (annual $5,000 rental subsidy) and the RDCK (rental subsidies, seats and sound and lighting), provincial and federal governments, Creston & District Credit Union (seats, and sound and lighting upgrades), Creston Valley Community Foundation, Columbia Basin Trust, Creston Rotary Club, Creston Concert Society, Blossom Valley Singers, Footlighters Theatre Society and Focus on Youth. Private donations have exceeded expectations and exhibit the passion the community has for the fine arts.

The current committee includes Joanna Wilson, Brenda Brucker, Brenda Draper, Annette Sawall, Jason Smith, Jean Mutch, Pat Smith, Dylan Smith and Margaret Lavender. The mission of the Creston Community Auditorium Society is to ensure that an exceptional performing arts space is available to the community and performers, by fundraising for the purchase of equipment and by acting as the intermediary between SD8, local government and user groups. Local and visiting performers are amazed that the small population of the Creston Valley has such an exceptional facility for the performing arts.

The society encourages new people to come to the upcoming AGM and support the Kootenay River Theatre.

Submitted by Creston Community Auditorium Society