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A $350,000 donation green lights Aud seating project

A donation from Tundra Oil & Gas to Virden Auditorium Restoration Committee means the seat project can move forward

A project to renew the seating in Virden’s signature venue, the historic Aud Theatre, has received a donation from Tundra Oil & Gas that now allows the Virden Auditorium Restoration Committee to set the renovation in motion.

On Friday, April 5, representatives from Tundra’s Virden office, Craig Lane, Jason Lewis and Brenda Orr met with the Aud Theatre Board members and presented the Virden Auditorium Theatre Restoration Committee with a $350,000 donation from Tundra Oil & Gas.

With a slight gasp, Aud Theatre Board chairperson Jean Anne Overand reacted to the donation calling it “spectacular.” She said this now opens the door to “finding out whether the people who are actually doing the restoration work can do it this summer, what the timeline is.”

It was Dec. 18, 2022 at the Christmas concert in the Aud where Overand first introduced the idea of replacing the theatre’s seats.

Virden’s theatre goers were surveyed. Knowing the price tag would be hefty, the board wanted to hear people’s thoughts about the project, replace the seats, fix them instead, those sorts of questions.

By the 2023 Christmas concert it was evident there was a will and a way. After Virden’s Emily Cochrane finished her performance at Christmas in the Aud, the board vice chair and emcee for the concert, Brad Hayward explained steps that had been taken. Plan drawings were the beginning. Cochrane completed her first degree in architecture and had worked during the summer with LM esp, a Winnipeg architectural and interior design company to produce preliminary plans. The board hoped work could begin in the spring of 2024.

By this spring, the restoration committee had raised upwards of $50,000 between the SMILE Cookie campaign, the Canada Walk of Fame event and a donation by former Virdenite and philanthropist Jim Treliving.

Considering resources available in a restoration fund the board had about $60,000 in start-up money available this spring toward the $500,000 seat project budget.

But following Tundra’s donation announcement, Hayward stated, “We’re ready to go! This allows us to move forward. I’ve made phone calls to the architect which will start the official process.”

Almost all the footwork has been done in preparation for this moment, including applications to government agencies, particularly approval for renovations within the historic designation. The restoration committee has been busy with a raft of paperwork including their application to Tundra through the Richardson Foundation. Still, the generosity of the donation was a welcome surprise.

Virden is home for many Tundra employees, with more than 200 staff living and working in the area. So when Tundra was approached with plans to replace the century-old seating at the theatre, they saw it as an ideal candidate for the support of the Richardson Foundation.

“We are honoured to be part of the rejuvenation of this iconic building which has provided access to performing arts for more than five generations,” commented Jane Mactaggart, President and CEO of Tundra Oil & Gas. “It has a very special place in the community, where parents, grandparents, and now their children, can come to both perform and enjoy the arts. We know this funding will help to ensure that generations to come will have the opportunity to experience The Aud.”

“It’s a wonderful thing to have the Richardson Foundation so supportive of the Aud,” said Hayward adding that they’ve been strong supporters within the community and to the Aud, the theatre’s grand piano being another example of the Richardson Foundation’s generosity.

After a century of being sat on, the brackets that held the seat cushions in place began to break down. The board knew they had a decision to make and they decided on three main priorities: maintaining the historic character of the theatre, optimizing the number of seats and providing comfort for the audience.

Hayward said, “You have to check off the boxes. We’ve already got the $5,000 grant to help us with the architectural part of it.” The Town of Virden owns the theatre and they provided that grant.

About a decade ago the Aud was designated a Municipal Heritage Site, meaning that a Municipal Heritage Permit had to be obtained before the site could be altered, renovated, enlarged or developed. The Restoration Committee worked with the heritage organization from the start, which proved to be very helpful to the process, Hayward explained.

“They have a job to do too, which is taking into consideration the historical components of the building, which was always part of our mandate as well. The seats are actually part of what’s historical in this building, so the overall building itself, but inside it, the [stage] curtain is historical, the [loge] boxes are historical and the seats are all historical.”

The hardware that holds the seats together will be replaced, including the cast brackets. The seats will become wider to accommodate comfortable new seat cushions. Modification will maintain original seat backs which will be reupholstered to match the seats. Refinished wood parts on the backs and arms will make the new seats look and feel amazing.

When the seats are out, the floor will be sanded, the cracks will be filled and an epoxy coating will bring the antique wood back to life.

Overand says there are several skilled trades involved in this renovation. The board hopes the work can begin in May and conclude by mid-October, but with two levels of seating, it could be done in stages if necessary.

The Virden Lions Club has already contributed toward the project, and with a start of $60,000, the added $350,000, and further funds that have been applied for through local Foundations, the Aud Board will commence local fundraising by the end of April.

About Richardson Foundation

The Richardson Foundation helps registered Canadian charitable organizations achieve their goals by providing meaningful funding that will enrich the lives of the people in the communities served by James Richardson & Sons, Ltd. and its affiliated companies, such as Tundra Oil & Gas. Through the foundation, established in 1967, Tundra has invested more than $1.35 million in the communities in the past five years.

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