Amateur performers in Powell River have participated in a festival annually since 1945.

Cultural event marks 75 years
Powell River Festival of the Performing Arts starts February 23

The first Powell River Festival of the Performing Arts was held in Dwight Hall and received a name change from music festival when dance was added seven years ago. It now takes place in three venues: James Hall at Powell River Academy of Music, Max Cameron Theatre at Brooks Secondary School and Evergreen Theatre at Powell River Recreation Complex.

Organizing committee members, including Rotarians and community volunteers, wanted to do something special for this year’s event. An idea germinated for a Celebration Concert featuring performers from past festivals. It has been coming together under the leadership of Warren Wiley who has been guiding the recruitment of people and groups representing all the disciplines of the festival: piano, strings, vocal and choral, speech arts, band and instrumental, and dance.

The free concert will be held at 7 pm on Saturday, March 2 in Evergreen Theatre.

Emcee for the Celebration Concert is Stewart Alsgard who, as a young boy, participated in piano in the first-ever festival in 1945 and as a teenager in subsequent years with his high school band. “I remember playing in the festival and have enjoyed attending the Grand Concert in more recent times,” says Stewart, who received piano lessons from Catholic nuns living in Townsite.

Rotarian and committee member Jill Ehgoetz has been going through files at Powell River Historical Museum and Archives. She has brought copies of old newspaper clippings to meetings that have provided enjoyment. “We discovered that Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk once played piano in our festival as did renowned pianist Don Thompson,” she says. “Many people who are still resident in Powell River participated and some of them are still involved with music in some way.”

This year there are approximately 300 entries, much more than the first festival that attracted 88. “After decades of dealing with paper entry forms, our participants now register online,” says Val Thompson, the committee’s coordinator. Her mother Gloria participated in festivals in the 1940s and her daughter Shannon sang and played instruments in the annual festivals as a teenager.

While there was one adjudicator for all disciplines in 1945, there is now an adjudicator for each. A group of community volunteers organized the festival until the Knights of Pythias and Pythian Sisters took over that task.

“We are delighted that Joan McDonald, who was a member of the festival committee for many years, will be our special guest at the Celebration Concert,” says Warren.

When the Pythian organizations were not able to continue, a group of festival supporters carried on until 17 years ago when the women issued a call for assistance from the community. That call was answered by the Rotary Club of Powell River. “Our club took it on without any knowledge of such things as a syllabus,” says Jan Gisborne. “We had a couple of joint meetings with the previous organizers and then moved forward.”

The local Rotary club is part of an international organization with 33,000 clubs and 1.2 million members around the world. Service Above Self is its motto and members undertake a multitude of community and international projects.

“Our festival has a huge impact on a large number of people from kindergarten age through to seniors,” says club president Frieda Hamoline. “We are most appreciative of the extra assistance we receive from community volunteers.”

All regular sessions of the festival are open to the public and free of charge with donations gratefully accepted to assist with expenses.

The committee is also grateful to Powell River Council for Arts and Culture and the City of Powell River for their support as well as School District 47.

As usual the festival will conclude with the Grand Concert at 7 pm on Friday, March 8. Selected performances are recommended by adjudicators and the festival committee for this ticketed event that also takes place in Evergreen Theatre.

For more information, check out the festival website at