Ipperwash: A Haunting Stony Point Story   

Taking on sensitive issues is not new for the Blyth Festival. The world premiere of Ipperwash, which is now in repertoire on their main stage, could be a very controversial story.  But playwrights Falen Johnson and Jessica Carmichael have presented an interesting look at land appropriation, using the supernatural in their story telling.  While fictionalized, the story is based on fact, with some of the characters recognizable to those of us from the area.

Rather than set their story during the crisis of 1995, this play takes place a few years later. A young native woman is in the Canadian Armed forces, just returned from two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  She is sent by the Department of National Defence to clean up the UXOs (Un-Exploded Ordinance) on the base at Camp Ipperwash, which is occupied by the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point.  She is plagued by nightmares – at first I wondered if she was suffering from PTSD.  On arrival at Ipperwash, she meets a young native man who seems to be the lookout, protecting his place at the former army cadet camp.  

The young man is bitter and angry.  His land was expropriated by the Canadian army in 1942 to be used for training for World War II.  His people were moved off the Stony Point Reserve: their homes were literally picked up and taken down the road to Kettle Point.  The Stony Pointers were promised that their land would be returned after the war.

The young woman rents a home from Tim, an elder who fought for the Canadian army in WWII, and who returned home after the war to find his home moved.  Rather than live in his home in the new location on Kettle Point, Tim moved to the nearby town where things were handy, waiting to return to Stony Point.  But 70 years later, his homeland still hasn’t been returned to him.  Tim is the angry young man’s grandfather.  As the young woman moves into the home, she continues to have vivid dreams and is haunted by a ghost-like young girl.

All four actors are excellent.  As Indigenous Canadians, they present their characters well.  Nicole Joy-Fraser, a regular at the Blyth Festival, is perfect as the young soldier returning from service.  Jonathan Fisher is excellent as the patient, wise elder.  James Dallas Smith exudes bitterness as the angry young man, and Nyla Carpentier is haunting as the young girl from the past.

The taking of the land and the broken promise of its return are emphasized with excellent photography by Beth Kates and artwork by Moses Lunham, which are projected on the stage.  Sand is used symbolically throughout the play.  Songs, composed by the cast, add to the story.

On opening night, a group of drummers from Kettle and Stony Point were on stage prior to the performance.  Then Liz Stevens, an elder of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, spoke in Ojibwa, translating into English, offering hope for reconciliation.

Ipperwash is a brief presentation, with no intermission.  And while the action is slow with much of the plot told in monologue, it is still a compelling story, well worth seeing.

Ipperwash continues at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until September 16.  Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.

Photo: James Dallas Smith in the background, Nicole Joy-Fraser, and Jonathan Fisher. Photo by Terry Manzo.

By Falen Johnson & Jessica Carmichael
Directed by Jessica Carmichael
Performed by Nyla Carpentier, Jonathan Fisher, Nicole Joy-Fraser, James Dallas Smith.
The Blyth Festival, Blyth
August 15 to September 16, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson



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