Final Act at The Red Barn

Jackson's Point, Ontario Canada. Firefighters from the Georgina Fire Department battle to keep the fire at The Red Barn Theatre from spreading to the surrounding brush and nearby senior's residence. In the end all that survives the fire is the barn's signature silo. ©Peter Sibbald, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Last night The Red Barn Theatre gave it’s final performance. To an audience of fewer than one hundred, mostly comprised of family, Briars Resort employees, friends, neighbours, Georgina Mayor Rob Grossi and over 30 fire fighters of the Georgina Fire Department, the Red Barn —my family’s barn— in its final and arguably most spectacular performance, burned to the ground.

Theatre historian David Gardner is researching the history of the Red Barn and a small synopsis of his research into The Barn’s illustrious history can be found on the Red Barn Theatre web site at . Originally erected in the early 1800s and rebuilt by my Great-Great Uncle Frank Sibbald in the 1870s to be the family barn attached to The Briars, then being run as a farm, The Barn—as it has simply come to be known—has played stage to nearly everyone who was anyone in the Canadian theatre and music scene for 59 years.  This was to have been its 60th season. Created as a theatre by Toronto-born actor Alfred Mulock in the spring of 1949, and leased from my grandfather Jack Sibbald, then Reeve of Georgina for $1.00, The Red Barn was one of the first professional summer theatres in Canada, predating even the Stratford and Shaw festivals.

Like so many Canadian cultural institutions, The Barn has always operated very close to, or below the line. From Brian Doherty in 1950, who would go on to found The Shaw Festival, Vern Chapman who would become the President of Canadian Actor’s Equity through Bill Glassco who would found Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, The Barn has run through a tumultuous history of financial struggle from the first season onward. Management was finally somewhat stabilized when it was transferred to the not-for-profit Lake Simcoe Arts Foundation, founded by my father John Sibbald in 1973. Under their auspices, and a series of professional theatre managers and artistic directors, The Barn has been the labour of love for a small army of volunteers and a grateful recipient of Town of Georgina and provincial arts funding. Throughout the theatre’s history and for all but a few years in the early 1960s, the Red Barn Theatre and surrounding 7½ -acre property has been owned and its use donated by Briars Estates Limited of the Sibbald family.

From 1986 to 2007, The Barn played home to the Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf tournament gala performances when Canada’s household names gave generously of their talents to help Peter Gzowski realize his intention to “raise a few bucks” for literacy, fund-raising for Frontier College. Celebrities have included Peter Mansbridge, Loreena McKennitt, Valdy, Natalie McMaster, The Barenaked Ladies, Laura Smith, Ashley MacIsaac, Cynthia Dale, Murray McLauchlan, Pamela Wallin, John McDermott, Susan Aglukark, Ron Maclean, Tom Jackson, and Shelagh Rogers along with Poets Laureates Tim Findlay, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee and Sheree Fitch, to name but a very small few.

If the barn was lost, the Georgina Fire Department nonetheless successfully managed to contain the blaze, keeping it from spreading to the neighbouring field, woodlands and senior’s complex. York Regional Police have secured the site, and the Ontario Fire Marshall is on the scene and has begun his investigation. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

As neighbours and volunteers wept in the waning glow of the fire at the periphery of the property, murmurs of renewed fund-raising efforts, rebuilding and “the show must go on” could be heard in the semi-darkness. Plans for the upcoming season remain undetermined.


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  1. Jamie Laidlaw


    This is devastating for all of us but especially your parents. So much for so many years…..

    Thank you for your posting.

    Best wishes

    Jamie Laidlaw

    April 19, 2009
  2. Lorne Merkur

    And great run she had. The loss of the Red Barn is a blow to all it’s supporters and the community.
    I hope that live theatre in the area will continue – even without the Red Barn.

    April 19, 2009
  3. Stuart Green

    Really too bad. I hope something can rise from the ashes.

    April 19, 2009
  4. Carolyn & Monty Knight


    April 19, 2009
  5. Ted Rowney

    For such a great old place which stood for decades to then be gone in a matter of hours, is a real tragedy. All my best to the Sibbalds and to the supporters of the Red Barn.

    Ted Rowney

    April 19, 2009
  6. Peter

    My brother Hugh has posted the following statement on behalf of the Sibbald family:

    The Briars, Jackson’s Point, Lake Simcoe

    Sunday April 19, 2009

    Expressions of sadness and hope

    We are saddened that last night the Red Barn Theatre burned down. Our family wants to thank the Georgina Fire Department for their prompt response and expert work in preventing the fire from spreading, and the York Region Police for assuring public safety. There are a few sections still standing; all but perhaps the silo may have to come down after the investigation is completed. As is usual with fires, the authorities are investigating and ask people to stay away today.

    We would also like to thank the many people who have called to express their sorrow and their support. We have heard – directly and through friends – of the expressions of shock, sorrow and support of neighbours, community members, members of the arts community, past and present volunteers, theatre goers – from across Canada and as far away as Japan. Many have expressed hope that the theatre will be rebuilt on the site.

    The Sibbald family hopes to see the theatre rebuilt here and is discussing the establishment of a fund to support the cause.

    The Lake Simcoe Arts Foundation intends to continue this season, the theatre’s Diamond Celebration, but it is far too early to provide you with any plans.

    This 1883 barn became a summer theatre over sixty years ago. It is Canada’s oldest professional summer theatre. It is an icon in Canadian theatre and a treasure in Georgina. The Barn is the Sibbald family barn. With the Barn intact, we understand The Briars was the only estate in Ontario that had all its original buildings in place. It is a loss for all, but we are truly grateful that no one was injured.

    Peter Sibbald has established a blog which you can visit for a short history and photographs at <>

    Please direct media requests to Hugh Sibbald at The Briars 905-722-3271

    We thank you for your continued support.

    The Sibbald family

    April 20, 2009
  7. Michael MacLennan

    It is such a sad loss for the family, residents and the entire arts community. I hope to see this treasure re-built for future generations to enjoy.

    April 20, 2009
  8. Stuart McGowan

    I too am saddened at the burning of the Red Barn. Having been from the area and been involved with it so closely many years ago, it is a tragedy.
    I am now in Alberta but I will be closely following this story.

    I hope there is some way that it can be rebuilt/restored.

    It is too great a piece of the local history to be lost in such a way.

    April 20, 2009
  9. Brenda Muller

    On Saturday night I stood by the old Mossington Park Bridge ( the Blue Bridge of our festival) and watched the smoke from the Red Barn drift over Jackson’s Point until it seemed to pause over Lake Simcoe – watching what seemed to me to be the rich, robust spirit of an era drifting majestically before the footlights provided by the lit houses and streets on the Point. I can only hope that the sleeping town sensed that spirit passing overhead somewhere deep in their dreams, and awoke inspired, and perahaps slightly in awe, of the many years of creative work that was the heart of the Red Barn Theatre. I also hope they realise what a vacuum its absence will create, and how much was truly lost symbolically by its burning.

    I find myself remembering the old saying: “It’s not the house that builds the home- it’s the people that live inside.” Will the creativity that built the barn find people to dwell in, to provide a safe haven from the fire in, in our community? I think that is the true challenge that faces us in these times, when all too often artists become scapegoats for the ills that surround us, and culture is seen as a waste of money.

    You can’t have community without culture, nor can you have culture without community. The venue (and it’s ongoing support) was a great gift from the Sibbald Family to the town, and I am heartened hear this community’s conversation turn to re-building the barn, and to thereby honour the investment they have also made in the theatre. Perhaps the process of rebuiding will also re-vitalise our town’s spirit, and help us all to learn to value the focus, meaning, dignity and vision that culture brings to each of us who live here.

    April 20, 2009
  10. Lee Wilson

    I am a consultant to the Board of Directors and I look forward to meeting the challenges ahead to ensure The Barn’s ‘re-birth’ and longevity to the next generation. Resurgence Theatre in Newmarket has already discussed the possibility of offering a ‘temporary’ venue under their tent at Fairy Lake to make sure the full season is not in jeopardy. The show must go on!!!

    April 20, 2009
  11. Catherine Brydon

    Please convey my sadness to John and Barbara Sibbald. It must seem like the death of a family member. Please know that many others share memories of happier days at the Barn and wish you well at this time.

    Cathy Brydon
    Holland Landing

    April 20, 2009
  12. Dianne Sullivan

    How sad! I can remember going to a Show with my Parents it was Wonderful. Everytime you drove thru Jacskon’s Point you always saw the Red Barn. Please convey to the Sibbald family how sorry we are. I am so sad I feel like I lost a Friend.

    April 20, 2009
  13. Liz McIntosh

    I was so sad to read about the fire. I know my parents would have been devastated, as they spent so many happy times at the Briars and going to the Red Barn. My thoughts are with the theatre company, the Sibbald family and the community of Jackson’s Point. Good luck in rebuilding.

    April 20, 2009