Pat Chadaway

Theatre Founder, Actor & Producer

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Published, EAC Communiqué, March 1986

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at Chataway is undeniably identified with Community Theatre. The word “community” underlines Pat’s conviction that amateur theatre is recreation as well as creation, that within its disciplines there is place for everyone. Energetic, charming, tenacious, she has involved an amazing cross-section of local people in groups she initiated here: the “Elora Community Theatre” and  “Children’s Drama Club”. Occasionally, memorably, she goes on stage herself, but she has not needed theatre for drama in her own life. 

Pat was born in the Himalayas of a British family many generations in India. Her father was an army officer on the North West Frontier, her mother an opera singer who contributed much to Pat’s love of the stage. As a child she remembers acting out history with brothers and sisters, riding into battle as Queen Boadicea on a chair. Brought to England by the advent of the Great War, Pat had little formal education until the age of ten, when she attended a well loved convent boarding school. There she learned stagecraft, participating in three major productions a year. Summer holidays reflected her lifelong love of adventure: sailing, camping on Dartmoor, archaeological digs, French with cousins in Normandy. A storybook childhood. 

Knowing Pat today, it is easy to appreciate that her deep interest in people and sense of service led her to choose nursing as a career over archaeology. At the age of nine she had decided she must go to Kenya. On graduation, with additional certificates in midwifery, she joined a group based in Nairobi dedicated to nursing people in the outlying areas of East Africa. This was a remarkably responsible, independent, and adventurous life for a young girl in the 1930s. Pat flew cross-country in bi-planes, delivered babies in outposts and learned Swahili. It was here she met her Canadian husband Harold, a surgeon with the Colonial Medical Service. 

In 1947, after hectic war years in the port city of Mombasa, Harold and Pat came to Canada seeking a secure future for their three children. They loved the West Coast and the sea. Harold took up practice on Vancouver Island, and Pat started a very successful theatre group in their village of Lantzville, made up of enthusiastic loggers and fishermen, their wives and sweethearts. A true community involvement. 

Pat’s children began to move east for school by 1959. When her husband Harold died, Pat spent a few years more years out west, working as librarian, driving a bookmobile the length of Vancouver Island. Then she moved to Toronto. 

One weekend in 1967, Pat, her daughter Nancy Knudstrup and son-in-law Peter drove through Elora, saw the abandoned Chalmer’s Church on Henderson Street, and bought it that very day for Peter and Nancy’s Pottery. Amid renovations, Pat helped with the small grandchildren. Elora, with its influx of artists and artisans was exciting: what a great placeto start a community theatre!

Fourteen years of stage productions have passed. Pat’s austere senior’s apartment continues to be a workshop of costumes, papier maché and props. Its few decorations are meaningful, but reflect an increasingly simplified life: three watercolours of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi face a radiantly spiritual painting by Elora artist John Haas. Between is a wall of bright windows, with plants, flowers and tomatoes, tended as carefully as stage crews or neighbours. From this base Pat continues to venture and achieve. Behind the graciousness and beauty, one senses determination. “Women’s lib?” Pat says, “I always lived as if women were liberated.”

by Beverley Cairns, March 1986

Elora, with its influx of artists and artisans was exciting: what a great place to start a community theatre!

IN MEMORIAM – 1991

In December 1991, Pat Chataway died while still actively involved in her beloved theatre and the community life of Elora. In 1992, a posthumous award made Pat the first Elora ‘Citizen of the Year’. Her influence was strong in bringing about the acquisition of Theatre On The Grand in Fergus by Hugh and Lorraine Drew Brook. Pat would certainly rejoice in the fine renovations of this building, its year-round theatre productions, and the growth and success of the Elora Community Theatre in recent years.