Summerland’s George Ryga house up for sale

The former home of playwright George Ryga, for many years a literary landmark, is now up for sale.

Acclaimed musicians Roy Forbes

The former home of playwright George Ryga, for many years a literary landmark, is now up for sale.

Keith Ferlin, chair of the George Ryga Centre Society, said the society does not have enough money to maintain the aging house on Caldwell Street. The asking price is $437,000. The house has been designated as a heritage building and as a result, the new owner cannot have it taken down and cannot make drastic modifications to the building.

“You have to leave the exterior as it is,” Ferlin said.

Ryga lived in Summerland from 1962 until his death in 1987 at the age of 55. The majority of his plays were written in the house. Ryga was a pioneer in establishing modern Canadian theatre. His most famous play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, was written in 1967 and has become a modern classic, taught in post-secondary institutions worldwide.

Other plays include Grass and Wild Strawberries, Captives of the Faceless Drummer and Hungry Hills. Another book, Summerland, contains unpublished selections from stories, plays, poems, novels and essays written while he lived here.

The centre was established in February, 1996 and functioned as a cultural centre and occasional writers’ retreat until early 2012. Over the years, the Ryga Centre held concerts and workshops with Bill Henderson, Roy Forbes, Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard.

Peter Hay, a former publisher who worked with Ryga, said efforts were made to keep the house as a cultural centre. Three years ago, the society had looked to have Okanagan College to take over the house, but this plan fell through.

“Okanagan College was the only viable solution,” Hay said.

Ferlin said the response to the Ryga Centre in Summerland had not been enthusiastic.

“This community was never going to embrace the centre,” he said.

While the society is folding, Ferlin and Hay said they want to ensure Ryga’s legacy continues. Once the house is sold and the bills paid, the remainder of the money will likely go to a foundation to fund a scholarship in Ryga’s honour.

Ferlin said Ryga was able to get his start as a writer when he received a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta. Ryga’s legacy is also being honoured through the annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.

The award, initiated by the George Ryga Society, B.C. BookWorld, CBC Radio in Kelowna and Okanagan College, has been presented annually since 2003. It is given to a B.C. writer who has achieved an outstanding degree of social awareness in a new book.

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