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'Beautiful' refurbished Aqua Theatre celebrated (4 photos)

More than 100 people on hand for official re-opening of facility on shore of Lake Couchiching

Following a host of much-needed upgrades, more than 100 community members and officials attended the grand re-opening of the Rotary Aqua Theatre at Couchiching Beach Park Tuesday evening.

Performances by the Orillia Big Band, The Rama Boys Drum Group, and an airing of the Tragically Hip’s concert film, That Night in Toronto, accompanied statements by local dignitaries commemorating the Aqua Theatre’s storied past and revitalized future.

Originally built by the Rotary Club 64 years ago, the city funded structural repairs, an updated facade, and electrical upgrades for the aging venue, to the tune of about $777,000, in hopes of ringing in continued decades of arts and culture programming for residents and visitors alike.

“Aren't we fortunate to be in this beautiful setting with this beautiful refurbished theatre?” said Mayor Steve Clarke at Tuesday night's event. “We are extremely fortunate, and … it was certainly my pleasure and council’s pleasure to be part of keeping the vision and the legacy alive, that was begun in 1958 by the Rotary Club.”

Among the crowd were relatives of the original Rotary Club members who raised $24,720 to build the Aqua Theatre in 1958.

“Back in the late 50s, when Rotary constructed the Aqua Theatre, the efforts and dedication of 24 Orillia club members was instrumental,” said Jack Nolan, Chair of the Rotary Aqua Theatre Committee. “Naturally there are very few of those gentlemen who are with us today, but we do have a number of direct relatives.

“I want to thank all of the family members who were able to be with us tonight. I'm sure your fathers, grandfathers, and your husband would be delighted that the Aqua Theatre has been restored," said Nolan.

The original Aqua Theatre was a progression upon a band shell built at the waterfront in 1909, said Allan Lafontaine, former Rotary Club president and current executive director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce.

“In the 50s, a group of Rotarians decided that they were going to do more,” he said.

“Arts and culture are extremely important in your economic prosperity in the future. It does attract people to your community,” Lafontaine continued. “This investment from the city of Orillia should be recognized as the driver for tomorrow, for the new people in the community that come here and the people that have been here forever to enjoy.”

As part of the theatre’s revitalization, a depiction of Turtle Island was added to its facade as acknowledgement of the region’s Indigenous peoples, who have lived here for 5,000 years.

“The symbols in the lower part of the panel have an abstract of a turtle … which is an homage to the turtle and the creation story of Turtle Island,” explained Clarke. “It is meant to honour and acknowledge that the Aqua Theatre sits on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people, specifically our Chippewa friends and neighbours of Rama First Nation.”

That is significant, said Simcoe North MP Adam Chambers.

“It's always important to recognize the land that we're on, the people that we share it with,” said Chambers. “The mayor said for 5,000 years, in some parts of the country it's 10,000 years people have been living here, taking care of the environment, being stewards of the land.”

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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