In the mid-1990s I was a teenager in Fort St. John. In a lot of smaller cities it always seems that there wasn’t a lot to do to keep a kid out of trouble. Of course now, as an adult, I know that is not necessarily true however as a teen who is desperately trying to find his own identity, I didn’t fit into a lot of circles that a lot of my peers seemed to effortlessly fit into. Through school I found identity in the arts programs namely the band program at the high school as well as the theatre program. That's where I found “my people“. If you search around you will find the theatre programs throughout the country and possibly the world have been a safe haven for teens who are marginalized whether it be a teenager who is LGBTQ or just simply a weirdo like I was, the theatre program gave me a place to be.
During that time period of my life I found myself, quite often, inside the North Peace Cultural Centre and I fell in love with that building. Even today more than 25 years later I think of that building with nothing but fondness. I no longer live in Fort St. John and I don’t have a lot of connections up there but I long to go back there and wander the halls of that building and remember my youth. It was in those days that I started volunteering my time setting up for the shows coming through, working the soundboard, setting up lights, cleaning up afterwards, painting the stage, mopping the stage before and after shows. I spent countless hours of my evenings and weekends in that building. These were the days when Ian Forsyth, Martin Emslander, Sue Popesku , and countless others whose names time has eroded from my brain, were there to guide me in my youth to discover who I was.
I learned the value of hard work. I learned the value of committing to a project and sticking it through the end even when sometimes, things got difficult to handle and stressful. I think the value of teamwork and working together to fulfil the objective. But most importantly I learned the satisfaction of a job well done and the value of community and the value of working together to a common goal.
This may seem like an insignificant thing to a lot of people but in 1995 I graduated from high school and as they always did, the Alaska Highway newspaper posted the grad photos of all the graduates from high school that year. Under their photos local businesses could sponsor a graduate, most often it would be the business that that student worked for or possibly their parent’s businesses. When I opened the paper that year to look for my name I saw that the North Peace Cultural Centre had sponsored my name along with several other of my peers who I had the pleasure to work with there.
I did not know beforehand or expect to see that but it touched me that day and I will never forget how included that made me feel. I would say that that small gesture had a very significant impact in my life. Even now as I write this tears come to my eyes remembering that fond feeling.
The grand total of money I made working at the North Peace Cultural Centre is zero but it would be impossible to put a dollar value on the experience I received for my time there. I volunteered my time there willingly because the people there accepted who I was and I felt included - I knew that it was where I belong and, for the most part, it kept me out of trouble.
I’ve read the news about the city taking over the building. It’s been a very long time since I’ve lived in Fort St. John and I don’t really know how that is going to impact that building or more importantly the arts in the community. I will say this however, whatever the city does with that building I hope that they take into consideration the legacy of that building and what it and the arts has done for, I’m guessing, several generations of youth who have looked for and found difficulties finding a place to belong only to find the theatre is the place for them.
To me, that place is not just a building. It is a community; it is, in fact, a cultural center. It is a place where anybody should be able to fit in. It is a place where anyone should be able to go and be themselves. The arts is a very important community program and I hope that whatever the city does with the North Peace Cultural Centre it protects the legacy that has been built there since it was built.
We’re interested in the community’s feedback on the cultural centre. Please send your letters and comments to reporter Tom Summer at firstname.lastname@example.org, they can be anonymous if you so choose.