Family connections to Powell River festival

Joan McDonald will be special guest at Festival of Performing Arts Celebration Concert

More than half the 75-year existence of Powell River Festival of the Performing Arts was under the auspices of Pythian Sisters, the first female organization founded locally in 1916. Their male counterparts, Knights of Pythias, founded in 1912, also assisted.

This year’s festival begins on Saturday, February 23, with piano sessions in James Hall at Powell River Academy of Music.

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One person eagerly looking forward to the festival is Joan McDonald, who as an adult served as secretary in addition to being a first-place winner of pianoforte as a girl in 1946. Her grandmother, mother and aunt Alice Mowbray were also members of Pythian Sisters. And her grandfather, father and uncle George Mowbray were Knights.

“I was secretary and my uncle was president,” remembered McDonald. Born in Powell River, she has lived here all her life.

“My aunt helped with the festival and my mother Irene Farnden for many years put up the numbers on the numbers board that announced the classification and participants in order of appearance,” said McDonald.

All the sessions were held in Dwight Hall, the largest venue at the time. Piano and singing had the highest registrations, and McDonald remembers Myrna Goddard being one of the best piano players.

“I sang in the Anglican Church Choir when Edward Linfoot was the minister and his wife was our director,” said McDonald. “The Glee Club sponsored by the credit union were very good but our church choir beat them one year. That felt great.”

Linfoot was also a member of the festival committee.

Asked what she enjoyed most about being secretary, McDonald responded, “I was happy to see how the youngsters developed. All of the kids were family of people I’d known for a long time. I also got a kick out of watching the parents' reaction as their children performed. I especially remember Chris Sheldon, who would mouth all the words of the song her daughter was singing.”

What she didn’t like was being asked to speak in public. “I was terribly nervous if there was some reason I had to get up say something.”

After nearly 40 years, the Pythian Sisters “were getting too old to carry on and a group of younger women took over.”

McDonald will be a special guest of the festival committee for both the Celebration Concert on Saturday, March 2, and the Grand Concert on Friday, March 8. They are being held at 7 pm in Evergreen Theatre.

For the past 17 years, The Rotary Club of Powell River with assistance from community volunteers has organized the festival.

A complete schedule of events can be found at

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