When Local Lore Meets Local History
Gil Garratt tells us that interviews were conducted to collect the local legends about Blyth’s favourite watering hole, The Boot. He claims the names were changed to protect the innocent and the guilty. But throughout the audience on opening night, there was laughter of recognition, and the type of giggles you hear when someone is telling tall tales.
The Boot (AKA The Rubber Boot, The Blyth Inn, The Blyth Hotel, The Commercial Hotel) is the 140+ year old block building sitting across the street from the Blyth Festival theatre. The old hotel has survived to become a legendary watering hole, still in business today. The cast and creative team of Wing Night at The Boot put together this play based on information collected throughout Blyth and area, and have recorded for posterity both the history and lore of this landmark. Now on stage at the Blyth Festival, Wing Night at The Boot kicks off the ever-popular Bonanza Weekend, where theatre-goers can take in all four Blyth Festival productions in one weekend — two new shows, and two shows which are about to close.
The Boot’s history is presented going back to the day the first owner arrives by train and plans to build a wooden edifice on Drummond’s main corner. We learn that he is an unscrupulous innkeeper, and is eventually run out of town by the Huron County Businessmen’s Association. Later the name of the railway stop is changed from Drummond to Blyth, who is the absentee landlord who owns property throughout the area. The name Drummond is dropped when it is learned that there is already a Drummondville in Upper Canada. The wooden hotel burns down in one of the many fires that sweep the main street, and the hotel is rebuilt with blocks made right there in Blyth. The new hotel, which still stands today, goes through many ups and downs, with prohibition, the Great Depression, and dry laws. Men can come into the saloon, but women require male escorts and even enter by a different door to a separate area.
The 1970s were wild times at The Boot. Drunkenness is expected, and unfortunately, drinking and driving is acceptable. Everybody has a cigarette glued to their lower lip. On the lighter side, remember when the streaking craze took hold? Yes, that happens at The Boot, too. It’s a sports bar as well, welcoming baseball or hockey teams after the games, and snowmobilers all winter.
The play keeps us entertained with a series of anecdotes – romances, lost loves, cheatin’ hearts, cheatin’ men. Appropriately, there was even a story about an actor living in a tiny upstairs room at the Blyth Hotel, while writing plays across the street at the theatre. He had a small room, with a single bed, a single chair and a single lightbulb.
Of course, the name The Boot or The Rubber Boot needs to be explained. The audience is given all possible reasons. Perhaps it’s because all the patrons wore rubber boots most of the time. Or maybe the regular customers needed boots for all the beer and blood on the floor after the many barroom brawls. Or it could have been that patrons didn’t have to pay for their beer if they could drink an entire rubber boot full.
The cast is brilliant, changing roles constantly to give us the various characters of The Boot. A special shout-out goes to Marion Day who changes from the prim historian with all the facts on 3 x 5 index cards, to the best brawler at The Boot, wildly swinging a pool cue.
So while there was great laughter of recognition, you don’t need to know the characters to enjoy this show. There’s a Boot in every town. In the village of Thedford, there was the Thedford Hotel, known locally as the Dirty Dog Saloon. It closed many years ago, and then burned down. In Forest, there’s the now defunct Sands Hotel, famous for the Doc Stanton room, named after a local race horse that did well. In Grand Bend, there’s the Colonial Hotel, still standing, still packing the Rod & Gun Room year round on wing night. But rumours about its future are running rampant. Hold tight to the local lore while you can, and see Wing Night at The Boot to remind yourself of those legendary characters and their notorious exploits.
Wing Night at The Boot continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival until September 15. Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.
Photo: Wing Night at The Boot is written and performed by Georgina Beaty, Tony Munch, Nathan Howe, Daniel Roberts, Graham Cuthbertson and Marion Day. Photo by Terry Manzo.
Wing Night at The Boot
By Gil Garratt and Company
Directed and co-authored by Severn Thompson
Performed by Georgina Beaty, Graham Cuthbertson, Marion Day, Nathan Howe, Tony Munch, Daniel Roberts.
Blyth Festival, Blyth
August 8 to September 15, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson