Story and photos by Michelle McChristie

photo (37)Mario Crudo, left, and Arnold Westlake burning Magnus’ mortgage

Thanks to a generous donation from the Westlake family, Magnus Theatre is mortgage free. The announcement was made today during a reception at the theatre and was met by theatre staff and supporters with gratitude and a renewed sense of optimism. “After many years of striving to raise funds to complete its capital campaign to pay for its new home in Waverly Park, Magnus is finally debt free!” exclaimed Mario Crudo, artistic director. Mr. Arnold Westlake spoke on behalf of his family and, with Crudo, unveiled the new sign proclaiming “The Margaret Westlake Magnus Theatre Auditorium.”

photo (38)One of two plaques commemorating the Westlake family’s gift

“This donation is an affirmation of the importance of arts in Thunder Bay and an affirmation of Magnus Theatre as a key arts organization in Northwestern Ontario,” said Tracie Smith, president of Magnus’ Board of Directors, “Further it is an expression of a true love of the arts and an understanding of the value of theatre in contributing to the quality of live in our community; we are incredible grateful for this very generous gift.”

photo (39)From left to right: Bonnie Anderson, board member; Norma Chuchmuch, general manager and Arnold Westlake

It was the late Margaret Westlake’s true love of the arts that sealed her family’s decision to donate to Magnus Theatre in her honour. When Arnold Westlake suggested to his wife Margaret that they relocate to Thunder Bay from Toronto, she was hesitant, “it was the cultural life that attracted us to Thunder Bay: the art gallery, the symphony and Magnus Theatre, which was then located in the East End,” said Arnold Westlake. That was in the mid-1970s and Westlake was working as a “Bay Street banker,” but looking north to work as a Canadian Tire dealer. “We had a talk, as husbands and wives do, and Margaret finally said, ‘Okay – we’ll go up for about three years, for the experience.’ But by the time three years came around, I couldn’t pry her away,” said Westlake. By this time, Margaret had immersed herself in the local arts and culture scene and as their business grew more self-sustaining, she was able to focus on her own interests.

The Westlake’s operated the Canadian Tire store located in County Fair Plaza from 1976-1991 and then retired in Niagara-on-the-Lake, “another theatre community,” said Westlake. They have two sons, Bruce who also attended the reception, and David who works for the Shaw Festival. Margaret Westlake passed away in 2012 and, in addition to a 23-year career in nursing prior to moving to Thunder Bay, was a dedicated mother and grandmother that loved travel, reading, visual arts, theatre and music. Her memory will live on in our community thanks to the Westlake’s family heartfelt generosity.