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The Two Allans

Review by Kumari Campbell

On an unseasonably cold July evening The Two Allans warmed up a packed house at the St Peter’s Courthouse Theatre in ‘The Bay’ in Eastern Kings. Veteran performers Allan Rankin and Alan Buchanan rocked the rafters in the beautifully renovated Quigly Hall, which used to be one of Kings County’s five courthouses during the late nineteenth century.

Buchanan, with his background as a university professor and provincial politician, is an accomplished public speaker and seasoned raconteur. Rankin, a former career civil servant, has long since put himself on the Island’s musical map by writing and singing his own brand of poignant, heart-warming Island music.

In this particular collaboration, the two Allans treat their audiences to a collection of anecdotes about Prince Edward Island’s colouful history, culture, and humour, related in prose format by Buchanan, and through Rankin’s songs.

They introduce themselves by way of their common Scottish ancestry that dates back two hundred years, moving forward from there to touch on various periods of Island history. The migration of Islanders to ‘The Boston States’ and western Canada during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is mentioned, as well as the ‘Harvest Excursion Trains’ that took Island men to Alberta to participate in the fall harvest during the pre-dust bowl years, for $23 per return trip. The era of prohibition and subsequent alcohol rationing are also remembered—purportedly a period in history when men went about drinking slyly, while women feigned surprise and expressed their disgust at ‘discovering’ them. In more recent Island history, the pair recounted a couple of die-hard opponents of the ‘Fixed Link’ (Confederation Bridge): one who vehemently refused to cross the bridge, while the other required tranquilizers to make the trip across.

In describing the culture of storytelling, they marvelled at the poetic bent of the language used by the common person in years gone by, relating several colourful metaphors and euphemisms that were common usage, such as referring to a drunk man as being “full as an egg”. And of course, no evening of Island storytelling would be complete without the obligatory stories of the great political divide between the Grits and Tories, and the religious schism between Catholics and Protestants.

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