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Laurier's Library

Dealers at Gallery 18 acquire books from Sir Wilfrid Laurier

by Michael Oliver

Co-owner of Gallery 18-Aubrey Bell with some of the Laurier books

A winter afternoon affords a little extra time to talk in many Island shops. At Gallery 18 on Grafton Street in Charlottetown I spent an hour on a snowy Friday listening to Aubrey Bell discussing many features of the antique books and maps and miscellaneous collectibles that he and his partner Patricia Bennett sell to people all around the world.

The purpose of my visit was to view the items Gallery 18 has recently acquired from the library of Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada from 1896 to 1911. This collection was obtained in Montreal from the family of Mrs. Pauline Harvey, a niece of Laurier's. Some of the books belonged to Laurier, others belonged to Mrs. Harvey, but they all relate to Laurier.

There are no items autographed by Laurier, but many are inscribed to him. The book I found most interesting was inscribed to Mrs. Harvey from Mackenzie King, perhaps the most important Prime Minister in Canadian history.

What makes these books appealing is their rich associations. Aubrey Bell holds out his hands and says, to illustrate his meaning, "Laurier once held this book, now you are holding it, and that connects you to this great man from the past."

Like many others, Aubrey Bell began to sell collectibles because of his own passion for collecting-antique maps in his case. In fact, cartography confronts the visitor to Gallery 18 at every turn, especially such treasures as the early prints from copper plates of the 1760 Montresoir Map of Acadia and the 1794 Holland Map of P.E.I. It is impossible to focus only on one thing at Gallery 18. The shop is crammed (but very clean), so it is easy for the mind to wander from the bookshelves to the walls where maps and other prints are hanging and then back again.

The books are mostly modern first editions of Canadian and Island authors. In the Laurier collection, for example, is a first edition of Bonheur d'Occasion by Gabrielle Roy. What Aubrey Bell would like to find, of course, is a first edition, first impression of Anne of Green Gables, like the one that sold for seventeen thousand U.S. dollars in Boston recently.

The Laurier collection has been selling well. So far collectors from the Island and America have purchased items, as have members of the Laurier family. One book was purchased by someone from Norway. But there are still many books available.

The world of antiques and collectibles, says Aubrey Bell, is now a buyer's market, for the simple reason that the Internet allows collectors to pursue the treasures they are seeking all around the globe. In fact, the Internet now sets the pricing standards shops like Gallery 18 must meet to be competitive.

One consequence is that the quiet winter afternoon in Island shops may not be half as quiet as it seems to be to people dropping in to browse and talk. Out back, upstairs-wherever-someone is still busy serving customers online.

Double Whammy

If You're Stronghearted & Zoe Vs. The Devil

Review by Michael Oliver

In January, two one-act plays written and directed by Charlottetown Rural High School student Alix MacLean delighted audiences at Beaconsfield Carriage House .

If You're Stronghearted and Zoe Vs. The Devil both depict the world of adolescence with a sympathetic vision of its problems and a vivid understanding of its hopefulness. The bright young company assembled by MacLean performed both plays with humour, verve, and likable simplicity.

If You're Stronghearted is based on Milton Acorn's poem by that name. "I don't like poetry, but this is kinda cool," says the student Ilsa, played by Dawn Doiron, in the finest scene of this fine play. Doiron's intensity is matched by Wade Lynch's pomposity as the bitter teacher Mr. Matthews who keeps rambling on and on about the times he talked with Acorn-failing utterly to teach the poem.

Ilsa and her two friends Daphne and Fletcher, played by the author MacLean and Colin MacDonald, are left to find the meaning of the poem on their own. The meaning they discover is the play itself, a parable of friendship in diversity. These students-and the author-find the message they desire in the poem. Never mind the fact that their interpretation is far-fetched; the point is that they find it for themselves.

If You're Stronghearted is a better crafted play than Zoe Vs. The Devil, perhaps because MacLean is deeply fond of Acorn's poetry, and this was not the first production of the play. In fact, If You're Stronghearted was presented last year at the Eastern School District Drama Festival.

Zoe Vs. The Devil has too many characters and far too broad a theme-normality in adolescence is the working of the Devil-for a one-act play. And yet it has its bright spots. Best of all is making Satan and his human adversary out to be two teenage girls, played with stylish wit by Dawn Doiron and Diana Love. The author is not preaching feminism in these plays. It seems there is no need. The girls assume heroic functions without any fuss-suggesting that this is the proper scheme of things. This means, of course, the boys in these two plays are somewhat vague and wimpy. Fletcher, for example, in If You're Stronhearted, is intended to be funny, but perhaps his type is common nowadays, so it is easy for MacLean to upset gender roles.

In Zoe Vs. The Devil all the players were convincing, even in the least demanding parts. Ian Dunsford, Whitney Kelly, Alana Reddin, Jason Gus MacDonald, and Heather Stewart rounded out the story but had little opportunity to shine within the limitations of their roles.

Alix MacLean will no doubt keep on writing dramas. What is promising about her work is that it is not centred totally upon herself. If You're Stronghearted and Zoe Vs. The Devil both exhibit two strong roles for girls, not just one part to serve as mouthpiece for the author, as so often happens in the theatre. What MacLean should work on is the structure of her dramas. If You're Stronghearted and Zoe Vs. The Devil both build up suspense, but this is often broken awkwardly by scene shifts taking too much time. Especially in one-act plays there always must be something happening onstage to hold the built-up tension in the audience.

And yet, quite rightly so, the audience at Beaconsfield was mainly interested in appreciating all the fine young talent on display in these two entertaining plays.

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