The Saugeen amphitheater is recovering after a nine-month hiatus



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Work has resumed on the spectacular redevelopment of the Saugeen First Nation amphitheater site, which aims to create a tourist attraction and 40 or 50 jobs for community members within a few years.


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The first phase of the project picked up steam at the end of October, after a nine-month hiatus during which additional funding was obtained. That phase – the amphitheater and a dry-stone wedding pavilion – will be completed by July, project manager Richard Nancarrow said in an interview on Thursday.

Twelve community members developed skills in dry stone masonry under the tutelage of master craftsman Dean McLellan of Holstein.

The new amphitheater features a seating area of ​​stone slabs arranged in curving rows on the hillside, overlooking a central performance area and the Saugeen River valley below. The amphitheater is framed by a stone wall without mortar on three sides.

It will be a permanent outdoor venue for theater, concerts, dancing, ceremonies and other events, according to the project master plan. It will have a stage and a small building nearby for electrical, sound and video controls, as well as a green room for artists.

Nancarrow imagines summer theatrical performances, perhaps as he saw it in Cornwall, England, where excerpts from Shakespeare were performed. There could be native music and native improvisation, for example, he said.

How to install the wall of the remaining boom of the The Saugeen Wesley United Church, which was destroyed by fire in September 2020, remains to be seen in the project. It’s separate from the amphitheater project, but it was once a centerpiece of the site, he said.

The amphitheater is a regional tourism project that will market other regional attractions to promote and capitalize on planned sightseeing tours in this region, he said. He noted that the Chief of the Saugeen First Nation recently provided an update to the Saugeen Shores council.


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This is called the Gzhe-mnidoo Gi-ta-gaan Amphitheater and Gardens, or the Creator’s Garden.

The project, with an estimated capital cost of $ 18 million, is being developed in two phases detailed in the master plan, which Saugeen Chief and Council approved with a band council resolution in December 2020, subject to funding.

Its centerpiece is a visitor center built with “cutting edge sustainable building techniques”. Whole trees cut but with their branches intact will support the arched roof, rather than using concrete and steel, Nancarrow said.

It will have a south-west facing floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking the Saugeen River valley and will open onto an outdoor terrace. It will have conference seats for 300 people and cooking facilities.

The central gathering place of the reception center will be surrounded by three dry stone pavilions. The entire 879-square-meter single-storey building will include reception and office space, a large gathering space, catering kitchen and gift shop, seniors’ room and restrooms.

It’s in phase 2, just like a 193 m². Octagonal cultural center building, also in dry stone, where Saugeen history and culture will be shared, and for community gatherings and ceremonies, the master plan says.

The restoration of the gardens below the amphitheater and new gardens above are also part of the second phase. The Lower Gardens will feature a ‘Seven Grandfather Teachings’ path, with seven gathering nodes, walkways and an accessible dry stone ramp.


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The gardens, free to visitors, are expected to attract a “significant number of tourists” and are expected to provide a huge opportunity for economic development, according to the master plan. They will complete the venue for weddings and fee-generating ceremonies.

A herbal medicine program and associated seed facility will generate income through sales of gift shops, as will paid education and training programs run by traditional community horticultural staff.

Medicinal plants will be planted along the Seven Teachings of the Grandfathers promenade and their traditional importance will be shared through signs. A children’s story-reading trail will feature signs depicting Anishinaabe culture and storytelling.

It is expected that the demand for housing may lead to more construction in the future.

Many of the drystone wall workers rebuilding and upgrading the Saugeen First Nation Amphitheater, along with others, at an earlier stage of the project.  (Photo provided)
Many of the drystone wall workers rebuilding and upgrading the Saugeen First Nation Amphitheater, along with others, at an earlier stage of the project. (Photo provided)

The master plan was developed by the Indigenous Design Studio of architectural services firm Brook McIlroy and was informed by community input. The plan won awards this year from the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Plans for the project call for a net zero carbon project, with a geothermal heating system and using stone and wood as the main building materials, not steel and concrete, which are much more energy intensive, Nancarrow said. .

Nancarrow is an independent civil engineer who got involved with the Saugeen First Nation when he secured $ 16 million for the community to expand the drinking water system from neighboring Saugeen Shores to the reserve. He lives in Waterloo, but previously lived in Kemble, just north of Owen Sound. And he once played in the Georgian Bay Symphony Orchestra and served as its president.


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Nancarrow said he was optimistic that he would be able to get the money to complete the entire project.

About two years ago he received $ 500,000 from the Canadian Experiences Fund focused on tourism. Others have recently come from a “quasi-governmental organization” that he does not yet have permission to identify, which is expected to keep the workers in business until next August.

But to do phase 2, he needs a lot more. He will need the money to start the architects and then to pay for the capital expenses. One place he applied to is the Canada Fund for Green and Inclusive Buildings, a five-year, $ 1.5 billion program.

The fund is intended for public buildings that serve “high needs and underserved communities across Canada” that are energy efficient and low carbon projects.

Once he gets the money for the architectural work, it will take him another 18 months to complete the project, Nancarrow said.



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