Boardmores at Beaton
Fifty years of theatre productions needed a home
Harry and Elizabeth Boardmore’s impact on the theatre community in Cape Breton is well documented and celebrated.
In 2016, the 50th anniversary of the Boardmores’ arrival on the island, and subsequent revival of local theatre, was acknowledged in an exhibit at the Sydney Historical Society.
Curated by Lindsay Thompson, the installation entitled “Threads Through Time,” featured many Boardmore artifacts, photos, costumes and props.
The showcase highlighted the Boardmores significant cultural contribution to Cape Breton Island and shone a light on the impact their friendship and guidance had on generations of performers and audiences.
Thompson’s exhibit inspired me to return to the tall, grey filing cabinet I inherited from Harry and Liz.
Harry Boardmore kept meticulous records of all the plays produced by the Dramagroup. He carefully created a file for each play, each production’s title neatly printed on the top right corner of the folder. Every entry included newspaper articles, reviews, photos, programs and scripts.
After 50 years of play (and file) production, the old filing cabinet began to tilt from the weight of Harry’s efforts. Yet, the cabinet’s contents were, and are, much more than the sum of their individual parts.
They were tangible reminders of all that had been accomplished. They held value to those involved in the plays and to the public, who shared a common respect for the creative arts and pride in our local talent. Furthermore, the collection provided content for research projects focusing on community economic development through the arts and on community theatre as a model for organizational behaviour.
Fortunately, Cape Breton University is home to the Beaton Institute, the official repository for historically significant records of the university. Additionally, the institute is a cultural heritage archive mandated to preserve the social, economic, political and cultural history of Cape Breton Island.
The Boardmore collection well reflects this scope and purpose. So, I began to investigate the possibility of housing the Boardmore collection at the Beaton Institute.
As discussion progressed, the opportunity to involve students evolved. The Beaton offered CBU students an opportunity to work in the archive as interns.
The internship program began in 2010 as a six-credit course. For approximately nine hours per week, interns worked with staff to develop and execute a project plan aligned with the student’s research or personal interests.
I was asked to supervise Daniel Farrow, history major/ Dramagroup member, as he worked on the Boardmore collection for the Beaton.
Farrow spent an entire school year cataloguing and digitalizing the collection. He was able to create an updated, searchable pdf that is fully accessible to the public. He also created profiles for Harry and Liz Boardmore, which can be accessed through the Boardmore Collection’s page and by searching the digital archive.
Working on this project was a valuable experience for Farrow. As he said, “the opportunity to work with this collection was an incredible experience for me, as a history student. I was able to work hands-on with a collection that was directly associated with the history of Cape Breton University.”
Farrow described the Beaton Institute as “a lab” for history students. He said, “we do not work with chemicals or equations, but it is a space where history students can experience life as a historian.”
The Boardmores contributed deeply to Cape Breton’s rich theatre history. Like Farrow, there are many who feel lucky to have been able, either with or because of Liz and Harry, to create local theatre, to celebrate its success, and to help solidify a collective contribution to the theatre arts, here at the university and on the island.
The Boardmore collection can be found at https:// beatoninstitute.com/.
Cast of “Winnie the Pooh” in 2000 at Cape Breton University’s Boardmore Theatre.
Chad MacDonald, Wilma Menzies, Gary Walsh were members of the cast of “Henry IV, Part 1” in 1990 at Cape Breton University’s Boardmore Theatre.
Colleen MacIsaac as Juliet in a 2000 stage production at Cape Breton University’s Boardmore Theatre.