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P.E.I.'s Confederation Centre of the Arts’ union celebrating 50 years

Gary Craswell, left, and Roddy Diamond, started working at the Confederation Centre of the Arts as teenagers in 1964 when the centre opened.
Gary Craswell, left, and Roddy Diamond, started working at the Confederation Centre of the Arts as teenagers in 1964 when the centre opened. - Terrence McEachern

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - It was only supposed to be a summer job for Charlottetown’s Roddy Diamond when he started working at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown in 1964.

But, that wasn’t the case as Diamond spent the next 47 years at the centre. He retired seven years ago.

On April 8, Diamond and other current and former staff members celebrated the 50th anniversary of the centre’s union – the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Operators of the United States and Canada (IATSE Local 906). The celebration to mark the official launch of the union on April 1, 1968 – four years after the centre opened – took place in the grandstand at what is now called the Red Shores Racetrack and Casino.

“It’s nice to see that it’s survived. And it’s nice to see, from a union point of view, that we’ve passed it on to the next generation, and people that we have trained have walked in to fill the gap,” said Diamond, who served on the union’s executive for several years.

Diamond said that in 1965, the workers had grown tired of being paid $35 a week, so they looked into forming a union. They eventually joined the Glace Bay, N.S., local before receiving their own charter for a union.

Diamond was involved in negotiating contracts with management during his time with the union, including the inaugural contract. He said that one was put together with bits and pieces from other union contracts they had on hand as examples.

“We came up with a very good contract,” he said with a smile.

Roddy Diamond, left, and Gary Craswell hold the same door at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown that they held in 1964 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited for the centre’s official opening.
Roddy Diamond, left, and Gary Craswell hold the same door at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown that they held in 1964 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited for the centre’s official opening.

 

Over the years, Diamond worked in the lighting booth, as an assistant carpenter, in props and in stage management.

But perhaps the claim to fame for Diamond and his long-time friend, Gary Craswell, is holding the door for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) when they visited the centre for its official opening on Oct. 6, 1964.

Craswell was 16 years old when he joined the centre that summer. He grew up nearby on Rochford Street, but in many ways, he grew up working at the centre for the next three decades.

“It’s hard to describe because you are part of the foundation of the place,” he said. “A lot of good memories.”

As with Diamond, Craswell had a variety of jobs at the centre, including as a projectionist and a member of the stage crew. He later served as the technical director, community manager and theatre director.

The memory of holding the door for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip has stuck with both men. Diamond remembers being awestruck, but also in a panic, because afterwards he had to rush upstairs from the second-floor foyer to work in the lighting booth.

Craswell recalls he and Diamond were wearing short sleeved shirts and bow ties. And, that it was a chilly October day, a point Prince Philip made to Craswell as he greeted him and walked into the centre.

On the way out, the two teenagers were once again holding the door, and Prince Philip made a special point to ask Craswell if he got the chance to warm up during the performance.

“Our friends were a little bit envious of us,” said Craswell, referring to their brush with royalty.

Craswell left the centre in 1993 to become the general manager of the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel. He recently retired and is now a tour director with Target Tours.

Both men agree that the union had its place with the centre. It allowed the crew to tour with the theatre productions like “Anne of Green Gables-The Musical” and work in other venues, such as Toronto, Winnipeg, New York and Japan. The union also helped keep talent around long-term and provided a good pay for staff.

Over the years, there were a few close calls in terms of striking. And, in one case, union members supported a related union on strike. But overall, labour relations between the union and management at the centre were positive, and management supported the creation of the union, said Diamond.

“There was just a positive relationship between management, crew and cast. It was just one big happy family, to be honest,” he said.

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