lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

My mother – a local arts herstory

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

This is the memorial address I gave at my mother’s memorial service on June 19, 2013. A friend commented it was like a St. Catharines art history and I thought I’d post it. P.S. – When I gave this address, I forgot to mention Rodman Hall Arts Centre and I have such a clear memory of being a child in the Red Floor Gallery (which I loved, too bad in my opinion that it was fairly recently carpeted over) with the fantastic grand piano (still there), for what was probably the opening. Rodman Hall started out as a music and visual arts organization and my mother had been asked to join the founding committee by Ann Rigby, but didn’t stay around long, I assume because of social class issues. I left out of the following that I have always been proud of my working class heritage and my childhood belies the frequent assumption that the arts belong to the middle and upper classes. My mother’s name was Kathleen May Chitty (nee Mottram) and she was born in Bristol, England on October 9, 1919.

my mother at probably the opening of Rodman Hall, 1961

my mother at probably the opening of Rodman Hall, 1961

I’d like to share a few memories about our mother the singer and actor. Our mother sang in her youth and twenties in England and when she came to Canada in 1951 right away she was asked to sing with the Peach Festival Choir and there was no stopping after that.

I remember being very small on the grass at Queenston Heights while my beautiful mother sang in the bandshell and the sense that everyone was very happy about this.

She was a charter member of the Mary Schmon Singers and I can clearly see the dining room in our last rented house at 3 York St. while my mother excitedly showed her purchases of a train case and jewelry bags for the big trip to Chicago with the chorale.

I remember throughout my childhood attending many Gilbert & Sullivan operettas produced by Lincoln Light Opera and I particularly can still see her having a ball in the exaggerated eyelashes and big lips for her role as Katasha in The Mikado. She performed in many musicals for Garden City Productions. I remember her as a Bloody Mary in South Pacific back when GCP performed in the old Palace Theatre on St. Paul St. – I played the child so I didn’t see her onstage for that one. I remember there were few dry eyes in The rehearsal Barn while my mother sang You’ll Never Walk Alone in Carousel. In our slideshow upstairs we have a photo of our mother as Mother Superior in The Sound of Music, which hung on her basement wall with other prized photos for decades.

Our mother performed some challenging repertoire and at Ridley College played the Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors and Mrs. Noye in Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde. That program, along with the others, was donated to Special Collections at St. Catharines Public Library.

In addition to her community theatre, she sang semi-professionally at many many weddings and other church services and throughout my childhood I attended church with our neighbours across the street, the Richards, here today, while my mother sang for years as the soloist for the Christian Scientist Church.

as Mother Superior in The Sound of Music, Garden City Productions, 1969

as Mother Superior in The Sound of Music, Garden City Productions, 1969

She also acted in straight theatre and although I know she performed with Press Theatre on at least one occasion the location I remember is I think in Beamsville. I remember being wracked by the terrible injustice and by protective grief for my mother when she played the wife of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. I remember her as Lady Bracknell in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

I was going to speak about how important her teaching was to our mother, but instead I will read this letter I received in today’s mail from Terais Dowler.


Before I end, I would like to honour my mother and my father for the exposure to the arts I enjoyed as a child and adolescent. As well as attending all our mother’s performances, I benefited from regular attendance at professional theatre and dance. I remember first seeing the National Ballet of Canada when they performed in St. Catharines on the small stage of the Palace Theatre, believe it or not. We took regular trips to what was then the O’Keefe Centre to see the Ballet and I remember seeing visiting companies such as Belgium’s Maurice Béjart. When Brock University’s nascent Centre for the Arts first presented Toronto Dance Theatre we were there, naked breasts of Atlantis and all. We went annually to Stratford and as a teenager I remember well attending the landmark production of Royal Shakespeare Company’s Midsomer’s Night Dream directed by Peter Brook when they performed at the O’Keefe on their 1972 world tour. My parents took me to see the Brock drama students perform Jean Anouilh’s Antigone which rocked my 15 year old world like nothing else on earth and I copied out and carried one of her monologues around for years and years. Thank-you.

Terais’ letter speaks well to our mother’s joy in teaching vocal music and speech arts. I think I was her guinea pig and I honour our mother with this poem by Mary Oliver.

When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver (not copied here for copyright reasons)

  1. Hi Elizabeth, This is lovely and I tried to respond but it would not let me…so here I am responding It is lovely. Axoxo

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