Histories entwined

On Sunday September 10, during this year’s Annual Historical Walk, Beechwood Cemetery celebrated its 150th anniversary by honouring five individuals who were integral in making Beechwood what it is today. From Joseph Currier donating the land in 1873, to James Mather’s contribution to designing Beechwood buildings, to the Macoun Marsh’s namesake, to celebrating more recent contributions by Grete Hale and Mauril Bélanger, two individuals responsible for Beechwood being officially declared the National Cemetery of Canada. It is clear to see that the cemetery’s roots are intricately woven into Ottawa’s history.

And much like those roots and those of the century-old trees scattered throughout the property, Ottawa School of Theatre’s history has been intertwined with Beechwood’s since the 1990s, thanks to Kathi Langston.

“I used to put on shows at ByWard Market with Vintage Stock Theatre actors,” says Langston. “We did historical workshops, which would be performed on weekends. Beechwood cemetery heard about this in maybe 1993 or 94 and reached out.”

This led to the first Historical Walk in fall 1994. Kathi Langston Theatre Productions put on the vignettes with local professional actors. As the years went by, more students from OST-ÉTO, then Orleans Young Players, joined the cast. In 2017, after 23 years, Langston decided her production company would step back and the Ottawa School of Theatre would become Beechwood’s official partner in the Historical Walking Tour.

The most important part of this partnership to Langston are the honourees themselves. “To me, it’s very important to recognize the people who came before us,” she explains. “It’s important to honour the people who made our country. I love to see how the students take on the role and then realise the honour of telling the stories of real people who made the world we live in what it is today. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve done 25 of the events. Every single year is an honour.”

In 2022, Beechwood decided to honour the many years of partnership by sponsoring the Beechwood Bursary at OST-ÉTO. Through their generosity, under-resourced students have the opportunity to take theatre classes. 

“For 30 years, OST has supported Beechwood Cemetery’s Annual Historical Tour,” explains Nicolas McCarthy, the Director of Marketing, Communications and Community Outreach at Beechwood Cemetery. “Beechwood is proud to have seen two generations of actors and wants to ensure that this education is accessible and that every youth could participate and work on their craft.”

This year, this funding is going towards the Ba Yo! Collective, a youth performance mentorship program offered in partnership with the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre. This project will provide acting classes, tickets to plays, and guest artist sessions to 14 youth, under the leadership of actor and teacher Cassandre Mentor.

“I’m very grateful for Beechwood’s ongoing partnership, and that they see the value of theatre in the community,” says Artistic Director Megan Piercey Monafu. “Thanks to their help we are able to pilot this new program at the Rideau Hub, not far from Beechwood, providing opportunities for youth in their neighbourhood.”

Over the course of almost 30 years, the seedling of a partnership has grown into a stunning, sturdy tree, with branches full of stories that have been told and with more to come.