George Ryga

Ryga history is worth celebrating

Play was written in 1967

Dear Editor:

Many thanks for the letter from Sophia Jackson (March 2 Summerland Review), with her positive response to the recent storytelling event at the Arts Centre, to the venue, to others and finally to the Marginal Arts Festival last fall.

Her optimistic forecast for the Ryga Festival to come is heartwarming.

The impact she mentions in her final paragraph has been at least 50 years in the making, coinciding with our national celebration of confederation.

In 1967 I invited George Ryga to come to Grande Prairie, Alberta to read from his poetry, novels and plays at the Swan City Players. This was a centennial-funded project, The Bitter Suite.

Much impressed with our frontier venture, George urged me to move to Summerland. “We could get something like this going there. They need it!” he said.

So at Easter I came for a look-see visit, to find George finishing up the first draft of a script commissioned by Vancouver Playhouse artistic director Malcolm Black.

He’d seen a newspaper report of the murder of an indigenous young woman in the East End of the city. He sent the clipping to Vancouver playwright Beverly Symons who returned it and told Black, “You should send this to George Ryga in Summerland.”

George and Norma had a VW mini bus for family transportation and a VW Karmann GIA that George drove for solo trips to engagements or interviews. It had room for him, his typewriter, briefcase and suitcase.

It was April 1967, the deadline for The Ecstasy of Rita Joe to be delivered to Vancouver. George’s car needed repair and service and funds were scarce, so he asked me if I was willing to make the two-way trip with him in my VW Bug that had made my Grand Prairie to Summerland journey. I was.

At the Playhouse George found that Malcolm Black had returned south of 49, and that Joy Coghill had taken over, supported by Charles Evans as Associate Artistic Director. Both of them greeted George and me cordially and graciously.

Consequently we were soon on our way eastbound. The rest they say is history. But it is well worth celebrating.

Dick Clements

Summerland