2012 Historic Play - "Troubles and Trials in St. Margaret's"
Or I’ll Kill You: Troubles and Trials at St. Margaret’s
Claire Gallant opened the Troubles and Trials at St. Margaret’s with her clear singing of the introduction to a period of time on Prince Edward Island when absentee landlords ruled. This play was a labor of love for Claire and her friend, Lilian Baker. The women were still in high school in 1975 when they wrote the play set in the Kings Country village of St. Margaret’s during the turbulent heyday of the settlers’ rebellion against the land system.
In the early days of settlement after the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763), the land on Prince Edward Island was divided into 67 lots and granted to supporters of King George III. Most of the landlords never saw Prince Edward Island. They simply appointed local agents to collect the rent for them.
Meanwhile, the land was settled by people who worked the land and loved it as if it were their own. The problem was that the landlords set rents and conditions that were increasingly difficult to meet.
St. Margaret’s, 1845
This was the situation in St. Margaret’s. By the 1840s, the situation had come to a head. Local farmers were being squeezed by Dan MacGuire, agent for one of the landowners. The fiery nature of the conflict came to life on the stage at the Souris Show Hall when local community members, some of them descendants of the original parties to the conflict, relived the experience.
The theatre was filled beyond capacity, with extra chairs set up in the aisles. The tension was palpable. When John McIntosh instructed MacGuire, to leave the property, the audience gasped.
“Get out of me house, get off me property – or – or I’ll kill ye,” McIntosh roared. In that moment the past became real and living. The accent and the passion and the command were familiar to anyone whose roots are in the area.
The central person in any parish at that time would be the parish priest. The conflict of the 1840s was embodied in Fr. John MacDonald, the local priest. Fr. MacDonald was a rent collector as well as a priest. As such, he was hard-pressed to put his sensibilities ahead of his financial concerns.
Aside from this, he had a very unpriestlike attitude toward McIntosh. The scene-stealing sotto voce comments from the angry priest added richness to the tense tableau more often than not.
Directors Agree, Characters Disagree
Troubles and Trials at St. Margaret’s was directed by Kelly Stephen who also played the part of the passionate priest and Ronnie McIntosh who played the part of John McIntosh, the man who represented the community both in this battle and in the provincial legislature.
They found a way to capture the frustration and unfairness of a system that did not work. It essentially brought ancient British serfdom into the modern 19th century in the recently settled new world. The clashes were on a variety of levels. The church/state conundrum was embodied in the priest who as the parish priest needed to support his community but who as a landlord felt that he had a higher duty to the financial responsibilities.
The worker versus owner battle predated unions and judicial protection for people who settled the land. The unfair tenancy rules were virtually uncontrolled.
The frustrated and beleaguered farmers of St. Margaret’s were driven to burn down MacGuire’s house. Knowing that the land they loved and tended for generations could be taken from them without proper fairness explains and justifies their anger.
The play captured the crux of the situation and temperaments that created places such as St. Margaret’s. Their action and the support of the John McIntoshs of the Island eventually saw justice prevail.
The involvement of the community and the support of the St. Margaret’s Pioneer Cemetery committee brings history to life in a way that reminds people of the area just what it is that makes this such a vibrant place.
Narrated by Clair Gallant
John McIntosh – Ronnie McIntosh
Father John MacDonald – Kelly Stephen
Dan MacGuire – Shane McClure
Alexander MacIntyre – George Villard
Angus MacPhee (Josh’s son) – Christopher MacDonald
Angus MacPhee (parishioner) – Charlie MacDonald
Sarah MacPhee – Angela Villard
Bernard MacIsaac – Carolyn MacDonald
Bishop MacDonald – John MacDonald
Charles Binnsen – Warren Foulkes
Chief Justice – Mike McIntosh
Donald MacDonald – Carolyn MacDonald
MacGuire daughter – Rebecca Lambie
McPhee daughters – Hannah MacDonald, Sarah MacDonald and Madeline MacDonald
Edward Palmer – Ray Malone
Hubert Bryan – Stephen MacDonald
Jacob Barlow – Warren Foulkes
Jane MacGuire – Cynthia MacDonald
Josh MacPhee – Donald MacPhee
Margaret McIntosh – Mary Hennessey
Peter Cassidy – Christopher MacDonald
Roddie MacCormack – Mike McIntosh
Sandy MacKinnon – Mike McIntosh
Music by Eugene MacDonald