"An echo, asking a shadow to dance"

American poet Carl Sandburg once described poetry as "an echo, asking a shadow to dance."

Those words were adopted recently as the title of an evocative afternoon of poetry and music honouring the memory of Leona Paterson, who founded the Mount Royal College Speech and Drama Department in 1944 and who served as director of the Conservatory from 1974 to 1977.

Grant Paterson looking over his mother's scrapbooks - a major component of his donation which are an important contribution to Calgary's arts scene ...

The performance, held in Mount Royal's Nickle Theatre on April 21, was led by Paterson's son, Grant, who is himself an instructor with the Conservatory.

Honouring his mother

"It would have been my mother's 100th birthday last December, and each of the cast members had some kind of relationship with my mother or with the Conservatory," Grant Paterson says. "So we were all proud to be involved in this theatrical exploration of words and poetry and literature."

The idea of putting poetry and music together was something Grant had been discussing for several years with acclaimed guitarist and fellow Conservatory instructor, Brad Mahon, and with Vincent Hanlon, a Lethbridge physician and writer who studied with Leona Paterson.

Their discussions coalesced after Grant made a major donation of his mother's papers to Mount Royal's Archives in 2012.

"We thought, here's our chance to do a show, to make some money for the Archives and to honour my mother," Grant says.

Created as part of Mount Royal's Centennial, the University Archives houses papers, photographs and other material related to the history and life of the University.

University Librarian, Carol Shepstone, says the Paterson papers are an important donation for the Calgary arts community as well as for Mount Royal.

Leona F. Paterson

Leona Francis Flegal was born in Calgary in 1912. She married Harold "Pat" Paterson in 1937 and their Grant, was born in 1956.

Leona studied speech and drama with Theresa M. Siegel in Calgary and with Clara Salisbury Baker at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto. She became the Head of the Speech Arts Department at Mount Royal Conservatory from 1944 to 1977 and served as the Director of the Conservatory from 1974 to her retirement in 1977.

She also taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts from 1946 to 1971, and examined for the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto.

A founding member and president of the Canadian Speech Association, Leona also served on the Southern Alberta Association of Professional Speech Teachers and was an emeritus member of the Speech Communication Association of America.

Leona Paterson died in Calgary on 4 April 2004.

"Dr. Paterson was a founding member and president of the Canadian Speech Association and active in part of a number of speech arts associations," Shepstone says.

"One of the most interesting aspects of the collection is a number of scrapbooks she compiled of the Calgary theatre, music and speech arts scene for a number of years."

A look into Leona Paterson's life

The carefully compiled newsprint scrapbooks also hint at a milestone in Leona Paterson's life.

"My mother kept the scrapbooks from about 1935 to just a few months after I was born," Grant Paterson says.

Then, with a laugh: "I guess she was a little too busy after I arrived to keep scrapbooks anymore."

Carol Shepstone says she hopes to be able to digitize some of the scrapbooks so they are more accessible to researchers, and she explains that the music and poetry performance was a fundraiser to help pay for future work on the collection.

"All of the performers donated their time to celebrate this significant donation and to support the Archives," Shepstone says, adding that it was an inaugural event.

"We'd like to have more opportunities to celebrate the collections within both the Archives and the Library," she says.

The focus on fundraising is certainly timely in light of the funding cuts announced in the March 7 provincial budget.

"When we began planning the event six months ago, who would have thought we would be facing all of these cuts as the show was actually mounted?" Grant muses.

Planning for the performance

Even with six months of planning, Grant says he was still fine-tuning the script with the celebration's co-creator, Conservatory instructor Jim Dobbin, right up until the Saturday before the performance.

In addition to Dobbin, Grant Paterson, Hanlon and Mahon, the cast included fellow Conservatory instructors Juleta Severson-Baker - a poet - and Susan Duska. Duska is a former Conservatory student, and Dobbin worked with Leona Paterson when he began work in Speech Arts more than twenty years ago. Carol Shepstone says that many of the 120 people in the audience also had connections with Leona, either as a student or a colleague.

She also says they gave the show rave reviews.

"The performance was beautifully constructed - like food for the soul," Shepstone says. "It was a perfect way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon."

- Nancy Cope April 25, 2013

The Archives is open to the public an appointment basis. Classes and researchers are also welcome to book an appointment for a visit. To make an appointment, email or call 403.440.5690.