The Kiwanis Festival of the Performing Arts

In 1926, W.B. Rothwell, the Music Master at the Stratford Normal School, inspired the members of the Perth County Music Teacher’s Federation to establish the Stratford Musical Festival as a way to encourage interest in music. Rothwell served as the President and Director of Competitions from the first festival held in 1927 to 1930 and then returned to those positions from 1940 to 1957.

By 1951 the Music Teachers’ Federation was finding it difficult to run the festival and W.B. Rothwell, by this time a member of the Kiwanis Club of Stratford, convinced his fellow Kiwanians to “take as one of our major projects, the management of and complete responsibility for the Stratford Music Festival for 1952 and thereafter.” This proved to be a considerable challenge for the club members and their families who volunteered on this committee. The job of the Director of Competitions quickly became a full-time volunteer position beginning as soon as one Festival ended right through until the next one began. Isa Gould, wife of Kiwanian Duncan Gould, who was the Director of Competitions from 1957 – 1965, gave this description of the job:

“The summer months following one Festival is spent hiring adjudicators and booking halls in preparation for the following year. After the types and numbers of classes have been determined, the various test pieces must be selected, and the syllabus prepared.” Isa recalled working from early in the morning until late at night, typing the syllabus, taking it to the printer, checking the proofs and taking the proofs back to the printer. Another intensive period began when the entries started coming in: “We would have to go to the post office box with shopping bags to collect them.” Entries had to be acknowledged and the official program prepared. Then trophies had to be collected, repaired and readied for the upcoming competitions.

By 1987, amidst celebrations for the 60th Anniversary of the Music Festival, a ‘Strategic Plan’ developed by the Kiwanis Club revealed that some Kiwanians had serious reservations about their continuing association with the Festival:

“The Kiwanis Music Festival is at a crossroads in its development. Volunteer manpower shortages threaten to undermine the efficient operation of the festival…The role of Director of Competitions has traditionally been a volunteer position but places heavy responsiblities on the individual who assumes that role”. Steps were taken to alleviate this situation. Funds (from the Kiwanis Club) were allocated to provide a salary for the director and to rent office space with the hope that “an office and coordinator would lift the substantial burden from volunteers and their families of organizing the Festival”.

In 1991, the Club hired Margaret McCarroll as Director of Competitions. The office of the Kiwanis Music Festival was conveniently located in her home. There was enough funding provided to hire secretarial assistance to help with all of the entries as well as an assistant director during the two-week Festival period. Margaret felt that she was reasonably compensated for what she said was “the best job in the world”. Her creativity, enthusiasm and committment helped to make Stratford’s Music Festival one of the most successful of its kind in Canada. But there is still a considerable volunteer effort required to run it, much of that provided by members of the Kiwanis Club of Stratford and the Kiwanis Club of the Festival City and their partners.

With the resignation of Ms. McCarroll in 2003, Michele Boniface was hired by the Kiwanis Club of Stratford for the Director of Competitions position.

“When I started,” recalled Ms. Boniface, “I met with 40 local teachers to gather their ideas about the festival and syllabus. With their input, I have systematically upgraded the syllabus each year to adjust to new trends in the music, dance and drama worlds.”

Ms. Boniface has submitted two successful applications to the Trillium Foundation of Ontario and one to the Stratford and Perth County Community Foundation which provided the financing for the Festival to purchase and customize festival-management software, and develop a website that incorporates data directly from it.  The result is more timely and accurate information going out to teachers and students.  Another website improvement was implemented in 2008 that allows participants to register on-line for the Festival.

            Externally, Ms Boniface moved the festival into an active role in the Ontario Music Festivals Association by bringing the syllabus in line with OMFA rules, regulations and age limits and encouraging a large and successful team of competitors to participate in the Ontario Music Festival Finals each spring.

            Her creativity, enthusiasm and commitment helped to make Stratford’s Music Festival one of the most successful of its kind in Canada.  In the fall of 2013, Ms. Boniface retired from her post.

          That fall, Janis Auster was hired by the Festival Executive Committee to take on the role of Executive Director.  Ms. Auster set her focus on continuing to improve the functionality of the program with new technology.  She also worked hard to keep the dialogue open with teachers and participants to provide programs that support the needs of our constituents.   Under her leadership the Festival grew to over 5,000 participants in more than 500 vocal, instrumental and drama classes and adopted a new name: “Kiwanis Festival for the Performing Arts (Stratford)”.

Patricia McKinna came on board as Interim Executive Director in January 2020 after Janis resigned at the end of the 2019 season.  Unfortunately, the global pandemic of COVID-19 hit the world and the 2020 Festival was cancelled as were many other events including the Stratford Festival.  Pat has carried on as Executive Director into the 2021 season where she has proven that Stratford’s venerable Kiwanis Festival can show its resilience.  In the year when COVID-19 caused the first cancellation in its 93-year history, the beloved tradition is stepping gently into the digital era.  Starting in the fall of 2020, the Festival will be presenting a variety of online and in-person activities, carefully developed to comply with public health guidelines and there is still a considerable volunteer effort required to run it, much of that provided by members of the Kiwanis Club of Stratford and the Kiwanis Club of the Festival City and their partners.

   The Kiwanis Club of Stratford remains dedicated to presenting the festival in its traditional format but only when it is safe to do so.  2020 may become known as the Year of the Bubble, but many bubbles add up to effervescence which is a good description for the creative activity in this community!



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