When Tommy Douglas was the member of parliament for Lake Cowichan, he probably never imagined that someday his name and story of his life would help the community to preserve its history.
The Kaatza Historical Society presents Tommy Douglas: the Arrows of Desire Nov. 6 to 8 at the Lake Cowichan School Theatre. The society is raising funds to build an annex at the museum to house artifacts from the IWA union and the Wilmer Gold collection of historical logging photographs.
The play is written and performed by John Nolan who has performed the play Canada wide and now makes his home in Lake Cowichan.
“I had seen his production in Ladysmith,” says Caroll Patrick who volunteers with the society and met Douglas in the 1970s when he was MP for riding. “I thought of it while working with the fundraising team and thought it was a nice tie-in because Tommy Douglas was such a strong proponent of unions.”
Nolan wrote the play after being challenged to write a play while a student at the Bastion Theatre Company school in 1982.
“I started researching,” says Nolan. “And then I came to Tommy Douglas and he was so much ahead of every one else and not part of the establishment. So I started reading everything I could.”
Tommy Douglas was a Baptist minister who was elected to the House of Commons for the socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party in 1935 but left federal politics to become leader of the Saskatchewan CCF party and then premier of the province from 1944 to 1961. Often called the Father of Medicare, Douglas introduced the first universal health care program. He later stepped down as premier to lead the fledgling federal New Democratic Party in 1961. He served as leader until he resigned in 1971 but remained an MP until 1979. He died in 1986.
Douglas was invested into the Order of Canada in 1981 and named The Greatest Canadian in 2004.
In 2002 Nolan cut down a six-hour script to two hours and prepared to take it to the stage.
It opened on the 100th birthday of Tommy Douglas on Oct. 20, 2003 in Douglas’ home constituency of Weyburn, Saskatchewan.
Nolan spent the next six years touring the country to sold out crowds.
“Tommy Douglas still resonates with people,” says Nolan. The play is a one-man show performed by Nolan. “It’s an evening with Tommy Douglas,” says Nolan. “He talks about things that have happened in his time but also comments on things going on today.”
Nolan was pleased to help out when the historical society approached him.
“Museums are about people who are dead, but it’s all about bringing history alive,” says Nolan. “That’s why live theatre is so important, it brings legends alive.”
Nolan will bring Tommy Douglas alive to promote the upcoming performance by appearing in character at the historical society’s fundraiser on Oct. 17. He will also perform a shortened version of the play at the school.
The full performances take place at Lake Cowichan School Theatre Nov. 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors and students at the Kaatza Station Museum, Lake Cowichan Curves, Ten Old Books and Dunan Garage.