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(2016) Marginal Arts Festival

WHO WAS GEORGE RYGA?

George Ryga, one of Canada’s most distinguished English-language playwrights, lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987. Born in 1932, Ryga was raised poor in the Ukrainian farming community near the town of Athabasca. Despite having to leave school at the age of 13, he soon won a scholarship to the prestigious Banff School of Fine Arts on the strength of one of his very first stories.

George Ryga first found national fame when CBC television produced his play Indian, and soon two of his novels were published in England. In 1963 he and his wife Norma brought their young family to Summerland, where they bought a small orchard on Caldwell Street. It was here that Ryga came to write his most famous works, including The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967), which awakened a nation celebrating its centennial to the continuing tragedy of its Indigenous Peoples. Two years later the play was revived to open the new National Arts Centre in Ottawa, an event attended by the prime minister and all ten provincial premiers. As the late great director John Juliani wrote, George Ryga should be remembered and celebrated for “bringing the contemporary age to the Canadian stage.”