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Guelph backyard play brings John McCrae's famous poem to life

Guelph playwright uses McCrae House backyard to present play about the writing of John McCrae's famous poem

An audience sits quietly in the backyard of the childhood home of John McCrae in Guelph and they watch as he comes to life. 

It is spring 1915. England and Germany are at war and fighting in France. 

The play begins. 

McCrae sits wearily near the Ypres-Yser Canal in Belgium.

He had been at the French line for days under unrelenting German bombardment, the toll of the dead and wounded, horrifying.

He stares off into the distance. 

Standing in the sunlight, McCrae looks down at a grave. He mourns the death of his good friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, who was blown to pieces by a direct hit from a German shell. 

Despite the heavy artillery fire around him, he writes a 15-line poem. 

He recites, “In Flanders Fields”, a solemn lament of war and sacrifice. 

Now, in it’s sixth year, McCrae House Backyard Theatre returns for another summer with the play What I Gave, I Have.

The original work by local playwright Catherine Frid dramatizes the life of Guelph-born poet, soldier and doctor Lt.-Col. John McCrae, who wrote the famous First World War poem. 

“There haven’t been any biographical plays about John McCrae performed here before.  I wanted to bring the spirit of John McCrae alive and from his own backyard,” Frid said. 

“The play needed a strong director and a strong actor, and we got both. It just gelled. And it truly is magical being in the backyard of the McCrae House.”

The natural setting complimented a raw and emotional performance.  

The play features actor Bryndyn Boonstra who convincingly portrays McCrae, among six other supporting characters – a challenge for even the most experienced actor, according to the play’s director, Valerie Senyk.

For Frid, it was a challenge worth accepting. 

“I thought I knew a lot about John McCrae, but new research led me to appreciate even more the complexity and depth of this remarkable man,” she said.

“I was drawn to the power and simplicity of a one-man show, with one actor playing John McCrae and other characters important to his story.”