Did you know the white box on top of The Playhouse was used by a prankster to show pornographic movies in the ‘70s?
Neither did I, until last Wednesday, when I joined two foreign couples from Los Angeles and Scotland on a Guided Heritage Walking Tour through downtown Fredericton.
The free 45-minute tours, produced by the Calithumpians Theatre Company in collaboration with the City of Fredericton, offer a glimpse into the past through theatre and storytelling.
Our tour guide, Lars Schwarz, was dressed in historical costume, wearing a white shirt, high-waisted blue pants and red suspenders. He guided the group from City Hall to the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, walking by streets and buildings soaked in stories.
Schwarz said it was his second season as a tour guide, and what he enjoys most is learning about Fredericton’s history—a history he wouldn’t have learned if it wasn’t for the Heritage Walking tour.
“Most of the information can be found online, but a lot of the stories that we tell on our tour are passed down from one [tour guide] to the next,” he said.
That’s the case with The Playhouse’s facade being used as a screen for projecting adult movies.
Two buildings on King Street face each other: The Beaverbrook Hotel and The Lady Beaverbrook Playhouse. When The Playhouse was originally built, the white box on top had none of the colour ribbons painted on it that it does today.
The official story told is that these ribbons, the “Fly Tower Mural,” were added as a symbolic gift from Lord Beaverbrook to Lady Beaverbrook.
But Schwarz explains that the City of Fredericton decided to commission artist Tom Forrestall to paint on it to prevent “the guy in the ‘70s who would rent a room at the hotel and bring a projector with him,” screening adult movies from across the street.
Peter Pacey, Fredericton actor, producer, director and founder of Calithumpians Theatre Company, created the Guided Heritage Walking Tours 25 years ago to honor and share the city’s heritage.
“All tour guides personalize [the information] to some extent,” Pacey said. “The information given on the tour is accurate and [tour guides] do spice it up with jokes of their own device. There are some interesting stories that might be considered folklore but they are verified.”
Pacey began his career as a Canadian Literature teacher at Fredericton High School and later taught Education, English and Canadian Studies at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University.
Throughout his years as a professor, he would take students on walking tours through the city and show them the houses of famous Fredericton poets and writers.
“A lot of people don’t know the rich history of Fredericton, and one of the richest aspects from our history is the literary history,” he said.
Soon after, he was contacted by the City of Fredericton to implement these tours as a complement to Calithumpians Theatre Company’s Outdoors Summer Theatre production. He agreed.
When Pacey would give the tours, an almost mandatory stop was the monument that sits in front of the Harriet Irving Library, which commemorates three poets who were UNB students and grew up in Fredericton: Bliss Carman, Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and Francis Sherman.
“That’s one of the most interesting things about Fredericton: we honour our past, and our past is in our present and hopefully will be in our future. We will always have a sense of our history and learn from [it] as well,” Pacey said.
Pacey’s motivation to continue these tours is to preserve the city’s literary tradition, while also showcasing Fredericton as a beautiful place that has inspired many poets and writers.
“It’s something we should all be proud of—and I certainly am.”
The Guided Heritage Walking Tours start mid-June each year and go until Thanksgiving Day in October. Tours are offered daily, free of charge, and leave from City Hall at 4 p.m.