A Rare Find

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Musquodoboit Valley Bicentennial Theatre and Cultural Centre

12390 Hwy. 224,
Middle Musquodoboit,
Nova Scotia B0N 1X0
Tel: 902.384.2819

[email protected]

Our Most Prized Possession:
A Rare Surviving Piece of 19th Century Canadian Stage Art Discovered!

In 1929, one year after the Odd Fellow’s Lodge was recently constructed, Mrs. Harriet Claypool, a Musquodoboit resident, purchased and donated to the Lodge the seats from an old theatre in Halifax (The Majestic Theatre, formerly The Academy of Music), which was being torn down to be later replaced with the Capitol Theatre.
At the same time, along with the seats, she purchased a large scenic drop curtain which had been used as a backdrop for a final performance at the Majestic that same year.

Many early theatre patrons remember the enchanting Garden Scene that covered the front stage before show time and then was raised up into the rafters by a system of ropes and pulleys when the show began.

In 1983, when the Odd Fellows turned their lodge over to the community for the nominal sum of $1.00, the Bicentennial Theatre and Cultural Centre opened. During renovations, it was determined the stage curtain (12’10” x 30′), which had hung stage front for over 50 years, was in need of repairs.

The “Gill” as it hung in the old Academy of Music

The stage curtain had suffered water damage from a leaky roof and various other indignities, including being dropped on a piano during a previous move. Local artist, Roberta “Bobbie” Annand decided she could give it a face-life for the newly renovated Bicentennial Theatre. It became a labour of love for Bobby and we appreciate all she did to keep interest alive in Gill’s work of art.

Although we had dreams of seeing that wonderfully relaxing garden scene once more stage front, the Fire Marshall decreed it did not meet modern day fire regulations as a stage curtain, and it was relegated upstage and behind the cloth curtain.

Not long after the curtain had been moved upstage, forlorn and all but forgotten, did we discover that we had a rare piece of stage art that had been painted in 1892 by one of the finest Canadian scenic artists of the 19th century, William Gill, of Halifax.

In the summer of 2002, Halifax Regional Municipality, now official owner of the Bicentennial Theatre, contributed extensively to the Gill Restoration Project and necessary structural improvements to the building. 110 years after William Gill had painted it on site at the Majestic Theatre in Halifax, his drop was lowered from the rafters to undergo major repairs and restoration by Michelle Gallinger.

The restored Garden Scene has hung just behind the proscenium since 2004 and may be viewed by chance or by appointment. Further information and history of the Gill drop is available by contacting the Theatre Office.

Thank you to Dianne & Patrick O’Neill who, through their research, enabled us to discover our rare gem, the William Gill 19th Century Italianate Garden Scene stage curtain, and to James Bordeau for his conscientious appraisal of the Gill Drops, and for his understanding as to why the community would want to keep the Garden Scene as part of the heritage of our Valley 

One of William Gill’s descendants came to visit and see the Garden Scene.

Photo on Left: In July 2007, Woody (Sherwood) Gill Pierce travelled to Middle Musquodoboit to view the restored painting of his grandfather, William Gill.

Shown (L-R): C. Armstrong, R. Annand, B. Bell, Woody & Nan Pierce, B. Buchanan.
Special thanks go out to Roberta “Bobbie” Annand and professional restoration artist, Michelle Gallinger, for their tireless work restoring our most prized possession.

To learn more about the remarkable story of this wonderful painting, and its artist, William Gill please visit: https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/tric/article/view/7133/8192

and http://www.htns.ca/paintedrooms/viewprop.php?showsite=63

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