Johnny Cash of Eagle Place
One of the plays performed at the annual Bell Summer Theatre Festival is Johnny Cash in Eagle Place. This play is written by Peter Muir of Brant Theatre Workshops. Peter is also a Director of CIHC. The plans for an interpretive centre for industrial history at 66 Mohawk St. involves a partnership of CIHC with BTW to include an amphitheatre and indoor stage to produce plays such as this written locally to combine heritage and theatre. Peter’s wife, Sharyl Hudson, also a member of CIHC, writes many of the plays and participates in the productions. BTW has existed for 17 years, producing plays locally, and touring provincially, nationally and internationally, and trains young actors through the educational community.
The Bell Summer Theatre Festival program includes a page sponsored by Brantford Labour Council, CIHC, BTW and Eagle Place Community Association.
The 32 degree humid heat wave of Sunday afternoon, August 7th, did not deter people from attending the last presentation of Johnny Cash in Eagle Place, a musical/historical drama about a group of people from Eagle Place who worked at Massey Ferguson Combines Plant during the 80s. These were the last difficult years before the plug was pulled and the company went belly-up in Brantford in 1988.
For the Bell Summer Theatre Festival, playwright and director, Peter Muir, has woven together the stories of Eagle Place working families with the music of Johnny Cash. Dave Shakespeare plays Jack in the play, a worker who idolizes and sings like JohnnyCash. “No, I Won’t Back Down”; “These Are My People ... In Brotherhood”; “They were born and lived by the land, worked by hard-working hands” work into the theme of the play.
Joline is a secretary and represents the executives in the office. She relates the facts and statistics to show the company’s worsening economic state and the decline in worldwide sales. Layoffs, strikes, lockouts, opposition to scab labour, violence, and picketing at Massey Ferguson, and support to striking Chicago Rawhide workers to show union solidarity – all this is covered in the dark times and struggles of these Eagle
Place folk. It culminates in the shutdown of the plant. One day Boss “shows up on the doorstep drunker than a monkey’s uncle” and with a gun. He announces “They shut us down! Sold out! It’s over.” Sadly, in the struggle that follows, the gun goes off and Boss dies. An announcer on radio station CKPC relates the incident.
Massey combines Corporation closed down and 5,000 workers lost their jobs and the older employees fought to obtain their pensions. In the recession of the 80s, 10,000 jobs are lost in Brantford as many of the businesses that had made Brantford a flourishing city closed down or moved away. Downtown Brantford becomes infamous as the worst downtown in Canada.
Over the years, times have changed and conditions improved. The tough people of Eagle Place have survived the hard times, and in the last scene of the play, the appearance of Joline’s daughter graduating from Laurier University, Brantford campus, demonstrates that Brantford’s future looks much better for the new generations.
There are many stories to be told by the people who have lived in Eagle Place.