In the 1920s Italian women were sent by the Catholic Church to Montreal, the city where Catholic men from all over the country had gathered to find wives.

One such woman met a man from Terrace, married him a day later, and soon after boarded a train to the northern B.C. community to begin their new life.

Another woman in the region in the early 1900s was travelling on horseback from Terrace to Hazelton, trying to avoid embarrassment in the eyes of the men who had gathered to either see her fall off, or catch a glimpse of her "undergarments."

Those are just some of the stories featured in Out of Time, a play based on actual interviews conducted over two decades ago with women who came to live in Terrace in the early to mid-1900s.

Interviews were done years ago

"I have nothing but admiration for the people who settled this area. They had such courage and such determination," said Karla Hennig, the brainchild behind the play opening at the Terrace Little Theatre Society March 25.

Karla Hennig

Karla Hennig wrote a play based on actual interviews she and others conducted with older women in Terrace who first came to the community in the early to mid-1990s. (Karla Hennig)

"But the other thing is they have such love of this area. There are people who say things like, 'I was never homesick because I had the mountains. I didn't have my mother, I didn't have my sisters, but I had the mountains.'"

Hennig said she was working at a women's centre about 25 years ago when she and some others came up with the idea of interviewing older women who had lived in the community for a long time — because they thought that all the books about the region didn't contain "the actual stories of the people who lived here."

However, after all the interviews were collected and transcribed, all Hennig's ideas  — of having a reading with the women, along with "strawberry tea" — didn't come to fruition.

Yet the women's words stuck with her.

"I kept the stories because they were magical, they really were golden, and I kept taking them and thinking, 'There's a play here,'" said Hennig, who added that some of the women have since passed away.

Nine actors play 100 parts

Eventually she decided that narrative theatre was the best vehicle for the stories, and so in her play each story first involves a narrator who sets the scene using the actual words of the women who were interviewed, followed by a scene that Hennig herself has written.

There is a cast of eight main actors, and a young 13 year-old who plays some of the younger roles, and all together they play about a hundred different characters throughout the play.

Hennig said she could relate to some of what the women wrote, as she herself came north about 30 years ago after growing up in Vancouver.

"I was going to come for three years and I was going to make a lot of money and come home to Vancouver," she said.

"And I've lived in this area for the entire time because once you are here this area is magical. There are magical twilights, the mountains, the mists, the rivers … it's a miraculous community that we live in here."
 

With files from CBC's North by Northwest


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Terrace play brings new life to stories of pioneer women