The ‘Arcadians’ mentioned in the headline do not refer to a 1920s family of cooking ranges, nor to residents of a region of Greece, nor indeed to an obscure race created from the imaginations of the writers of Star Trek.¹
Our Vancouver Arcadians were an amateur operatic and dramatic society established in August 1917. They lasted just long enough to put on a single production. And a year later, the society was all but – if not officially – history.
When the society was formed, the plan was to first perform Niobe and later to perform San Toy: A Chinese Musical Comedy in Two Acts.² I assume that the play which the Arcadians had in mind for their first production was a stage version of the American silent film also called Niobe (it was released in movie theatres in 1915). Their reasoning, I’m guessing, was that the smaller cast required for Niobe would allow the Arcadians to get their collective feet wet prior to tackling the presumably greater complexity that was associated with the larger cast required for San Toy. But before long, it became clear that Niobe would not be produced by the Arcadians; the only production in the 1918 season would be San Toy.
Rehearsals for San Toy took place at the Cotillion Hall (SW corner of Davie and Granville) on Tuesdays and Fridays. After eight months of rehearsing, the musical was deemed ready for its debut on April 12, 1918. (For a plot summary of the musical, see here.)
The review in the Daily World was not glowing. (You can be sure that a production was found wanting if the most positive paragraph speaks of the scenery’s paint work!) A recurrent complaint in the review was that few of the actors were able to project their voices adequately and, of the few who could do so, most did not enunciate clearly. Pretty damning.³
As it was an amateur production, the players were not paid. Box office proceeds after expenses were to be sent to the Returned Soldiers Fund. It was initially thought (shortly after San Toy closed) that $151 would go the Fund. However, more than four months passed without any cash making its way from the bank account of the Arcadians to that of the Returned Soldiers Fund.An issue was made of this lapse in a September edition of the Daily World. James Leyland, formerly Secretary of the Arcadians (who later would become Reeve of West Vancouver) had this to say in response:
So far as I can gather, nothing has been done, though one week after the performance a general meeting was held and the balance of $151. . . was voted to the Fund. Since then there has been trouble in the company and wholesale resignations, including the musical director, stage director, secretary, and treasurer, [along] with most of those who originally joined the society. It is only fair to the public that some statement should be made, as the writer is continually being asked questions on the matter; and feeling some personal responsibility, is anxious to put matters right so far as he is personally concerned. I understand the money is still in the bank and there may be an explanation as to why it has been held in the bank so long. If so. . . I should be glad to know what it is.
— James Leyland, late Secretary.
Vancouver Daily World 9 September 1918
There was a press notice in mid-December 2018 that the Secretary of the Returned Soldiers Fund had received from the Arcadians $68.02 (less than half of the $151 voted to the Fund).
So what happened, exactly, to the Arcadians? What was the “trouble in the company” mentioned by Leyland?
I don’t know. I could find no further mention of the Arcadians in press accounts, after the one-liner acknowledging the payment to the Soldiers Fund. If it hadn’t been for the public fracas over the delayed payment and the letter to the editor from Leyland, we might not have any clue as to what became of the group.
All we can say for sure is that, a year after the society was established, it imploded.
¹ The Arcadians included the following personnel (these are the only members known from among the huge cast of San Toy): R. C. Reed (Stage Director), A. E. White (Musical Director), James Leyland (Secretary), Mrs. Arthur Simmons (San Toy), Mrs. Hugh Baillie (Poppy), Mrs. B. Watson Luke (Maid), Edgar S. Smith (Captain Bobbie Preston), James Leyland (Sir Bingo Preston), E. A. Sheffield (Lt. Tucker), Bruno Francis (Emperor of China), R. H. Baxter (Yen How), J. C. Wallace (Li).
²Music: Sidney Jones. Book: Edward Morton. Lyrics: Harry Greenbank and Adrian Ross (1899). Note: I’m assuming that these credits apply to the San Toy presented at the Avenue Theatre in 1918.
³A “repeat benefit performance” of San Toy was presented a week after the regular showings. This was in memory (and in support for the families of) Edgar McKie and A. N. Harrington, who were prominent members of the theatrical fraternity who had died during the weeks leading up to the regular performances. McKie was a scenic artist who was living and working in Calgary at the time of his passing. He had a hand in painting the sets for F. Stuart Whyte’s Vancouver pantomimes of Aladdin and Robinson Crusoe. McKie doesn’t seem to have been responsible for painting the scenery in San Toy. Adoniran Nehemiah Harrington was the lead stage hand at the Avenue Theatre. He died at the relatively early age of 47. The families of both men were residing in Vancouver when they died.