A Dinner At Ernest Buckler's By Charles Francis Ernest Buckler spent most of his life "Living- some might say

- in a house by the side of the road and being a friend to man." That clapboard and wood frame house with a spreading chestnut in the front yard is on the main road running along the foot of South Mountain between Bridgetown and Annapolis Royal in the hamlet of Centerlea. It is an unassuming house, a square two story house common to the Annapolis Valley. When an architectural study of homes in the Annapolis Royal region was commissioned some years ago the house where Ernest Buckler lived was labeled "vernacular." What those conducting the survey probably intended to imply by using this term was that the Buckler house was of a style standard to the region. It would have been just as easy to label the Buckler house as colonial revival, which is what it is. Built in the latter part of the nineteenth century it, like most of the smaller, unobtrusive colonial revival homes in the area, is a box. The front door, with its peaked facade is in the exact middle of the house. The door is set between two, twelve-paned windows and opens into a hallway with a staircase to the second floor. The first floor consists of four rooms, the sitting room or living room to the left, the dining room to the right, the kitchen with its wood cook stove and parlour or laying-out room to the rear. That the kitchen of the Buckler home had a wood cook stove conjures up images of the opening passages of Ernest Buckler's most famous work, The Mountain and the Valley. The action in this Canadian classic so familiar to secondary school students begins in the kitchen with Ellen, the grandmother of David, the central character, asking rather querulously" ...are you going to let the fire out?" It may just have been the very real wood cook stove in the Buckler home in Centerlea that became the stove that played a part in the initial scene in The Mountain and the Valley. It was this cook stove that played a significant role in a dinner at the Buckler home one summer evening in the summer of 1970 when it was the source of a chimney fire. In fact the fire brought out the Bridgetown Fire Volunteer Department. The dinner of that now long ago summer was held at the behest of Evelyn Garbary, one of Ernest Buckler's closest friends. Garbary wanted to introduce her former student Mary Lou Rockwell, a budding actress, to her and Buckler's mutual friend accomplished Broadway and Hollywood actor Arthur Kennedy. Earlier that day, at Garbary's request, Kennedy attended a presentation of the Acadia Child Drama and Puppet Theatre to see Rockwell perform. Garbary's intent was that Kennedy might pave Rockwell's way to the Broadway stage. Rockwell, an Acadia University trained vocalist and Garbary protégé, would go on to a seven year career on stage with the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia as the company's lead actress. Besides those previously mentioned the dinner party included Tom Miller, Wendy Elliott, Brian Stoddart, Frank Hiscock, Rob Black and Paul Healy, all troupe members of Acadia Child Drama and Puppet Theatre. The Acadia Child Drama and Puppet Theatre of 1970 was a summer drama troupe under the direction of Evelyn Garbary. It was financed by an Opportunities For Youth Grant. Its objective was to get children to participate on stage with the troupe's actors and actresses. It used the child participation dramas of British playwright Brian Way. Mary Lou Rockwell, as lead actress, portrayed characters like Way's

Snow Queen. To understand why an actor like Arthur Kennedy would attend a performance of this nature, why Evelyn Garbary thought Kennedy might act as a facilitator for Rockwell in the high paced theatre of Broadway and how Ernest Buckler came to host a dinner at his home in Centerlea it is necessary to know something about these three and their relationship. In 1970, the Wales born Garbary was drama director at Acadia University. Prior to that and after immigrating to Canada from the British Isles, she had worked with the Nova Scotia Department of Education and served as "Artistic Advisor for the Performing and Visual Arts for the Centennial Celebration in the Province of Nova Scotia." Her chief interest in the early 1970's was in preserving the myths and folkways of Nova Scotia. She would soon turn her attention to the Mi'kmaq, which in turn would lead to the founding of Mermaid Theatre. Garbary's artistic credentials were of the highest sort stemming as they did from studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, an apprenticeship with London's Old Vic and tenure at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. Her list of acting credits included the lead in the opening Abbey Theatre production of Sean O'Faolain's She Had to Do Something and playing opposite Laurence Olivier as well as with notables like John Gielgud and Edith Evans. Through her former husband acclaimed Irish short story writer Frank O'Connor, Garbary had known William Butler Yeats. Her having known Yeats had been one of the things about her that had impressed Ernest Buckler. Buckler sometimes appeared as a guest lecturer in Garbary's creative writing classes at Acadia. Buckler also may have been somewhat enamored of her. Garbary's work with Olivier was one of the things she had in common with Arthur Kennedy. In 1970 Arthur Kennedy and his wife Mary had a home in Annapolis Royal overlooking the Annapolis Basin. Ernest Buckler especially valued their friendship as Kennedybesides being a major Hollywood personage having been nominated for several Oscars- had garnered a Tony for his performance as Biff in Arthur Miller's greatest tragedy, Death of a Salesman. Kennedy also appeared in Miller's All My Sons directed by Elia Kazan and was a close friend of the director. Kennedy's list of stage credits included the Broadway version of Becket. He and Laurence Olivier had alternated nights playing the parts of Becket and Henry II. Arthur Kennedy had fallen in love with the Downeast region and in particular the Bay of Fundy while working on the 1957 blockbuster movie Peyton Place in Camden, Maine. He had earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the film's villainous Lucas Cross, the character that raped his daughter Selena played by Hope Lange. While in Camden, Kennedy had toured further Downeast along the Maine coast of Fundy. Later he and Mary had returned to the Fundy region to extend the actor's previous travels to the Fundy coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. These travels had resulted in the Kennedys buying property in Annapolis Royal. While Ernest Buckler was the nominal host of the evening's festivities, the evening was really under Evelyn Garbary's control. Among other things Garbary provided the evening's entree, duck, and arranged things so that Mary Lou Rockwell would have time to talk with the guest of honour, Arthur Kennedy, without distraction. Unfortunately, the only thing that seems to have slipped by Garbary's machinations that evening was to tell Rockwell of her need to impress Kennedy. When the latter spoke favourably about Rockwell's performance, she responded with kind thanks and went on to another topic. Later Garbary told Rockwell that the whole point of the dinner had been for her to tell Arthur Kennedy of her aspirations to a career on the stage. The evening's festivities were just the sort that Ernest Buckler relished. While reclusive in nature, Buckler very much enjoyed discussions of a literary and

theatrical nature and the company of young people, especially when there was alcohol in abundance as there was this particular evening. The author was drinking gin and was also using medication for headaches and depression. The medications included a prescribed pain killer and a muscle relaxant. Both Garbary and Kennedy were aware of Buckler's medication regimen and his proclivity for mixing alcohol with it. And they were quite used to overlooking the practice. In fact they were accustomed to shielding Buckler from anything that might distress him, which was a good thing as his house caught on fire. Specifically, the roasting of Evelyn Garbary's duck resulted in a chimney fire. Prior to sitting down to dinner, the party had broken up into two parts with a group in the dinning room and a group in the kitchen. The group in the dinning room was made up of Buckler, Garbary, Kennedy, Rockwell and Tom Miller, Art Consultant for the King's County (N.S.) Consolidated School Board who was serving as artistic director and designer for the Acadia Child Drama and Puppet Theatre. The other members of the theatre troupe were in the kitchen minding the wood stove, generally helping to prepare the dinner and drinking cocktails. They were the ones who realized there was a chimney fire and called Evelyn Garbary into the kitchen to alert her to it. Garbary immediately took control of the situation. After calling the fire department, she had Kennedy, Rockwell and Miller unobtrusively close the blinds on the driveway side of the house so that Buckler would not see the fire department arrive. She also had the three with Buckler keep him occupied in conversation as a further diversion. While the host was so occupied, Garbary sent several of the male actors in the kitchen up on the roof with a tarpaulin to seal the chimney and smother the fire. Ernest Buckler never knew when the Bridgetown Volunteer Fire Department arrived or when they left. Mary Lou Rockwell is the only surviving central participant of this memorable dinner of the summer of 1970 at Ernest Buckler's home in Centerlea. After teaching vocal music for three years in elementary schools in Caledonia and Halifax, she joined Mermaid Theatre as the troupe's lead actress as well as bus driver. During her seven years with Mermaid, the company brought its interpretations of Mi'kmaq legends as well as stories of Nova Scotia's famous giantess Anna Swan and Canada's heroic Susannah Moodie to thousands of children not only in Nova Scotia but all across Canada. Mermaid also toured Wales and the rest of the British Isles. Following her career with Mermaid, Rockwell went back to teaching elementary school vocal music in Halifax and, on occasion, appearing in productions with the Neptune Theatre and other companies. She is now retired and lives at the foot of North Mountain not far from Annapolis Royal with her husband, the author of this piece. Ernest Buckler is interred in West Dalhousie, Evelyn Garbary in Wolfville and Arthur Kennedy in Lequille.