Fringe Fest tale breathes life into local history

New play looks at the fascinating life of local settler Jack Irvine

Oak Bay’s Ben Clinton-Baker

Jacob Zinn

Black Press

If you’re a local history buff, you’ve likely heard of Jack Irvine, but if you haven’t, an Oak Bay historian can tell you all about him through a new production at the Victoria Fringe Festival.

Ben Clinton-Baker is starring in Tongues in Trees: The Reminiscences of Long Gun Jack Irvine, chronicling the early Vancouver Island settler and the mark he left in nearby Saanich. It’s almost a one-man show, with Clinton-Baker portraying Irvine and several real-life characters he met in the area, based on Irvine’s lengthy memoir.

“Right from the start, there was something about this memoir that really struck me,” said Clinton-Baker. “It was like he was narrating it – he’s very present in this memoir. He conjures these very vivid scenes and it’s very rich with material of different characters he met.

“I spoke with Caroline Duncan at the Saanich Archives and she said, ‘You should try doing some historical theatre.’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.’”

Irvine’s family immigrated to the Island in 1851, arriving on a ship from the Hudson Bay Company. His father bought a 100-acre parcel of land called Rosebank Farm in Gordon Head, and later expanded to own 300 acres around where Shelbourne Street and McKenzie Avenue are today.

“Jack grew up in this area,” said Clinton-Baker. “He worked on the farm in his very earlier years, doing various chores and taking shipments to town and bringing provisions from town.”

While this is Clinton-Baker’s first time putting together a stage production, he said Irvine gave him a lot to work with through his written accounts of life in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s.

“He was very down-to-earth and kind of a simple guy, but he loved to spin a good yarn,” he said. “I think that’s one of the real treasures of his legacy, these stories that he wrote down in his memoir.

“This was something new for me. I’ve never really been involved in theatre, but I do love storytelling – sharing the story and trying to make history more accessible and interesting and fun.”

The characters in Clinton-Baker’s production are pulled directly from the page, including a man who paddled around the Inner Harbour looking for scraps of metal and bottles, and a bushman who lived in the forests of Mount Douglas, trying to escape his stifling, aristocratic background.

“I focused in on a few stories from his memoir,” said Clinton-Baker. “There are three different people I’m (portraying) in addition to Jack, and they’re mostly people who had an impression of him.”

Joining him onstage is Vanya Verenitch, 12, who plays a younger version of Irvine, with the play running as a series of vignettes alternating between Irvine’s childhood and adult life.

“It’s been fun working on it and reading about the history of Victoria,” Verenitch said of his role. “He’s a very interesting character. He seems very adventurous and out in nature, down-to-earth. It seems like he really enjoys life.”

Through his performance, Clinton-Baker hopes to share his fascination with people who might not otherwise have heard of Jack Irvine, and to get them thinking about how Irvine’s work impacted Greater Victoria as we currently see it.

“To me, history is something that’s very much alive, and if you scratch the surface a little bit, that can be a portal into the past within the present,” he said. “I hope people will really think about the history of our area as something that’s very much alive and present with us today.”

Catch Tongues in Trees at the Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra St., tonight, Aug. 31 at 7:45 p.m., Sept. 1 at 10 p.m., Sept. 3 at 5 p.m. and Sept. 4 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available through the Intrepid Theatre box office, #2 – 1609 Blanshard St., by phone at 250-590-6291 or online at ticketrocket.co. For information, visit intrepidtheatre.com/festivals/fringe-festival.

 

Just Posted

End of the Quest

Oak Bay council unanimously denies Quest’s zoning amendment application

Santa’s Light parade glides through town on Saturday

Vancouver Island’s most popular Christmas parade is back for its 36th year

VIDEO: Innovating healthier homes

NZ Builders bring commercial concept into residential realm to improve energy efficiency and health

Concert band brings music to Monterey

Night of Music with dinner and music is Nov. 23 at Monterey Recreation Centre

Oak Bay High junior girls claim city, Island volleyball titles

The team heads for provincials this week in Surrey to take on 32 other junior teams

VIDEO: Innovating healthier homes

NZ Builders bring commercial concept into residential realm to improve energy efficiency and health

Wet weather expected for much of coastal B.C.

The Weather Network is calling for up to 200mm of rain to fall in some areas of the South Coast and Vancouver Island

B.C. reporter reflects on covering Charles Manson

Charles Manson, leader of a murderous cult, died on Sunday at 83

Running back propels Spectrum Thunder into first Subway Bowl final

Brandon Robbins scores hat trick of touchdowns

ICBC overbilling for crash repairs not the problem, dealers say

Collision repair shops reject union claim of inflated costs

B.C. groups to address child sex abuse in sports

viaSport is organizing a full day of education in association with Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the Coaching Association of Canada.

Report sets exercise guidelines for young kids, including ‘tummy time’ for babies

Kids aged one to four should get at least three hours of physical activity throughout the day

Stampeders return to Grey Cup with 32-28 win over Edmonton Eskimos

The Stampeders will face the Toronto Argonauts next Sunday in Ottawa for the title

Nebraska approves TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline

Nebraska’s Public Service Commission approved TransCanada’s Keystone XL route in a close vote

Most Read