Our exciting summer venture in 1995 was to take our puppet company to the Sunshine Coast and spend July and August at the Pender Harbour cottage where Hugh’s parents had lived during their retirement. After their death, the property had been left to Hugh, but as it was too expensive for us to maintain two homes, we had rented the cottage to a local resident. However, our tenant had given notice, so we decided to combine a cottage holiday with a tour of our Babes production in the three main towns on the Coast.
The preparations for this had kept me busy all spring: choosing dates and investigating facilities, not to mention creating posters and promotional material. We needed publicity pictures, so I did several photo shoots. For this, the puppets were far more co-operative than Max, who tended to fidget and get bored after a couple of takes. He was very good at the commands, sit and stay, but would plop into position with such a petulant look on his face that the results were hopeless for a brochure.
The arrangements could not be finalized without a day trip to the Coast, which we made in early June. Caroline and her friend, Marcella, came along, offering to walk Max while Hugh and I negotiated terms with the venues at Gibsons, Sechelt and Madeira Park. It turned out to be a good day, with all appointments going well. Max enjoyed his walks with the girls, though they reported that he was hopeless when they tried jogging as he kept stopping to christen the bushes. We had a nice lunch at a sidewalk café in Sechelt, with Max sitting decorously beside our table and enjoying tidbits from the various plates. While we ate, we saw a film crew working on the street. We had no idea what was being filmed, but years later, when we watched a Knowledge Network program about the Sunshine Coast, we suddenly gaped at the screen and cried, “There’s Max!” Sure enough, there he was at the Sechelt sidewalk café, immortalized on screen.
The visit to the Coast was lovely, and when we returned to town, we were restless for the month to pass so we could head away again. However, we were anxious about our tour because the expenses were adding up; Max mugs and T-shirts, posters and theatre rentals did not come cheap. Then, to our delight, a wonderful surprise came in the mail with a letter from Hugh’s aunt in England. Aunt Gladys had corresponded with me over the years and she wrote to say that she would like to sponsor our Pender Tour to the tune of one thousand pounds. This was more than two thousand dollars at that time. We were overwhelmed: such an incredibly generous gesture; Auntie was an angel in every sense of the word.
Aunt Gladys wasn’t the only person to encourage our new venture. At the year-end Vancouver Guild of Puppetry party, the other puppeteers were delighted that we were stepping up our performance activities. It was especially delightful to meet veteran puppeteer, Fran Dowie, and his charming wife, Louise, both of whom were full of valuable tips, which we appreciated knowing their impressive history of performance. Fran was a well-know name in the entertainment industry and Louise had danced in the original Broadway production of The King and I with Yul Brynner.
We were further encouraged the following week when we were offered a paid gig to perform Guard Dog on Duty for the Pender Harbour Lion’s Club. Now we had two productions going to the Coast. It seemed an opportune time to fulfill an outstanding obligation. We had offered Guard Dog on Duty as a BVA auction donation when I had been running for Council, and the family that had purchased it was finally trying to set a date so the show could be performed for their son’s birthday party. Although it meant we would have to perform the show for free, it still gave us the chance to have a pre-tour rehearsal complete with audience.
All through June, we rehearsed both shows, and Max became very excited by this activity. He recognized the music that signalled the end of each show, and even if he had not been in the room during the rehearsal, he would race downstairs to join us, and start bowing and doing tricks as the curtain fell. On the day of the donated performance of Guard Dog on Duty, the show went very well, but the highlight was Max himself. He performed wonderfully at the end of the show. He recognized his theme song and couldn’t wait to do his trick and take his bow. We decided that we would have to rename him, “Max, the Ho Ham Husky.” Afterwards the birthday boy came forward and presented him with a Meaty-Bone Cookie. Max was the star of the show, and there was no doubt he was ready to be Dog on Tour.