RYGA, George (1931-1987)




Author Tags: Essentials 2010, Fiction, First Nations, Literary Landmarks, Theatre

LITERARY LOCATION: Summerland Library, 9533 Main St, Summerland

A wall plaque to commemorate George Ryga was installed in the newly-opened Summerland Library in October of 2015, in conjunction with a temporary George Ryga exhibit, as a permanent feature of the 8,000 sq. ft. facility that was built across the street from the previous library for an estimated budget of $4.5 million.

George Ryga lived at 5109 Caldwell Street in Summerland from 1962 until his death in 1987 at the age of 55. The majority of George Ryga's plays, screenplays and novels were written in the large, Caldwell Street house that was designated as a heritage site in February of 1996. With a live-in caretaker, George Ryga House functioned as a cultural centre and occasional writers’ retreat until early 2012 when the George Ryga Centre Society put the house up for sale and reluctantly disbanded. The house is now privately owned. Subsequently the annual George Ryga Award for best book contributing to social awareness by a B.C. author has been fully managed by B.C. BookWorld.

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

George Ryga is British Columbia’s greatest playwright. “More than any other writer,” said theatre director John Juliani, “George Ryga was responsible for first bringing the contemporary age to the Canadian stage.” The published version of Ryga’s most famous play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1970), helped Talonbooks grow into the country’s leading publishing house for drama.

The play dramatizes the story of a young aboriginal woman named Rita Joe who comes to the city only to die on skid row. Commissioned as a work for Canada’s centennial celebrations, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe has a circular structure with the Brechtian use of a singer outside of the action. Ultimately the integrity of its central character demands self-destruction. “In a perverted way,” noted critic R.B. Parker, “her [Rita Joe’s] rape and death are the ecstasy of a martyr.”

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe premiered in 1967 at the Vancouver Playhouse starring Frances Hyland as Rita Joe, Chief Dan George as her father, Ann Mortifee as the singer, Robert Clothier as the priest and August Schellenberg as Jaimie Paul. It was the first play in English to be presented in the National Arts Centre Theatre in Ottawa in 1969.

Ryga’s Grass & Wild Strawberries, its follow-up at the Vancouver Playhouse, was a greater commercial success in B.C. with original music from The Collectors (who later became Chilliwack). The Vancouver Playhouse then commissioned another play from Ryga slated for presentation in February of 1971. Ryga’s political drama Captives of a Faceless Drummer closely paralleled the events of the October Crisis in 1970, dramatizing conflicting ideologies. The Playhouse board of directors reversed their decision to produce the play. Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was produced instead. Although this led to the outright dismissal of artistic director David Gardner, it also caused Ryga to be regarded as being “too radical.” The repercussions for Ryga were devastating. “The potentially greatest playwright in this country was blacklisted,” theatre director Richard Ouzounian has claimed, “as carefully and as thoroughly as any one of the Hollywood Ten were under McCarthy.”

George Ryga was born in Deep Creek, Alberta, in 1931. He was raised by poor immigrant Ukrainian parents on a farm in northern Alberta. After seven years in a one-room school, he left to work at a variety of occupations. Despite success writing for television and radio, money was always scarce. Ryga persevered with a series of hard-edged and increasingly political novels published by Talonbooks.

Ryga died in 1987 at age 55. James Hoffman produced a comprehensive biography in 1995. In 2003, John Lent of Okanagan College and Alan Twigg of B.C. BookWorld conceived an annual George Ryga Prize for the best book by a B.C. author that exemplifies George Ryga’s passion for addressing social issues. His house in Summerland, known as the George Ryga Centre, was managed by Ken Smedley until the George Ryga Society was disbanded in 2014.

FULL ENTRY:

GEORGE RYGA: AN APPRECIATION BY ALAN TWIGG:

George Ryga is British Columbia's greatest playwright.

Only Eric Nicol, who had the first production of an original play by a B.C. writer at the Vancouver Playhouse, could begin to lay equal claim to the title of the Father of B.C. Playwriting in the modern era.

"More than any other writer," said theatre director John Juliani, "George Ryga was responsible for first bringing the contemporary age to the Canadian stage."

Ryga was, as playwright Charles Tidler once put it, "Canadian theatre's eloquent plea for the defence."

The turning point for Ryga--and for Canadian drama--was his lyric documentary play about a young Indian woman named Rita Joe who comes to the city only to die on Skid Row. Commissioned as a work for Canada's Centennial celebrations, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is easily one of the most moving plays that Canada has ever produced.

With its circular structure and Brechtian use of a singer outside of the action, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, for Ryga, was more than a reflection of a local case of racial prejudice. It was his attempt to express his universal disdain and intolerance for injustice. "This issue is the burning issue of our time," he said. "It is what the Congo, Bolivia, Vietnam are about. People who are forgotten are not forgetting. To overlook them is a dangerous delusion."

The play first starred Frances Hyland as Rita Joe; Chief Dan George as her father; Ann Mortifee as the singer; Robert Clothier as the priest; and August Schellenberg as Jaimie Paul. It was directed by George Bloomfield. It premiered on November 23, 1967 at the Vancouver Playhouse. Ultimately the integrity of its central character demands self-destruction, a reflection perhaps of Ryga's early Catholic upbringing that he rejected in favour of socialist politics. In a perverted way, notes critic R.B. Parker, "her [Rita Joe's] rape and death are the 'ecstasy of a martyr."

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe was also the first play in English to be presented in the National Arts Centre Theatre in Ottawa in 1969. For several years afterwards it shook the nation. Less acclaimed nowadays, its follow-up at the Vancouver Playhouse, Grass & Wild Strawberries, was a greater commercial success in B.C. with original music from The Collectors (who later became Chilliwack). In keeping with the communalism of the Ryga household in Summerland, where artists were continuously welcome, Grass & Wild Strawberries was a genuine 'happening' that boldly embraced the zeitgeist of Vancouver's volatile street scene and B.C.'s back-to-the-land hippie movement.

Spurred by these two remarkable hits, the Vancouver Playhouse then commissioned Ryga for another play slated for presentation in February of 1971. Ryga's political drama Captives of a Faceless Drummer closely paralleled the events of the October Crisis in 1970, dramatizing conflicting ideologies. The Playhouse board of directors reversed a decision to produce the play. This led to the outright dismissal of artistic director David Gardner and to the reputation of Ryga as being 'too radical'. Neil Simon's Plaza Suite was produced instead.

The repercussions for Ryga were devastating. "The potentially greatest playwright in this country was blacklisted," theatre director and impresario Richard Ouzounian has claimed, "as carefully and as thoroughly as any one of the 'Hollywood Ten' were under McCarthy."

Ryga was born in Deep Creek, Alberta in 1931. He was raised by poor immigrant Ukrainian parents as a Catholic on a farm in northern Alberta. After seven years in a one-room country school, he left to work at a variety of occupations. In 1949, his writings for various competitions earned him a scholarship to Banff. He studied with Dr. E.P. Conklin of the University of Texas, Jerome Lawrence and Burton James. His first play broadcast on television, Indian (1961), was based on his experiences working with Cree Indians on his father's farm during a period when Ryga was recovering from a bout of pneumonia. He understood how the Crees could view white man's society as a prison. "Indian emerged out of the soil and wind of a situation in which I was painfully involved," he later wrote.

George Ryga credited the intervention of Daryl Duke for the successful launching of Indian and, with it, his professional career. Plays for television that followed included The Storm (1962), Bitter Grass (1963), For Want of Something Better To Do (1963), The Tulip Garden (1963), Two Soldiers (1963), The Pear Tree (1963) and Man Alive (1965). At the same time he was writing 12 short stories for radio and stage plays that included A Touch of Cruelty (1961), Half-Caste (1962), Masks & Shadows (1963), Bread Route (1963), Departures (1963), Ballad for Bill (1963), Indian (1964) and an adaptation of Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel (1965).

This frenzied burst of activity included drafts for at least six unpublished novels, The Bridge (1960), Night Desk (1960--later published in 1976), Wagoner Lad (1961), Poor People (1962), Sawdust Temples (1963) and Old Sam (1963). The volume of work attests to the passion within the man. Ryga was proud to think of himself as a commercial writer. In 1977, for example, he wrote a script for the American TV show The Bionic Woman entitled Garden of the Ice Palace--and it was bought and produced after several rewrites. But money was always scarce. George Ryga persevered from the Okanagan with scores of radio and television plays, plus a series of hard-edged and increasingly political novels published by Talonbooks.

The published version of Rita Joe had helped Talonbooks grow into the country's leading publishing house for drama, but Ryga never prospered. "We were always broke and we couldn't afford paper," his wife Norma Campbell once said. "So George did most of his writing in his head and only produced two drafts, a first and a final." Ryga was also an avid songwriter and banjo player; his son Campbell Ryga has since become a highly respected saxophonist.

George Ryga died of cancer on November 18, 1987 at age 55. For several years afterwards his wife Norma remained in their home, just off Happy Valley Drive, overlooking Lake Okanagan, beneath Giant's Head, where George Ryga sometimes went hiking. The house become the George Ryga Centre, mostly overseen by Ryga's longtime friend and sometimes director Ken Smedley, until relations between Smedley and the George Ryga Society became fractious. The property was sold and the Society disbanded in 2014.

In 1993, when the B.C. Book Prizes ceremonies were held for the first time away from the coast, in Penticton, on April 24, a George Ryga Memorial Gathering was held to celebrate his spirit at Okanagan College. Coincidentally Talonbooks released a final volume of Ryga's posthumous writing, Summerland ($19.95), edited by Ryga's sister Ann Kujundzic. This final book is a collection of essays and excerpts that reflects Ryga's deeply political nature and his abiding sympathy for the downtrodden. James Hoffman produced a comprehensive biography in 1995.

In 2015, in honour of her brother George Ryga, Anne Chudyk, along with her husband Ted Chudyk, established two annual $1,000 Anne & Ted Chudyk Memorial Awards in Memory of George Ryga open to fulltime Okanagan College students interested in creating awareness of social issues. The first recipients were Chelsea Grisch and Teagan Phillips. "The award is meant to inspire students to follow in George's footsteps," Anne Chudyk told the Capital News, "but they need not be writers. It is more important that they demonstrate a strong interest in promoting social justice in some way that will benefit the community."

In 2003, John Lent of Okanagan College and Alan Twigg of B.C. BookWorld conceived an annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness for the best book by a B.C. author that exemplifies George Ryga's passion for social issues. This award continues to be presented and is now administered solely by BC BookWorld, as of 2014.

BOOKS:

Song of My Hands & Other Poems (privately published, 1956)
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (Talonbooks 1970)
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and Other Plays (General Publishing, 1971). Includes Indian; Grass and Wild Strawberries.
Sunrise on Sarah (Talonbooks, 1973)
Hungry Hills (Talonbooks 1974). Originally published by Longman's Canada in 1963.
Night Desk (Talonbooks 1976)
Ballad of a Stonepicker (Talonbooks 1976). Originally published as Ballad of a Stone-Picker (London: Michael Joseph Limited, 1966).
Ploughman of the Glacier (Talonbooks 1977)
Seven Hours to Sundown (Talonbooks 1977)
Beyond the Crimson Morning (Doubleday, 1979)
Two Plays: Paracelsus and Prometheus Bound (Turnstone, 1982)
A Portrait of Angelica & A Letter to My Son (Turnstone, 1984)
In the Shadow of the Vulture (Talonbooks 1985)
The Athabasca Ryga (Talonbooks 1990)
Summerland (Talonbooks 1992)
George Ryga: The Other Plays (Edited by James Hoffman) (Talonbooks, 2004)
George Ryga: The Prairie Novels (Edited by James Hoffman) (Talonbooks, 2004)

SELECTED PRODUCTIONS:

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967)
Grass and Wild Strawberries (1969). With music by The Collectors.
Captives of a Faceless Drummer (1971)
Sunrise on Sarah (1972)
Portrait of Angelica (1973)
Paracelsus (1986).

ABOUT RYGA:

The Canadian Dramatist, Vol. 1, Politics and the Playwright: George Ryga, by Christopher Innes (Simon & Pierre, 1985)

The George Ryga Papers (University of Calgary, 1995)

The Ecstasy of Resistance: A Biography of George Ryga, by James Hoffman (ECW Press, 1995)

[Other authors pertaining to British Columbia who have also published works for theatre in book form, as of 2010, include Aguirre, Carmen; Angel, Leonard; Armstrong, Gordon; Armstrong, Michael; Atkey, Mel; Austen-Leigh, Joan; Blackley, Stuart; Bossin, Bob; Botting, Gary; Brennan, Kit; Brinkman, Baba; Bruyere, Christian; Bushkowsky, Aaron; Carlson, Tim; Carson, Linda; Chai, Camyar; Clark, Sally; Clarke, Denise; Clements, Marie; Cone, Tom; Conlon, Christopher; Cowan, John; Crossland, Jackie; Dawe, T..J.; Diamond, David; Dumaresq, William; Evans, Chad; Fairbairn, A.M.D.; Frangione, Lucia; Gale, Lorena; Garrard, Jim; Grace, Sherrill; Gray, John MacLachlan; Gregg, Kevin; Highway, Tomson; Hoffman, James; Hollingsworth, Margaret; Hoogland, Cornelia; Hull, Raymond; Irani, Anosh; Irvine, Andrew; Kalsey, Surjeet; Kaplan, Beth; Kerr, Kevin; Lambert, Betty; Langley, Rod; Leiren-Young, Mark; Lill, Wendy; Loring, Kevin; Lowe, Lisa; Loyie, Larry; MacLean, David; MacLeod, Joan; Manuel, Vera; McNicoll, Susan; Mercer, Michael; Moore, Mavor; Murphy, John; Page, Malcolm; Panych, Morris; Parkin, Andrew; Payton, Brian; Quan, Betty; Ratsoy, Ginny; Rhys, Captain Horton; Richmond, Jacob; Ringwood, Gwen; Roberts, Kevin; Roberts, Sheila; Russell, Chester; Russell, Lawrence; Seelig, Adam; Seng, Goh Poh; Shiomi, Rick; Simons, Beverley; Skinner, Constance Lindsay; Snukal, Sherman; Stearn, Sharon; Sumter-Freitag, Addena; Szanto, George; Thomas, Colin; Tidler, Charles; Verdecchia, Guillermo; Wade, Bryan; Walmsley, Tom; Warre, Henry James; Wasserman, Jerry; Weiss, Peter Elliot; Williams, Tennessee; Wilson, Sheri-D; Wyatt, Rachel; Yates, J. Michael; and Youssef, Marcus.]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "Classic" "Theatre" "Fiction" "First Nations"

Summerland ($19.95), edited by Ann Kujundzic
Commentary



The prolific brilliance of Morris Panych. The clever musicality of John Gray. The provocative educationalism of Dennis Foon. The warmth of Nicola Cavendish. The phenomenal success of Sherman Snukal's "Talking Dirty". Michael Mercer's "Goodnight Disgrace". Rod Langley's Dunsmuir saga… All of B.C.'s hundreds of playwrights in the 1970s and ‘80s owed a debt to George Ryga, the Ukrainian-Canadian from Summerland who opened the floodgates of modern playwriting in B.C. with the success of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe.

In 1993, when the B.C. Book Prizes ceremonies were held for the first time away from the coast, in Penticton, on April 24, a George Ryga Memorial Gathering was held to celebrate his spirit at Okanagan College during the afternoon. Friends who knew and revered Ryga shared their memories in the company of the 18 nominees for the six B.C. Book Prizes. Coincidentally Talonbooks released a final volume of Ryga's posthumous writing, Summerland ($19.95), edited by Ann Kujundzic. It's a volume of essays and excerpts that reflects Ryga's deeply political nature and his abiding sympathy for the downtrodden. [Excepts, Twigg article, Step Magazine]


Romeo's Lore
Info



Based on the novel Night Desk by George Ryga, Romeo's Lore is a new one-man play that features Ken Smedley, artistic director of the Ryga Centre in Summerland. His portrayal of Canadian cultural fighter Romeo Kuchmir, a voice for Ryga's discontents and aspirations, drew raves at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

[BCBW 1997]


In the Shadow of the Vulture
Info



Another Talon author making Russian connections is Summerland's George Ryga. His most recent novel, In the Shadow of the Vulture, is currently being serialized in twelve installments in Vsesnit magazine. The Soviet publishing house called Dnipro will produce Vulture in book form.

[BCBW Spring 1987]

George Ryga Award (2005)
Adjudicator's Summation



Second Annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature, July 2005

Adjudicator’s Summation by Ross Tyner

In his lecture on the occasion of Canadian Literature Day in 1977, published later that year as “The Need for Mythology” in Canadian Theatre Review and again in 1992 under the same title in the Talonbooks collection Summerland, George Ryga bemoans the “crisis of spirit” he has witnessed in modern Canada and advocates a Canadian literature of commitment that communicates “the authentic fears, preoccupations and exaltations of the people” (208).

In what is but one of many of Ryga’s works whose primary subject is the role of the writer in society, he continues:

Once we have opted for children, the only promise of immortality left to us, the obligation to history, to a piece of this earth, to the generations to come, begins. We are caught in the business of the spinning earth even far beyond the grave. Only madness exempts us from the responsibilities and rewards of changing the landscape and changing ourselves. (209)

The three finalists for this year’s George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature all eloquently demonstrate that Ryga’s preoccupation with issues of culture, justice and society flourishes in early 21st century publishing in this province. In A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming (Harbour), a group of scientists, environmentalists and journalists exposes to the public the environmental, economic and social costs of the salmon farming industry and convincingly links the fate of wild Pacific salmon to that of British Columbians. Roy Miki, in Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice (Raincoast), painstakingly describes the long process by which Japanese Canadians won a settlement for injustices they suffered at the hands of the Canadian government during World War II, in the hopes that other groups and individuals might benefit from their efforts and that all Canadians might better understand the complexity inherent in the concept of redress.

Had Robert “Bob” Hunter’s The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey (Arsenal Pulp) been published in 1971, the year in which the manuscript on which it is based was written, rather than in 2004, one can imagine that Ryga would have approved of its attempt to change the landscape, while simultaneously protecting it. Near the midway point of the Greenpeace’s grueling six-week voyage, the objective of which was the preemption of a United States nuclear test in the Bering Sea, Hunter, following an emotional telephone conversation with his wife and children, describes his motivation for persevering in the face of long odds against success:

[W]hat kind of looks are your kids going to give you ten or twenty or thirty years from now when the whole shebang comes crashing down and they die of leukemia or cancer or bone-rot or DDT, or they are driven mad by overcrowding, or wiped out in a nuclear war, and they ask us, Why did you let this happen? The environmental destruction of the world is going on everywhere, in plain view, so anyone who carries on business as usual, or sits on their ass or keeps their head buried in the sand, is an accomplice in the crime of murdering the future. (147, 149)

Today, more than thirty years after the odyssey Hunter chronicles has ended, while the “whole shebang” hasn’t come crashing down, the signs of an impending renewal of the nuclear arms race are evident, and the “echo” of Hunter’s generation is showing a will to mobilize against perceived injustice that is reminiscent of the spirit of the protests of the 1960s and ‘70s. The more perspicacious among today’s group of protestors will discover on their own and wrestle with the sober self-doubt that inevitably collides with the buoyant optimism required of any group of people who believe they can and will change the world. For those who require a primer on self-doubt and humility, Hunter provides it in the following passage from the book, in which he reflects on the support Greenpeace has received from Prime Minister Trudeau, the United Church of Canada, the Kwak’wak’wakw Nation, Chief Dan George, the B.C. Federation of Labour, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, and others:

[I]f all these people care so much, how come they are all carrying on busily doing what they always do? Why is business going on as usual? In a sickening flash that takes me as low as I was high a moment before, I see that a revolution can go no faster or further than people themselves, and together people generate inertia. Even in this situation, when hundreds of thousands of people all over the political spectrum join together in a common objection, there is not enough momentum to move people out of the mass inertia. The Megamachine continues to plunge unimpeded toward destruction. (125)

Hunter’s narrative derives much of its force from similar interior monologues, in which his indomitable enthusiasm and strength of conviction attempt to overcome the emotional disappointments and physical adversities that characterized the voyage. By the end of the journey, which failed to reach its intended target of the Amchitka nuclear test site, pessimism is winning the day and Hunter speaks somewhat cynically of the descent “from the pure crystalline heights of an international life-or-death protest to a troupe of party politicians making speeches” (201). It is only in 2004, with the perspective of more than thirty years of hindsight, that Hunter recognizes the true meaning of his work:

The trip was a success beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. That bomb went off, but the bombs planned for after that did not. The nuclear test program at Amchitka was cancelled five months after our mission, and some scholars argue that this was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Whatever history decides about the big picture, the legacy of the voyage itself is not just a bunch of guys in a fishing boat, but the Greenpeace the entire world has come to love and hate. (236-7)

As the legacy of the Amchitka voyage is impressive, so is that of Hunter, its chronicler, who died this past May at the age of 63. In 2000, Time magazine named him one of the 20th century’s top ten environmental heroes, and obituaries, including those in “establishment” press sources such as The Times, The Guardian, and The Economist, lauded him as “the original eco-warrior”, “the man who initiated the modern environmental movement”, and “a man of action who inspired a new brand of personal environmental activism.”

Writing for The Guardian, Cathryn Atkinson reported that “[i]n 1979, when Greenpeace received a call from US President Jimmy Carter applauding its efforts to save whales, Hunter said he realized that the organization had come full circle, from environmental fringe group to something much bigger and with vast appeal.” Fittingly, Hunter himself also came full circle, in that the last of his fourteen published books, The Greenpeace to Amchitka, lyrically and compellingly relates the events – with their accompanying “fears, preoccupations and exaltations” – which first brought him into the public eye. For this attempt to change the world, the late Bob Hunter, the book’s photographer Robert Keziere, and its publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press, are honoured with the second annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in B.C. Literature.

Works Cited
• Atkinson, Cathryn. “Obituary: Bob Hunter.” The Guardian 4 May 2005. www.guardian.co.uk
• Hume, Stephen, et al. A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour, 2004.
• Hunter, Robert. The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004.
• Miki, Roy. Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice. Vancouver: Raincoast, 2004.
• Ryga, George. “The Need for Mythology.” Summerland. Ed. Ann Kujundzic. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1992. 205-209.


Smedley recognized
Press Release (2007)



George Ryga Centre Artistic Director Ken Smedley was recently presented with the City of Armstrong's "Recognition of Excellence Award" for his contributions to the cultural health and social awareness, on behalf of the South Okanagan’s "nationally renowned heritage landmark," the George Ryga Centre, the former home of George Ryga, the author of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, one of the best-known and important Canadian plays. While Smedley was harvesting 60 tons of apples to generate revenues for the Centre's operational costs, the provincial government and the City of Penticton declared George Ryga Week, Oct. 28 - Nov. 3. Annually the Canadian troubadours Valdy & Gary Fjellgaard go to the Okanagan/Interior to perform in support of Ryga Week & the George Ryga Centre. This year marks the 20th commemoration of George Ryga's death in 1987, at the age of 55, of stomach cancer, as well as the 40th anniversary of the premiere of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe.




Ryga Society dissolves
Press Release (2014)



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FROM: The George Ryga Centre Society
DATE: July 14, 2014
SUBJECT: THE GEORGE RYGA CENTRE SOCIETY BOWS OUT WITH A FLOURISH

It is with mixed feelings that members of the George Ryga Centre Society of Summerland voted in late June to dissolve after distributing a number of grants aimed at preserving the literary and spiritual legacy of George Ryga (1932-1987), one of Canada’s foremost writers. The celebrated author of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe and many other plays, poems and novels lived in Summerland, B.C., between 1960 and his early death in 1987.

The Society was formed in the 1990s to preserve his house as a retreat for writers and songwriters. There were also play-readings, workshops and other celebrations held at the house and its extensive gardens planted by Norma and George Ryga. In recent years these activities decreased and a plan by Okanagan College to take over the operations of the Centre and make much needed renovations in the house fell through. To pay off its debts, the Society decided to sell the house in 2012, and use the remaining funds from the sale to honour Ryga’s name and perpetuate his legacy through other nonprofit cultural institutions and/or programs.

We awarded the following grants:

The largest was made to the Banff Centre to endow a playwriting bursary at the annual Playwrights Colony. The grant is being matched by the Banff Centre from federal funds it receives, and this spring two young playwrights became the first recipients of the bursary. George Ryga was born in a tiny Ukrainian community in northern Alberta and won scholarships to the Banff School as a teenager; he attributed this opportunity as the first impetus he received to become a professional writer.

For more information about the Banff Centre Playwrights Colony, contact the Office of the Registrar, registrars_office@banffcentre.ca, or call 1.403.762.6180.

Another substantial endowment was given to Pacific BookWorld News Society to take over the administration of the George Ryga Book Award for Social Awareness in Literature. The Award was conceived by Alan Twigg of BC BookWorld, the largest Canadian publication devoted to books, and poet John Lent who was then working at Okanagan College. For the past decade the college’s English Department has administered the Award with Alan Twigg’s help and the participation of the Ryga Society; it is given for books published in BC the previous year that best reflect Ryga’s own writing about social injustice.

For more information and eligibility for the Award please consult the website: www.bcbookawards.ca/

The Society gave a one-time grant to IndigenEYEZ BC to commemorate the profound and historic impact of George Ryga’s work on relations between the indigenous peoples in BC and the larger community. The grant, which is matched dollar for dollar by the Watson Foundation, will fund a Power of Hope training workshop in developing techniques for youth empowerment for members of the Okanagan Nation Alliance.

For further information, contact Kelly Terbasket, Program Director,
IndigenEYEZ BC, (Kelly_Terbasket@nethop.net), or visit the Okanagan Nation Alliance
website, http://www.syilx.org/.

A grant was made to the Friends of the Summerland Library Society to explore the best ways to commemorate George Ryga in the new Library, scheduled to open late 2015. Possibilities include funding a permanent exhibit for his literary works and memorabilia in collaboration with the Summerland Museum; a special area or room in the library, and/or a commemorative plaque or bench honouring Ryga and his family. The Friends will hold the funds in trust until plans for the library are finalized.

Contact Pat Flett, president of the Friends of the Summerland Library
(artandpat@shaw.ca) or Sue Kline, Community Librarian (skline@orl.bc.ca)

Finally, another local grant was made to the Good Will Shakespeare Society, which for the past fifteen years has brought thousands of arts students to Summerland for a three-day celebration of the performing arts. Founded and co-ordinated by beloved drama teacher and Summerlander Linda Beaven, the Festival attracts up to 400 high
school students from the province to Summerland where they participate in intensive all-day workshops involving all aspects of performance, backstage work and writing. The grant will enable the Festival to invite a prominent instructor each of the next four years and to provide a scholarship for a writing student, who otherwise may not be able to attend. In awarding the grant, the Ryga Society recognizes that George Ryga, who was forced to quit school at 12, might now inspire young people to aspire to careers in the arts.

Contact: Linda Beaven 250-494-1248. (www.goodwillshakespeare.ca).

Although the George Ryga Centre has now ceased to exist, we all hope that the spirit of George Ryga will continue to inhabit the places where he lived and worked and will continue to inspire new generations. And his former home, through the generosity of its new owner, will host a birthday celebration in late July, where George Ryga will be
remembered by his friends, family, and neighbours.

For more information, contact:
Keith Ferlin, President, George Ryga Centre Society
Email: kferlin@shaw.ca
Phone: 250-494-9877

[BCBW 2014]