Windsor was once a bustling town, filled with commerce, opportunity and promise. It was poised to become the province's capital. And then, the unthinkable happened — the town was razed by fire.
The story of Windsor's glory days and the details surrounding the events leading up to and immediately following the Great Windsor Fire of 1897 is one wrought with mystery, crime and intrigue. It's also the focus of Quick As A Wink Theatre's play.
“This town probably would have been the capital of Nova Scotia if it hadn't been for the fire. It was the centre of society, it was the centre of business, commerce, entrepreneurship, it was the shipbuilding capital — Halifax was only a military and commercial port,” said Michelle Herx, who, alongside Roger Taylor, penned the musical, Glory Days: The True Story of the Great Windsor Fire of 1987, about a decade ago.
The musical revolves around the fictional love story of a young music teacher and a ship's carver. The backdrop to the yearlong play is Windsor's rich history. The sub-plot involves the devastating fire and the accusation and trial of George Fletcher, Windsor's first independent black businessman.
“He was accused of starting the fire. So it's a story that needs to be told. The only fictional part of my story are the love interests,” said Herx.
The cast is mainly comprised of local actors. Ian Shaw (George Fletcher), Katherine Meuse (temperance lady Louisa Flambert) and Doug Murley (con man John McIntyre) — all Windsor residents — and Meggie Mckay (Arabella), of Falmouth, hold lead roles.
Herx said most people don't realize the historical importance of the fire, or what the town once was. She hopes bringing this play back to the stage during QAAW's 10th anniversary year will ignite interest in the general public.
“This is a historic story that is not taught in schools. My kids went through school here and never had local history taught to them and I think that's a shame, because people are really missing the glory that was Windsor and what it can be and could be. They're missing it,” she said.
Herx said the musical will appeal to all ages.
“It's a fun way to learn about the history. It is not dry and boring, it's comedic, it's serious, it's light and it's heavy, it has its tragic moments, it has its funny moments. It appeals to everyone,” she said.
Herx spent about a year researching Windsor's history in order to write the play. She finds it's a tale that will uplift and inspire those who are unfamiliar with the Great Windsor Fire.
“By the end of the story, everybody is pulling together and working to make it a beautiful town again,” she said. “It may be my fantasy of what I wish people would do or want to see... how we can pull together instead of fighting each other. It just seems like we're always at odds over things.”
“It's a fun way to learn about the history. It is not dry and boring, it's comedic, it's serious, it's light and it's heavy, it has its tragic moments, it has its funny moments. It appeals to everyone.” - Michelle Herx
In the weeks leading up to the first performance, Herx said she's trying to drum up support for the play and for what the area has to offer now.
“I meet so many people that are so discouraged about what's happening here, and yet, when I look at it I see such a wonderful place to live,” said Herx.
“We are Nova Scotia's best kept secret, and I keep saying that to people because we've got every kind of arts here, we've got every kind of recreation here, we've got opportunities bar-none, we've got a beautiful location, but people have to start believing that this is a glorious place to live.”
Show dates are Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a matinee on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.
George Elliott Clarke will be the special guest on opening night.
The play will be held at the Fountain Performing Arts Centre at King's-Edgehill School in Windsor. The cost is $17.50 per adult; $15 per senior, student, or QAAW member; and $10 per child under the age of 12.
Tickets are available for purchase at Windsor Home Hardware (cash only) or online (credit card only) at www.quickasawinktheatre.ca.