Quest in Roots:
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CHAUTAUQUA - IN BROOKDALE
Long ago in Ancient Greece, the few who were literate faced a great responsibility to educate others. It was then that Aristotle established what he called a Lyceum. He chose interesting topics of the day and called an assembly where he addressed the crowd on the chosen topics. To assure a good audience he put on plays, recitations by literate friends and some musical numbers. The Lyceum continued for some time in the Old World.
In North America the first such lecture series began in Canada in 1859 at Grimsby Park, Lincoln Country on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario; the Methodist Church organized a temperance rally which continued for some years. In 1874 John Bowslaugh sold the land to the Ontario Methodist Camp Ground Company. This camp continued to be a success. It continued the purposes and methods of the Greek Lyceum and engaged such well known and highly recommended speakers as Thomas De Witt Talmage, American Presbyterian minister who later became a Lyceum lecturer, Wm.
Morely Punshon and English Wesleyan Methodist minister who had given addresses in England, Canada and U.S.A., and, finally, Evangeline Booth of the Salvation Army, a brilliant speaker, worldwide in her appeal.
As these activities continued to draw crowds in Canada two men of diverse occupations but similar educational and religious purposes in the U.S.A.
began organizing similar gatherings to train their Methodist Church Sunday School teachers. Their basic purpose was to find a means to improve the human condition in the American population. Lewis Miller, a farm machinery manufacturer of Akron, Ohio and Rev. Dr. John Heyl Vincent, who later became a Bishop in the Methodist Church, found they had these interests in common and set up their first lecture gathering at Lake Chautauqua near New York City.
Once again the idea met with considerable success after their first effort in 1874. By 1878 they had expanded to a school of languages; in 1879 there began a summer school for public school teachers; in 1881 a school of theology along with a series of clubs for young people interested in reading, music, fine arts, physical education and religion. Finally, in 1883 the group formed the Chautauqua University which operated until 1898.
The Chautauqua came to Canada in 1916and 1917 during the First World War. The Tent Chautauqua an offshoot of the original 1874 organization, continued to run tours across the American West. Two dedicated performers in the Western U.S. circuit came to Western Canada and set up the first Tent Chautauqua. In 1916 J.M.
Erickson, went to Lethbridge, Alta. where he met Samuel S. Dunham who had attended a Chautauqua in the Northern States. Mr. Erickson had soon set up the beginning of his first Canadian Tour having enrolled Lethbridge, Taber, Cayley, Nanton and McLeod. On his return to the United States he persuaded his parent organization to back his venture into Canada. He was happy to receive their promise of support and the help of three young ladies to act as circuit organizers. The company had insisted on a minimum of 40 towns for this first tour and Erickson had enrolled only five. Nola B. Crites was given the task of enrolling Regina then she joined Marjorie Cowan and Janet Young. Together they had soon enrolled the required 40 towns and the Canadian Tent Chautauqua was underway.
After that first success Nola married J.M. Erickson and together they set up an office in Calgary and held Tent Chautauquas across Western Canada and as far east as Western Quebec.
It was on one of these tours that Brookdale first experienced the Tent Chautauqua in the early 1920''s. Mrs. Edmund (Susan) Simpson plainly remembered the arrival of the organizers, the tent crew and finally the actors themselves. She told me of the few who came early enough to give the school children a sample of what was to come and prepare some of them to take part. This was the best form of advertising and news of what was to come with the big tents soon had the whole community humming with eager anticipation.
Many Brookdale Seniors can recall the pot pourrie of education, inspiration, culture and entertainment. Frank Mayremembers the speeches on many topics, a different topic each day for several days. Forrest Alexander remembers the plays and the magic tricks of some performers.
Jean Mitchell recalls the musical items, the singing and the fancy dress and make-up of the entertainers.
Roy Davies recalls the tour that went through southwestern Manitoba and remembers well the interest that involved their several communities as the Tent Chautauqua came, entertained and left each town.
One thing everyone seems to recall is the virtue, integrity and honesty that was an integral part of all members of the touring group from the tent boys to the managers. Another facet of their popularity was the fact that those who set up the tours, evaluated each community and structured the program accordingly. Some wanted temperance themes, others patriotic songs and speeches. In still others the accent was on poetry and the arts.
The Chautauqua served its purposes well but as educational facilities improved and radios and cars brought an ever-widening sphere of comprehension to the most remote communities, the need for this type of travelling educational and cultural performance dwindled. This, along with the depression of the 1930''s caused the eventual demise ofthe Tent Chautauqua in Canada in 1935.However, its purposes are still being met and this is due, at least in part, to the inspiration and developed skills and abilities instilled by the travelling Chautauqua performers.
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