by Leo Blaise Doyle from Ottawa, ON
Jul 7, 12
Twenty-five years have passed since I, too, performed in Mabou, Cape Breton. It was in August of 1985. High school drama students from across Cape Breton, such as myself, and Heather and Nancy Rankin, were invited to take part in a two-week theatre program being run by the visiting Highland Youth Theatre of Inverness, Scotland. Along with their instructors and technician and 6 students from Scotland, 4 girls and 2 boys from the island attended the summer theatre school in Sydney.
For one intense week in early August, our combined group of 12 teenaged boys and girls lived together in close quarters at Cape Breton University.
The young Scots and Cape Bretoners got to know one another quickly; and well. We took part in daylong workshops, learning the theatre arts. We were taught to act and to react, and to use our voices to maximum effect. On stage, we learned to collaborate and to trust one another.
As a local boy, I was only 30 kilometers away from my home in Sydney Mines. But I couldn’t have been further removed from my culture. For an 18 year old, it was truly awesome!
With two, liberal-minded Scotts as our chaperons, we had the run of the place. At night, we wandered the empty halls and buildings of Cape Breton U and got to know the place and each another. I even got to snog with Fiona, a raven-haired beauty from Fife. It didn’t get any better than this.
During the second week of the program, we took our play called “Vineland” on the road, performing in communities throughout Cape Breton. On Tuesday, August 13, 1985, we came to Mabou to perform at Holy Name Hall.
The Mabou show was a home coming of sorts for the Rankin girls; so too for 18 year old Blaise Coady MacNeil, a strapping, brown haired, blued eyed young lad from the nearby community of Blackstone. Blaise was a quiet, but friendly guy, who loved the music of Jim Morrison and the Doors.
But having grown up in rural Cape Breton, he wasn’t the type you’d imagine signing up for a summer drama camp. That’s why I liked him. He was his own man, to hell with what others thought.
August 13, 1985, was a pleasant summer day in Mabou. The Rankins hosted a barbeque prior our show; everyone enjoyed the hospitality and the chance to meet more members of the Rankin family and folks from the community. It was a post card day.
Having been away from his friends for well over a week, Blaise MacNeil took the opportunity to reconnect with them. He skipped the barbecue and took-off in a pick-up truck with his buddies to hang out.
As show time approached, we departed the Rankins and headed off to Holy Name Hall. With the 7pm start nearing, the director noted that Blaise still hadn’t arrived. We assumed, being with his friends, he had lost track the time. We assumed he would be back soon.
Just minutes before we were to go on stage, someone arrived with news that Blaise had been in an accident. The vehicle he and his friends were driving had gone off the road on the sharp curve at Glenora Falls. Blaise and the others had gone to the hospital. We didn’t get any details; always the optimist, I assumed it was a minor accident, and that all would be fine. The director subbed in to play Blaise’s part and the show went on.
Later that night, and back at the Rankins, we got word that Blaise had died. To lose a friend that I had just made made it all the more shocking and inexplicable.
I did not get the chance to attend Blaise’s funeral. And it always bothered me that I didn’t have a chance to say a proper good-bye.
And that is why I am writing you Stuart. When you are in Mabou would you dedicate a song to Blaise for me? I hardly knew him, and yet I will never forget him.