When a writer has achieved international acclaim, it is only fitting to pay tribute locally, but in the case of George Ryga, the connection to Summerland has been downplayed.
Now, as the George Ryga Society is dissolving and the house on Caldwell Street is up for sale, the result will be an even weaker tie to Ryga’s legacy.
While Ryga’s plays and novels were confrontational, they are also regarded in Canada and around the world as significant works of Canadian literature. His stories did not simply entertain. They also challenged audiences by showing the problems resulting from injustices. One could not feel comfortable after experiencing one of his stories.
His 1967 play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is considered by some to be the most important English-language play to come out of Canada. For this reason alone, it is fitting to pay tribute to his memory.
The play was written in the house on Caldwell Street, where the majority of Ryga’s other works were written.
The house also served another important purpose during Ryga’s lifetime as artists, musicians and writers would stop there on their way across the country. It was a place where ideas could be discussed and debated freely and it was a place where creativity was encouraged.
The George Ryga Society sought to recapture some of that spirit when the house was restored and used as the George Ryga Centre.
At times, writers’ retreats were held there, a songwriters’ workshop was an annual event and there were also numerous small concerts and special events in the house.
Ryga’s legacy deserves to be remembered. Preserving his house is one important way to do this.
Having a world-renowned writer who lived in the community should not be downplayed.