50 is golden: Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's marks 5 decades

The Arts and Culture Centre has been host to numerous local, national and international artists since 1967.

Arts and Culture Centre officially opened in May 1967

The St. John's Arts and Culture Centre is marking its 50th anniversary this year. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

All this weekend, the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre marks a significant milestone: 50 years. 

The centre has been host to numerous local, national and international artists, with about 100,000 people taking in concerts and other events every year.

Ground was broken for construction in April 1965.

The centre was designed by Cummings, Dove & Whitten of St. John's and Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopulos, Lebensold & Sise of Montreal, who were responsible for other major Canadian works like Place Bonaventure and Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Montreal.

The Arts and Culture Centre opened May 22, 1967 and became officially operational in October of that year.

Included in the building were the main theatre, the Memorial University Art Gallery, the provincial libraries, a crafts teaching facility and a full-service restaurant.

Built at a cost of about $80 million, the Arts and Culture Centre was the province’s major project for Canada's Centennial year. (CBC)

For many performers in this province, the centre has been like a second home. 

Chuck Herriott, an actor and acting teacher, spoke with Weekend AM host Heather Barrett on Saturday. 

Herriott says he had his first theatre experience at the Arts and Culture Centre at the age of 13.

"My first time was in a play called The Sleeping Beauty, and it was directed by Barbara Barrett. It was Festival '78, and that was great fun," he said.

"It was on the main stage, and these were back in the days when you didn't have microphones. It was a big theatre production … it was fantastic."

Dana Parsons and Chuck Herriott have fond memories of their many performances at the centre. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

'Loved every second'

Dana Parsons, a singer/songwriter and musical theatre performer, said she found her initial experience to be "magical" at the centre.

"It was [with] the Wanda Alix Dance Studio. I was doing tap dancing, and I was dancing to Walking on Sunshine, and that was the moment I think I got the bug for being on the stage,"  said Parsons.

"I loved every second of it."

Since their first performances, Herriott and Parsons continued to frequent the centre's stages and rehearsal rooms.

"I kept on working with Barbara Barrett. I did lots of plays here in my teenage years, and also music as well," said Herriott.

"I did the Kiwanis Music Festival, I was with the Gower Youth Band, and I was with choirs — so I was in and out all over the place."

Ground was broken for the Arts and Culture Centre construction in April 1965. (CBC)

Open house on Sunday

Parsons said she continued to dance, but also entered the musical theatre foray.

"Everything from dancing … to getting ready for Christmas, Scrooge with Peter MacDonald, getting ready for those productions. You were here after supper weeknights, and then on the weekends," she said.

"You're surrounded by these wonderful actors and performers. You're surrounded by very cool costumes and sets. It's a magical place and I love it."

Events, tours, performances and an open house have been planned for the weekend, including in the Barbara Barrett Theatre, and in the upper concourse area.

Sunday's open house starts at 4:30 p.m., and will feature aerialist demonstrations, activities for families and displays of concert and show posters from the past 50 years. The event is open to the public, and is free of charge.

An evening performance with the Lady Cove choir and iFly Aerial Arts will take place at 7 p.m. in the main theatre.

About the Author

Lisa Gushue

CBC News

Lisa Gushue works with CBC News in the St. John's bureau.

With files from Weekend AM