Nfld. & Labrador

New west coast theatre named after N.L.'s 'Florence Nightingale'

The west coast facility will be named after Nurse Myra Bennett, thanks to a $1-million donation by the Basil Dobbin Family Foundation.

Basil Dobbin Family Foundation donated $1M and selected nurse Myra Bennett

Nurse Myra Bennett's medical career is legendary, says a biography provided by the Set the Stage Capital campaign. (Set the Stage Capital Campaign)

A Newfoundland nurse who delivered about 5,000 babies in Newfoundland and Labrador will be honoured with her name adorning the new Centre for the Performing Arts in Cow Head. 

Myra Bennett was chosen by the Basil Dobbin Family Foundation, which donated $1 million for the naming rights for a space that will include a theatre, rehearsal space, workshops and offices.

"She's more than just a nurse, because she was interested in music … and formed a choir, she was an organist and did music lessons," said Mildred Bennett, the nurse's daughter-in-law, at the event on Friday. 

"She was very interested in the arts and performing and getting children interested in music."

The group behind the Set the Stage fundraising campaign group for the new facility on Newfoundland's west coast is a who's who of movers and shakers in the province — many with Liberal ties — including its chair, and former premier, Brian Tobin, as well as Gary Anstey, Paul Antle and Dean McDonald.

It will be the new home for the Gros Morne Theatre Festival, which has to turn hopeful audience members away every summer because of a lack of seats. The new theatre would increase capacity to 272 seats, up from 190. 

The goal is to offset the $8.5-million total price tag by raising $2.5 million specifically through the Set the Stage campaign. Tobin said Friday the campaign has raised close to $3.5 million.

Construction on the building is underway and the goal is to have the building open for the 2019 season, which includes donations from Fortis, and the provincial and federal governments.

Florence Nightingale of the North

Bennett was known both as Florence Nightingale of the North and also simply The Nurse — as she was the only one providing medical help along the isolated stretch of the Northern Peninsula. 

"Bennett's medical career was legendary. Her profound impact lingers to this day on the northern coast," according to a media release issued Friday.

She travelled by foot, boat and dog sled to reach patients, and ultimately retired in 1953. 

She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1974, received a honorary doctorate from Memorial University and was made an honorary member of the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland Labrador. 

Tempting Providence, by playwright Robert Chafe, is about Bennett and has been part of Theatre NL's offerings since 2000 and has been staged across the world. 

Dobbin Family Foundation focuses on youth projects

At the announcement Friday, Tobin said the group simply chose the six-figure amount for the naming rights, but admits he didn't think anyone would go for it. 

Basil Dobbin, one of seven children and born in St. John's in 1939, formed the Dobbin Family Foundation to give back to people, according to a biography provided in a media release.

"While not specifically dedicated to the arts, its mission is simple: find worthy projects that impact our youth and their future in a positive way and preserve the values that make this province such a unique and wonderful place," reads the description of the organization.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Katie Breen


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