Grand Bend on the shores of Lake Huron in Southern Ontario, photo by Wikimedia Commons
If in the Grand Bend area, soaking up sun and sand on the playful shores of Lake Huron in Southern Ontario, you must attend a performance at either the Huron Country Playhouse or the smaller Playhouse II or perhaps both theatres as I did this season, watching "Too Many Cooks" at the Huron Country Playhouse and "Sorry... I'm Canadian" at Playhouse II, two lovely barn-shaped theatres located side by side in the hassle-free town that allows swimsuits and bikinis to parade along its long, main drag all the way down to the ever popular beach.
A settlement began here in the 1830s when a group of English and Scottish settlers purchased lots from the Canada Company, a land development firm. One of the original settlers, Benjamin Brewster gave his name to the village after he and his business partner David Smart secured rights to dam the Ausable River, and they started a sawmill in 1832. The villagers were mainly the families of the mill hands and fisherman. Their homesteads were situated on the south side of the present village. Grand Bend eventually survived as the name, perhaps because it was the most appropriate with the tight hairpin-turn in the original Ausable River where mills were first established.
"The Bend" quickly became a playful summer destination, the main strip, the centre of activity in the town, with shopping during the day and night life venues during the evening. A year-round population of 2,000 swells to 50,000 in the summer months on holiday weekends.
The Pinery Provincial Park and the
Lambton Heritage Museum are located seven kilometres south of Grand Bend, and
Grand Bend Motorplex offers a drag strip that hosts an International Hot Rod Association race and the IHRA Canadian Nationals, Canada's longest running and largest drag race.
But I didn't visit for drag races; I came to enjoy light-hearted theatre by Drayton Entertainment led by Artistic Director,
Alex Mustakas, a registered, not-for-profit charitable organization, and one of Canada's most successful professional theatre companies. From Broadway musicals, to laugh-a-minute comedies and riveting dramas, Drayton Entertainment presents fine live theatre for all ages at seven unique venues across Ontario: the Drayton Festival Theatre in Drayton, the Dunfield Theatre Cambridge in Cambridge, Huron Country Playhouse and Playhouse II in Grand Bend, King's Wharf Theatre in Penetanguishene, and St. Jacobs Country Playhouse and the Schoolhouse Theatre in St. Jacobs.
In 2011, the Huron Country Playhouse celebrated its landmark 40th Anniversary with an ambitious $4.0 million capital infrastructure expansion and improvement project. Visitors to the theatre can see the upgrades to the front-of-house including new washrooms, lobby, refreshment bar, box office, and gift shop operated by the Huron Country Playhouse Guild, a community-based organization comprised of 90 volunteers.
There are 650 brand new theatre seats in the main stage, and the Playhouse II has been completely renovated, increasing from 150 chairs to a fully raked 300 seat auditorium. Infrared hearing and wheelchair access are available to patrons who require special assistance.
A visit to the Huron Country Playhouse takes less than an hour from Stratford, London and Sarnia.
Both "Too Many Cooks" and "Sorry... I'm Canadian" were hilarious. Sorry . . . I'm Canadian stars Neil Aitchison as RCMP Constable Archibald Finkster with musical accompaniment featuring The K9 Four - Duncan Cameron, Duff MacDonald, Bobby Prochaska, and Fred Smith, all talented musicians capable of playing multiple instruments and fine singers as well and the energetic Ballagh Bunch - Devan, Matthew, Michael and Paige, excellent dancers and fiddlers and also Frank Parks as Clifford F. Inkster for more comic shenanigans.
Aitchison frivolously frisked the crowd as each person entered, asking probing questions and performing his "security check;" then, he regaled us with a humorous travelog across Canada with great material from Canadian humour icon, Dave Broadfoot.
Too Many Cooks is a Canadian farce set in prohibition Niagara Falls, written by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes. The grand opening gala for Irving Bubbalowe's classy new restaurant quickly becomes a recipe for disaster when the famous singing chef, Francoise LaPlouffe, fails to arrive. When an unemployed drifter is persuaded to step in at the last minute and don the master chef's apron, chaos and confusion ensues ... complete with Chicago gangsters, a hot-blooded immigration officer, an illegal shipment of booze, and a tee-totaling Mountie. Keith Savage steals the show as Mr. Bubbalowe, performing an improbable jellyfish-like shake with his entire body such that one wonders just how he manages to remains vertical.
Grand Bend - sun, sand and delightful summer theatre, a sure recipe for success.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.