Eva Cleland’s daughter Marylin Barnay (left) and president Karen Collins of the Penticton branch of the Okanagan Historical Society, who has been researching the Chautauqua Girl.                                Mark Brett/Western News

Eva Cleland’s daughter Marylin Barnay (left) and president Karen Collins of the Penticton branch of the Okanagan Historical Society, who has been researching the Chautauqua Girl. Mark Brett/Western News

Okanagan’s first lady of the arts

Eva (Sheere) Cleland, Penticton’s first lady of the arts and the woman known as the city’s own Chautauqua Girl.

A touch of drama, a glimpse of faraway places and a sense of magic.

That was how Eva (Sheere) Cleland, Penticton’s first lady of the arts and the woman known as the city’s own Chautauqua Girl, described the travelling road show she helped bring to the community in the 1920’s.

Born in the little town of Moosomin, Sask. in 1901, one of five daughters of Charles and Emma Sheere, Eva was destined for greatness in the world of the arts.

While small in stature, Eva’s boundless energy and enthusiasm eventually took her to the Big Apple before marrying her Penticton husband, Eugene Hugh Cleland in Manhattan in 1935 and eventually moving to B.C.

But it was with Chautauqua Canada, which she joined at the age of 25, Eva’s career blossomed, working as a marketing agent.

Originating in Lake Chautauqua, N.Y., Chautauqua was a travelling institution which eventually made its way to Canada in 1917.

In the spring and summer months the large brown tents were set up and a festive air would envelop the city as the performers, lecturers, actors and others brought their unique talents to town for several days.

The following is an excerpt from a Penticton program for Chautauqua about one of the showcase events.

We say, without fear of successful contradiction, that Pamahasika’s Pets constitute the best company of trained birds, dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals ever presented in a single programme.

It was on one of Eva’s pre-Chautauqua visits to Penticton she met the man she would eventually marry.

“Hugh was in charge of escorting Eva around town and they eventually went on a date and went to a movie at the Empress Theatre (now the Lloyd Gallery on Front Street)” said president Karen Collins of the Penticton Branch of the Okanagan Historical Society who has been researching Eva’s life.

Eva’s daughter Marylin Barnay remembers the story her mother told her about that first date.

“She told me there was a flood at the time but the movie was still on,” said Barnay. “They had put down planks into the movie theatre and they walked across those and that was the beginning of a wonderful romance.”

After leaving Chautauqua, Eva gained even more experience in her chosen field when she was hired by the National Music League in New York City, where she worked with aspiring artists.

Moving to Penticton following her 1935 wedding, Eva wasted no time picking up where she left off.

“It really is an amazing story of this little lady who came to town and made a difference,” said Collins. “She was just a little bit of a thing but she just did so much to help people realize what they were capable of.

“I think the philosophy behind Chautauqua is what gave her 60 years of doing amazing things for arts and culture in Penticton and the entire Okanagan Valley.”

One of the first things Eva began working on was the Okanagan Music Festival what has since become the Penticton Kiwanis Music Festival.

At the time it was a tri-city affair with Penticton, Vernon and Kelowna hosting the event in alternating years.

“She was amazing, amazing. She saw the valley as one big town with three theatres,” recalled Barnay. “She got all us kids working, I remember the music festival days would start at eight in the morning and finished after midnight.

“She was always in action and very, very nice and even tempered. And very polite.”

Eva was also instrumental in the formation and continued success of a wide range of other events and organizations.

Those included the Penticton and Community Arts Council, the Okanagan Mainline Regional Arts Council which was a model for the province, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and the Okanagan Arm of the Community Concert Society.

Patterned somewhat after Chautauqua, was her Okanagan Image, a traveling visual and performing arts event which commissioned works and visited other parts of the province.

Also, at the provincial level, she worked on a policy for the arts.

Word of her achievements spread beyond B.C. and in June of 1988 she went to Ottawa where she received the Diplome d’honneur, Canada’s most prestigious arts award.

At the time it was written: “Eva Cleland is a pioneer in the development of the arts in Canada. Her vision, leadership and determination have been a major force in the flowering of the arts throughout the province of British Columbia.”

In July of 1995 the Penticton Community Theatre was renamed the Cleland Theatre for the Performing Arts in her honour.

Penticton’s Chautauqua Girl died in 1996 but Barnay believes her mother’s legacy will live on through Eva’s own sense of magic and that glimpse of faraway places she has left for others to share.

Arts

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victory Church homeless shelter had the highest calls for police service above everywhere else, at 290 calls for service, in the first three months of the year. (Jesse Day Western News)
UPDATE: Human error doubled data about calls for police to Penticton’s homeless shelters

Police have now partnered with Interior Health to have a nurse come with them to calls

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Fun in Penticton is being promoted through banners going up along Main and Westminster. (Suzanne White Western News)
Banners go up in downtown celebrating fun in Penticton

From beach or biking time to dining or shopping, the banners promote things to do

(File photo)
Penticton, Summerland RCMP having success with online crime reporting

They have also added new crimes that can be reported online

Parkway Elementary Gr. 4 and 5 students have created an art project displayed for sale at businesses around Penticton with money raised going back to the school, local charity and internationally. (Submitted)
Penticton elementary students artwork displayed around Penticton

Parkway Elementary Grade 4/5s have art at Lakeside Resort, Blendz and Dragon’s Den

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

(Kingfisher Boats photo)
In the market for a boat in the North Okanagan? Be prepared to wait

Vernon’s Kingfisher Boats is out of 2021 models, with many 2022 models already pre-sold

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

George Ryga, considered by many as Canada’s most important English playwright lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987. He is the inspiration for the annual Ryga Arts Festival. (Contributed)
Summerland archive established for George Ryga

Renowned author wrote novels, poetry, stage plays and screen plays from Summerland home

Grizzly bear. (File)
Malakwa man bitten by grizzly bear on dog walk

The man and dogs were not seriously injured

Most Read