Local theatre company re-teaches Canadian history

Kingston’s SALON Theatre Productions explores Sir John A. MacDonald in a new light

Two SALON Theatre Productions actors during a production of In Sir John A.'s Footsteps earlier in the year.
Patrick Downes (left) and Paul Dyck in a past show of SALON Theatre's In Sir John A.'s Footsteps.

In Sir John A.’s Footsteps consciously refuses to whitewash or romanticize Canadian confederate history.  

The interactive outdoor play centres on the retelling of the life of Sir John A. MacDonald in 1901, a decade after his death. Kingston-based theatre company SALON Theatre’s production opened on July 3 and will be playing until Sept. 27.  

The play features a walking tour of Kingston’s historical attractions and a theatrical and musical performance about Canada’s first Prime Minister.  

A central theme of the play is Sir John A.’s political relationship with controversial Canadian figure Louis Riel, the founder of Manitoba and leader of the Métis people. 

SALON uses Riel’s character to explore and critique Sir John A. rather than sensationalize his politics. Riel is a central character and his trial for treason in 1885 is a focal scene in the play.  

The theatre company, according to Artistic Director Paul Dyck, makes a conscious effort to work against the whitewashing of Canadian history.  

“We’ve worked with Four Directions, Indigenous visual artists, musicians,” he said. 

“We wanted to learn and educate ourselves and make sure that their stories and sides of the story were included as well.”  

During the performance, audience members meet a small group of actors in Confederation Park, who are already in character.  

The actors are dressed for 1901, complete with lace-up boots and white shirts with puffy sleeves and tight collars.   

The actors strum a ukulele and sing songs about Sir John A., leading audience members out of Confederation Park towards the Market Square.  

They talk the entire way, bickering with one another in old English or pointing out historical buildings from Sir John A.’s time. 

The play, which spans just under an hour, features three stops near City Hall.  

At each location, the troupe tells another chapter of Sir John’s life and the political timeline before Confederation. 

They make note of MacDonald’s personal turmoil, including his alcoholism and his rocky upbringing, as well as his political downfalls, such as his ignorance of First Nations peoples. 

For instance, the last scene of the play is a monologue by Sir John A. himself.  

He emotionally retells the story of his brother’s death at the hands of the man his father hired as his children’s caretaker.  

As the monologue ends, MacDonald realizes his faults as a politician and apologizes for his faults as a politician. 

Paul Dyck said SALON has worked to learn about the stories of First Nations communities that are often omitted from confederate history in an effort to include those stories in their performances. 

“We had a show that toured out West where we put Sir John A. on trial, where we made sure we were being critical of him and not being reverent of history,” he said.  

According to Dyck, SALON Theatre aims to educate Canadians on their history and heritage, particularly Canadian youth.  

The company has done a Canada-wide tour in the effort to teach Canadian history theatrically and musically. 

“We hope that, coming forward, we can link our play and interactive plays about Canadian history like ours to school curriculums,” Dyck said.  

Dyck said holding the play outdoors is also significant, because SALON was founded on the idea of creating theatre in natural environments.  

“People don’t always identify with a two-hour-long show in a dark theatre,” he said.  

“We bring the theatre to the people, and it becomes organic when you perform theatre where people can see and feel what the actors are seeing and feeling.”  

The play continues until Sept. 27, playing every day at 11pm and 2pm. With valid student ID, the play will be just $5 for returning students from Sept. 9-13.

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