Giving voice through the arts, the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts is a unique institution in Canada,
bringing together the best in arts education for youth with community and professional artist programs. We are multidisciplinary, multicultural, and multigenerational.
The Ross Creek Centre grew out of Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, which was a touring company founded in 1992 by Ken Schwartz and Chris O’Neill. The Centre was developed in response to a need we saw in the wider community for connection between young people and high quality arts education, and for a residency that brought artists together in a retreat setting. We knew when we began the theatre that we wanted to share our stories with the world through theatre, and eventually to bring the world to rural NS.
In 1998, Co-founder Chris O’Neill turned her attention from the theatre to founding the arts centre, and the board of directors formed an arts centre committee. There was a two year search from the perfect property, one that would see visitors driving through the village of Canning, which was close to Wolfville and its attendant Acadia University, and less than 1.5 hours from Halifax with its international airport.
We finally found the perfect place in 2000 – a cattle farm that belonged to Lloyd and Wilma Ward, where they had raised their family for 38 years. Overlooking the Bay of Fundy and on 178 acres of field and forest, the Ward Farm had a large cattle barn, a farmhouse and a storage space (Quonset Hut) which would allow us to begin planning.
Once the organization purchased the property however, there was no infrastructure funding available for cultural organizations and they rented the farmhouse to Katimavik, a national youth engagement program, and started offering multidisciplinary arts daycamps in Canning’s old high school until we received our first private donations, and then multilevel public investment that allowed us to renovate and construct the main programming building that is our signature space.
We moved our arts day camps to the centre in 2004, and then brought the community together in 2006 to have a cabin-raising, creating bunkhouses which would allow us to host overnight programs.
In 2005, we launched Etlitoq, a cultural learning program for Indigenous Youth, taught by elders from across Mi’kmaqi.
We officially opened the centre in 2006, with a Mi’kmaq elder welcoming the community in front of Alan Syliboy’s painting of Blomidon Medicine Man Welcomes the World.
In 2007, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre changed its artistic mission to become our anchor tenant and the company in residence as it began to produce large-scale outdoor productions on the grounds of Ross Creek.
In 2010, we partnered with Dalhousie School of Architecture to host master’s students as they created our outdoor dining hall, the Lamella, as a thesis project.
That year, we also gratefully accepted a donation from the Garvey family of The Diogenes, a small boat which used to belong to the Canadian Navy, associated with the HMCS Bonaventure. It became the set for Rockbound, an award-wining production by Two Planks and a Passion Theatre and remains on site as an inspiration for students and artists alike.
Since then we have hosted thousands of youth for our March Break and SummerArts camps and school programs; community members of all ages for our arts workshops, gallery exhibits and community outreach and artists from around the world for our residency program.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we expanded our notion of cultural access by providing meals for some of the most vulnerable community members. That has inspired new community engagement and throughout the pandemic we learned new ways to ensure our programs, facilities and services are open to all.
Our permanent staff and our professional artist faculty and Two Planks performers now includes former students and we are developing new programs for The Ross Creek Annex, based in the Village of Canning.