Community rallies to replace beloved Gaspé theatre destroyed by fire

Following the fire people were swept up in a frenzy of support from performers, politicians, and fans from as far as France.

The Théatre de la Vielle Forge was gutted by fire on Tuesday

Théatre de la Vielle Forge in Petite-Vallée, Que. was destroyed by fire, Tuesday. (Radio-Canada)

The Théatre de la Vielle Forge, a little theatre on the edge of the sea in the Gaspé coast, has hosted nearly every major name in Quebec music.

On Tuesday, the venue, that had welcomed 20,000 music lovers so far this year, was completely destroyed by fire.

However, the tiny village, Petite-Vallée, and the people behind its community-run music festival did not have a day to come to terms with the blow before being swept up in a frenzy of support from performers, politicians, and fans from as far as France.

"We're really flabbergasted. We knew that this place was known all around the province, but everybody is pitching in. Everybody is sending help," said Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée administrator Monica Tait.

Within nine hours of the fire, the festival's director was taking calls from the federal and provincial culture ministers.

The number of people who've bought a $10 festival membership has exploded to about 600, up from about 200 before the fire.

Firefighters were not able to save the building after putting out the flames. (Radio-Canada)

Organizers have been fielding hundreds of phone calls, some from Europe, and have received thousands of emails from people expressing sympathy and support.

Quebec celebrities have also been making public calls to actions. Next Tuesday, Paul Piché — a major name in Quebec music — has already announced a benefit concert to take place at building that the village normally uses for a summer music camp.

Quebec musical heavyweights have played at the 280-person-capacity Vielle forge theatre for decades, including Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Martha Wainwright, Coeur de Pirate, Robert Charlebois and Gilles Vigneault.

Village manager Simon Côté says artists have become deeply attached to the venue because, for many, it marked the start of their careers.

"It's an incubator. It's a nursery. For the past 35 years of the festival, it welcomes young artists that are at the beginning of their careers, that gave them a first chance," he said.

The village is hoping to rebuild by next summer. (Radio-Canada)

The theatre, and the 10-day festival that surrounds it, is also essential for the village of 140 people.

They employ nearly a third of Petite-Vallée, attracting 15 to 16,000 people during the festival alone.

"It's the heart of the village really. It's where everything beats. It's where everything goes on," said Tait.

Beyond money from fundraising activities that are already in the works, Côté says fire insurance will cover a certain amount of the $3 million needed to reconstruct the theatre.  

He also believes politicians, and the public, will not allow the beloved festival or its theatre to falter.

Organizers are nonetheless caught in a stunning time crunch. Both Tait and Côté say the plan is to construct a new theatre in time to hold another music festival next year, which normally runs in late June and early July.