Town transforms cinema into performing arts centre

A plaque at the Eleanor Pickup Arts Centre  shows the Cardium Theatre in its heyday in 1957. 
The Drayton Valley Historical Society turned it into an arts centre in 2006. | Maria Johnson photo

DRAYTON VALLEY, Alta. — Recitals, choral productions, dance festivals and plays used to be held in local churches, schools and community halls in Drayton Valley, Alta.

Today, the Eleanor Pickup Arts Centre provides a home for these local performing arts and brings the community together.

“And this is where it starts, in the little theatres,” said Holly Davie, a director with the centre society, a registered charity.

“You have to give all of these up -and-coming people a chance.”

The EPAC is home to Valley Voices, a community choir, and River Valley Players, a drama group.

Home is the former Cardium Theatre, built in 1957 in a community that sprung up almost overnight with the discovery of the Pembina oil fields four years earlier.

In the late 1960s, Irvin and Vera Janzen bought and remodelled the theatre, which was showing signs of wear and tear. They had previously operated a theatre in Devon, Alta.

The Janzen children grew up in the theatre where the family lived for a short time in the upstairs apartment.

Vera said the whole family worked together.

“All the kids helped. They loved the theatre. They loved the concession. They didn’t like the cleanup.”

In 2006, the Janzens sold the Cardium and constructed a new multiplex theatre a few blocks away, leaving the community to decide what to do with the old 5,000 sq. foot site.

The general consensus was to revitalize and repurpose the building while preserving the historical downtown landmark.

A vision for performing arts formed and the arts centre society was established. It was named for Eleanor Pickup, a Drayton Valley music teacher for more than 60 years who supported a wide variety of artistic endeavours and community enrichment projects in town.

Davie and her husband, Dave, are two of the volunteers at EPAC, which has no paid staff.

The facility is jointly owned by the Town of Drayton Valley and Brazeau County with the EPAC society managing the day-to-day operations.

Funding comes from ticket sales, grants and donations.

The centre is also rented out for corporate and private functions such as weddings.

The Concert Series performances held monthly through the fall and winter bring Canadian talent to the stage, with extra shows interspersed throughout the season.

Davie says ticket sales are going well for the 2017-18 season.

Longtime Drayton Valley resident Val Thesen attends 90 percent of the performances.

“It’s really a wonderful experience and a huge benefit to our town.”

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