Victoria High School Theatre, 1260 Grant Street, Victoria, BC
A Canadian Opera about Love and War
An Invitation to Remember our Past
Music by Andrew P. MacDonald. Libretto by Stephen Massicotte.
In time for Remembrance Day, this special performance of Mary's Wedding was followed by a discussion with Barry Gough, author of From Classroom to Battlefield: Victoria High School and the First World War. His book tells of the 500 teachers and former students of Victoria High School who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI.
Set in Western Canada in the aftermath of World War I, Mary's Wedding was commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and had its world première in November 2011. In time for Remembrance Day and ongoing commemorations of the WWI centenary, Pacific Opera Victoria staged a re-imagined version of the opera in regional secondary schools in early November, 2015, and in a special public performance on November 10.
Above: Kaden Forsberg and Caitlin Wood in a scene from the opera.
POV also staged performances of Mary's Wedding in secondary schools throughout the Capital Regional District, November 2 to 13, 2015. Performances were complemented by a touring exhibit of WWI artifacts, and a teachers' Professional Development Day. Partners included the Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Libraries & Royal BC Museum.
A new opera commissioned and developed by Pacific Opera Victoria, Mary's Wedding is a love letter to the power of memory and innocence, and to a generation of Canadians who were caught in the crucible of the First World War. The story is eternal. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. But the year is 1914, and Mary and Charlie must surrender their love and their fate to the uncertainties of their tumultuous times.
The opera explores the fleeting nature of time and the lasting power of love, evoking Prairie thunderstorms and ladies' teas, and, as innocence rides off to war, the horror of the battles of Ypres and Moreuil Wood, in which Canada came of age as a nation.
Much of the power of Mary's Wedding comes from its sense of the fluidity of time, the shifting of past and present, here and there, reality and dream. The emotional impact is stunning: everything becomes present for us here and now . . . we are the children of Mary's Wedding.
Mary's Wedding is a brilliant, singularly original play ... told in a dream the night before her wedding, two years after the war has ended. The music flowed into my head the first time I read the script.
Andrew P. MacDonald, Composer
The setting is Saskatchewan, two years after the end of World War I.
On the night before her wedding, Mary Chalmers dreams of her first love, Charlie Edwards.
She dreams of their first meeting as they take shelter from a prairie thunderstorm and Charlie gives her a ride home on his horse. Their shy love grows, even as Mary's English mother disapproves of the "dirty farm boy" as a match for her daughter.
When war is declared, Charlie joins C Squadron of Lord Strathcona's Horse Regiment and sails for England. In his letters, he tells Mary of meeting the King of England, of volunteering to go over to France after the Second Battle of Ypres, in which the Germans first used chlorine gas as a weapon. He tells of his sympathetic Sergeant, Gordon Muriel Flowerdew (Flowers) and recounts his life as a soldier – the trenches, the lice, the mud, the thunder of artillery, and the terrible battle of Moreuil Wood in which Flowerdew, now a Lieutenant, leads his squadron against the German machine guns.
The fictional lives of the young lovers in the opera are intertwined with historical events and with the real-life character of Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew, an Englishman who had emigrated to Canada and settled in Walhachin, BC. Flowerdew returned to Europe to serve in the Great War with Lord Strathcona's Horse. In the 1918 battle of Moreuil Wood, Flowerdew carried out one of the last great cavalry assaults in history, leading a squadron of Lord Strathcona's Horse, armed with sabres, against German rifles and machine guns. The Canadians helped to stop the German offensive, but at enormous cost. Flowerdew himself died from his wounds and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
On November 11, 2015. Pacific Opera Victoria presented scenes from Mary's Wedding, as part of the Royal BC Museum's Remembrance Commemorations, which explored the stories of the Great War through the emotive power of the written word in music and song.
Study and Activity Guide
Pacific Opera Victoria's Study Guide and Student Activity Guide for the 2011 World Première of Mary's Wedding
Study Guide for the play Mary's Wedding
Produced in connection with a 2010 production by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble in Chicago, this study guide for the play includes excellent information on aspects of the war mentioned in the play (and in the libretto of the opera).
World War I History
The World of Mary's Wedding: Reminiscences of World War I from the University of Victoria Archives and Special Collections
An inspired collaboration between Pacific Opera Victoria and the University of Victoria Libraries resulted in the creation of exhibits and displays which drew us into the world of Mary's Wedding. Exhibits and displays were presented at the University of Victoria, at the time of the 2011 World Première and at the McPherson Playhouse during performances of Mary's Wedding. They may now be viewed on a dedicated website from from the University of Victoria Archives and Special Collections.
As we view the exhibits and through the act of remembering we honour those, both at home and abroad, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in a war that was fought almost a century ago.
Victoria in the War
A City Goes to War: A project of the University of Victoria made possible by a generous grant from Veteran's Affairs Canada, this site continues to grow. There is extensive information on Victoria during the war: photographs, letters newspaper articles, political cartoons, service records, and much more.
A history of Vic High – and the horrors of war: Times Colonist article from 2014 about historian Barry Gough and his 19th book: From Classroom to Battlefield, Victoria High School and the First World War, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the War and the 500 teachers and former students of Vic High who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Victoria High School in the Great War: In January 2013, some Vic High students teamed up with Victoria High School alumni and the Teacher-librarian to begin researching the school's role in World War I. Here are photos and stories of some of the soldiers from Victoria High School, as well as a collection of digitized primary sources, including newspaper articles and service rolls.
History Forum with Canadian Naval Historian Barry Gough: Below, Barry Gough discusses the Victoria High School Great War project. Canada's oldest high school west of Winnipeg has over 500 names in its Great War Roll of Honour. As of 2012, when this talk took place, the school had undertaken a series of commemorative projects, including the Trees of Remembrance and forthcoming book and website.
World War I Literature
Robert W. Mackay
BC Author Robert Mackay recently published his first novel, Soldier of the Horse, inspired by the life of his own father, Sergeant Tom Mackay, who was badly wounded at the Battle of Moreuil Wood.
The novel opens in Winnipeg in 1914. Tom Macrae is working on his law degree and enjoying the company of his sweetheart, Ellen. When the call to arms comes, both Tom and Ellen are torn from their secure, settled lives in the prairie city. Tom finds himself hunched in the trenches, amid the mud and horror of the Great War, while Ellen faces an uncertain future in Tom's absence. His prospects bleak, Tom serves with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, in the thick of the stalemated struggles on the Western Front. In addition to the soldiers' comradeship, Tom discovers the strong bonds of trust between the soldiers and their horses. With his own horse as his closest companion, he dodges a hurricane of shells, machine guns and swords, and in the clamour, faces his finest hour.
Robert W Mackay has also written an account of the Strathconas at Moreuil Wood, the famous cavalry battle in which his father and Lieutanant Gordon Flowerdew fought.
Trench Literature – Reading in World War I
An introduction to some of the literature about World War I – and the kind of books and magazines soldiers read in the trenches. From AbeBooks.
Brief Extracts from The Wipers Times
More from The Wipers Times
The Wipers Times was a satirical paper written and printed by members of the 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters. In early 1916, the 12th Battalion was stationed in the front line at Ypres, Belgium and came across an abandoned printing press, which they salvaged. (The name "Wipers" reflects the difficulty soldiers had with the pronunciation of Ypres, location of a battle that is mentioned in the opera Mary's Wedding). The Wipers Times included in-jokes, mock ads (for dugout insurance, among other things), and poems – lots of poems, to the point where the editor complained:
We regret to announce that an insidious disease is affecting the Division, and the result is a hurricane of poetry. Subalterns have been seen with a notebook in one hand, and bombs in the other absently walking near the wire in deep communication with the muse . . . The editor would be obliged if a few of the poets would break into prose as a paper cannot live by "poems" alone.
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive
Some of the most profound poetry of all time came out of the First World War. For an excellent introduction to the poetry and poets of World War I, see Oxford University's First World War Poetry Digital Archive, which contains over 7000 items of text, images, audio, and video for teaching, learning, and research. There are also images of actual manuscripts, educational resources, and extensive links to multimedia artefacts from the Imperial War Museum.
Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land,
Drawing no dividend from time's to-morrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.
I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,
And going to the office in the train.
Siegfried Sassoon, 1918
Siegfried Sassoon (1886 - 1967) was one of the most acclaimed poets of World War I. Many of his poems, and those of other poets such as Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, are on Oxford University's First World War Poetry Digital Archive.
Detail of Embarkation from Victoria 1916 from University of Victoria Archives and Special Collections. Photo credit Archie Wills. Click to view full image.