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Group targets tarnished lakefront gem, issues a plea for assistance

Rotary Club wants to breathe new life into Aqua Theatre; 'It would be great to make it look good and put it to greater use'
2018-04-04 aqua theatre.jpg
The Aqua Theatre, built in 1958 by the Rotary Club, is in need of a makeover. The Rotary Club has struck a committee charged with ensuring the lakeside facility is upgraded and improved. Supplied photo

Orillia’s Rotary Club is looking to restore the lustre of one of the city’s lakefront gems.

The local service club, which spearheaded the creation of the Orillia Aqua Theatre in 1958, has struck a committee to bring “the great community resource” back to life, says Alison Braun, who is heading up the committee.

“Orillia is known for its waterfront and the Aqua Theatre is in such a great position, it’s a shame to have something there that is outdated and a bit of an eyesore,” said Braun. “It would be great to make it look good and put it to greater use once again.”

The Rotary Club, which turned over the Aqua Theatre to the city many years ago, lobbied city council last fall for funding to help refurbish the facility. The city listened and committed $225,000 in its 2018 budget to funding of phased-in repairs and aesthetic improvements.

“The city is really on board and are supporting us financially,” said Braun.

Now, Rotary Club officials are hoping the community also steps up. With that in mind, the committee is issuing a plea for help.

“We want to put on a free concert at the Aqua Theatre to raise money,” said Braun, who is hoping a band or musician will volunteer to stage an outdoor benefit event. “We’re looking for anyone from local groups to huge groups well known across Canada. Gordon Lightfoot would be more than welcome,” she quipped.

Rotary Club officials are also looking for artists to turn the back of the structure, which faces the water, into a giant mural. She said the hope is to remove some of the vegetation that has overtaken that area and the space between the Aqua Theatre and the water treatment facility. “The back is bit of an eyesore and an ideal place for a mural,” Braun said.

The project is expected to take shape over time. She said there have been discussions about purchasing a new sound system, updating the electrical infrastructure and improving the aged seating.

Committee members would also love to see the creation of a green room for artists. With that in mind, the committee is submitting a proposal to be considered as this summer’s community project of the Orillia District Construction Association.

“I’m not an architect, but I think there’s enough space to create a green room, so we’re hoping the (ODCA), if they choose us, that design could be part of what they do,” she said.

Once it’s refurbished, Braun can see the lakeside facility hosting not only concerts but performing arts. “It has tremendous potential.”

Braun says a makeover of the Aqua Theatre is the brainchild of Rotary member Allan Lafontaine, who was recently hired as the new managing director of the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce. “He saw this amazing resource just kind of wasting away and really needing an upgrade,” said Braun.

It’s particularly fitting that the Rotary Club has adopted the project. In 1958, the Rotary Club spearheaded the creation and construction of the facility.

According to Don Whitfield, the only remaining Rotary Club member from that year, “the club and our helpers called on every house in Orillia over the course of a one-night blitz” to garner support for their project.

Anyone interested in helping out can contact Braun at alison@earthtreks.ca or by phone at 705-999-1000.