It all started in a local pub, the Hobby Horse Arms, one night in 1985. Owner Ron Tindley and musician Tom Baker, who played a regular piano gig there on Friday nights, cooked up the idea to showcase music, film, visual arts, and theatre. They created a team of local artists and art lovers to make the Celebration a reality. The mandate of the Celebration of the Arts was to bring professional artists and their art to Uxbridge. This would be an opportunity for local artists and art lovers to hear professional musicians and talk to “real” filmmakers in their own backyard.

Four artistic directors were chosen to develop programs in music, film, visual art and theatre. Tom headed up the music program. The lead for the film program was an easy choice: Academy Award winning filmmaker Christopher Chapman lived in Uxbridge. John Richmond, mural painter and art teacher at OCA, came on board to organize the visual arts. He suggested local actress and director Roz Pritchard for the theatre program. There were also local business people who came on board to round out the committee.

On August 22, 1986, the first Uxbridge Celebration of the Arts was opened by Arnold Edinborough, Director of the Council for Business and the Arts in Canada. It boasted an impressive line-up of events in-cluding the first film documentary made in Canada in 1919 (Nanook of the North) and Musiconsort, an ensemble specializing in Renaissance and Baroque music played on period instruments.

That first year there were films, youth theatre workshops, film work-shops, concerts, late night jazz and more. Audiences were sparse that first year, but very appreciative. One member of the audience for every event was Barb Murphy. She was impressed by the program but dismayed by the “crowds”. Determined to improve the situation the following year, she joined the committee.

Undaunted by the low turnout, the fearless four began plans for 1987 by inviting documentary film maker Alan King to show his Tribute to Norman McLaren, honoring the pioneering techniques of this NFB filmmaker. Also featured that year were films by Alex Colville, art exhibits, a studio tour, a costume ball, workshops, children’s theatre and a Celebration grande finale. Barb worked tirelessly and her efforts resulted in bigger audiences. “Getting the word out to people was fun. I talked to everyone, no matter where I was: in the lineup at the grocery store, the bank or my doctor’s office. It was wonderful to see the audiences grow in those early years.”

With a firm foundation in the community, the Celebration of the Arts has become a focus for displaying local talents. Equally importantly, it has drawn international celebrities to our little town. Well known writers have included Timothy Findlay, Bonnie Burnard, David McFarlane, Jane Urquhart, Helen Humphreys and Nino Ricci. Over the years, we have invited prominent performing artists BASSTIALITY (a quartet of Basses from the Toronto Symphony), Amici Chamber Emsemble, Motus O Dance Theatre, Maza Meze from Toronto, Brass Roots brass ensemble, percussionist Beverley Johnston, Rod Beattie’s one-man play Wingfield’s Folly, acclaimed contralto Maureen Forrester, comedienne/soprano Mary Lou Fallis, NEXUS percussion ensemble, fiddler Anne Lindsay, Bellows & Brass trio and many professional musicians and performers who make their home right here in Uxbridge. In a related performance, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played an outdoor concert on the lovely moraine lands south of town.

The incredible vision of the four founding directors continues in Uxbridge to this day. Countless volunteers contribute hundreds of hours to ensure the Celebration continues. Their perseverance over the past 25 years has resulted in a stellar arts festival. It has truly put Uxbridge “on the map” and transformed it into a town for the arts. People have moved here because they came to the Celebration and liked what they saw. They started friendships, choirs and collaborations as a result of the Celebration of the Arts. The arts community and the wider community of Uxbridge Town and Township has grown and flourished.

The original three-day festival has grown to become a three week event, bringing visitors from well beyond the community. The schedule is packed with events of interest to all. The Uxbridge Studio Tour, included in the events each year, is one of the finest in Ontario. Our Juried Art Show attracts artists from all over Southern and Central Ontario. The Gala events attract world-famous musicians and performers. The Roxy Short Film evening features winners from the Worldwide Short Film Festival. Books and Authors Night has showcased writers who have been awarded many prestigious literary prizes. Truly this small-town event is a feast for the senses, cooked up a quarter-century ago by a far-sighted group of visionaries.

-compiled by Wynn Walters