Douglas MacEwan was a 19-year-old member of the Royal Canadian Air Force when he saw his first theatre and ballet shows in London, England, and it changed his life.
“It had a profound effect on me,” the retired doctor told CBC News.
Since then, he’s been a fervent supporter of Winnipeg’s arts scene, taking in as many local theatre, opera, ballet and symphony shows as he can.
Now, at 95, the good doctor’s doing what he can — walking a kilometre a day — to keep Winnipeg’s major performing arts institutions alive, as the COVID-19 pandemic casts a dark shadow over the city’s stages.
Walking poles in hand, MacEwan steadily makes his way through Tuxedo’s leafy autumn streets.
Since early August, he’s been walking one kilometre each day, joined by friends and family.
But today is a bit different. He’s flanked by the heads of some of Winnipeg’s leading performing arts institutions.
His daily walks started when a donor — who wished to stay anonymous — wrote him a letter offering up to $100,000 for the cause of his choice, but it came with a few conditions.
MacEwan would have to walk a kilometre per day for the 96 days leading up to his 96th birthday on Nov. 11. For each kilometre he would get $500, and for every day someone joined him on the walk, he’d get another $500. And if he raises the full $96,000 it adds up to, the donor will top it up to $100,000.
MacEwan, an avid walker, happily took on the challenge, and the cause was a no-brainer.
He wants the money to be split between the Manitoba Opera, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
“I think it’s very important that the arts groups get this support,” he said.
“If we don’t support them, they’ll get in trouble and we’ll all suffer.”
‘This is about surviving’
Kelly Thornton, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s artistic director, came along for the walk.
Thornton knows just how much every dollar counts right now, even for big arts institutions like hers.
“We have huge overhead, we have huge staffs,” she said.
“There are so many passionate theatre lovers and arts lovers in this city that have rallied around us, and realized that if we don’t, we may not be here when it’s all said and done. This is about the long game. This is about us surviving.”
Other folks who’ve gotten word of MacEwan’s walks have also chipped in donations to the cause, he said, so if he does raise the full $100,000, there will be even more money waiting for the arts at the finish line.
There’s still another 57 days until MacEwan crosses the finish line on Nov. 11, but in the meantime, the retired doctor has some sage advice to help Winnipeggers keep healthy and happy during the pandemic.
“Get out and walk,” he said.
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