Not many small Anglican churches have been in continuous ministry for 180 years. And not many can boast that the story of their founding can be discovered in the journals of a woman whose descendants still worship there. The church is St. Thomas, Shanty Bay. The Journals of Mary O’Brien 1828 to 1838 recount Mary’s and husband Edward’s efforts to build a community in the Upper Canada wilderness.
Theatre by The Bay, a Barrie-based professional company, had approached the church with a proposal to produce an original play based on Mary’s journals. It would be set in Shanty Bay and presented in our church hall – surely a unique way to celebrate our important anniversary.
Leah Holder, actor, director, and screenwriter, had discovered Mary O’Brien’s story and became deeply committed to transforming it into a play. In Leah’s mind, the observations of this articulate, 19th century woman are social history, far too infrequently presented.
St. Thomas members had little idea of what was in store. The parish hall was taken over with stage lights, a sound system, risers for seating the audience, and blackout curtains all around. Coffee hour was adjourned to the porch for three Sundays!
There were 17 performances in all, and Mary of Shanty Bay was acclaimed a sold-out hit. The four actors were outstanding, bringing the O’Brien family’s story to vivid life in the very location where it all happened. The opening night champagne reception was over-subscribed by friends and neighbours, all showing their support for St. Thomas.
For us at St. Thomas this meant that we were able to welcome hundreds of people to our historic site, introduce them to our founding story, show them around the church and even the graveyard where the principals are buried. On top of this, we met and became friends with the cast and crew whose work inspired us all.
Susan Woods is a member of St. Thomas, Shanty Bay.