In Memory: Doug Huggins

Doug Huggins was many things — a gifted architect, a potter of merit, a dear father, a devoted husband, and a very proud grandfather and great-grandfather.

He was an enthusiast, instrumental in cultivating the theatre scene in Vernon and the province of BC.

He was a Past-President of Theatre BC 1968-1970, as well as a Life Member and a recipient of the prestigious Eric Hamber trophy.

Huggins, a founding member of Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre, passed away on April 9, 2018 in his Lower Mainland home at 95-years-old.

“Doug was a great mentor for me.” said Sarah ”Scotty” McLean.

Huggins relocated to Vernon with his wife Mary from the UK in the 1950s.

An architect by profession, Huggins and business-partner Drew Allen were approached by City Council in 1962 when the building, that would later become the home of Powerhouse Theatre, was slated for demolition. They were asked to see if it could be salvaged and used for a fire hall,” “The answer was “No, it would make a lousy fire hall, but it would make a wonderful theatre.’”

While Huggins and Allen hadn’t set out to create a theatre at the time, as it seemed too wild a dream, the enthusiasts were enamoured with the building. Vernon Little Theatre and the Theatrical Arts Centre moved in and would eventually become what is now the Powerhouse Theatre.

Formerly a power station, which was covered in vines, Huggins and Allen redesigned the building and came up with the concept for the iconic Vernon building as a theatre.

According to fellow founding member Lorraine Allum, the 75 team members who worked on the transformation of the building were involved in the opening production. “Everybody who worked on it, was given a part,” Allum said. “Whether they wanted it or not,” laughed McLean.

“On the evening of Nov. 23, 1963, the Powerhouse Theatre opened with a production of Jean Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot, directed by Paddy Malcolm, and the set designed by Doug Huggins.

Since that original performance, the curtains have continued to open for more than 50 years, with the final performance this season, Calendar Girls

Huggins’ impact on the industry extends beyond the confines of Powerhouse Theatre.  Throughout the years his design talents extended to many other theatre companies.

Many of the sets he designed have won provincial awards,” McLean said. He was so dedicated to theatre that he continued to design sets well into his 90s.

“Theatre was a passion for Doug. He designed many, many, many sets for sure,” Allum said.

She credits Doug and Mary Huggins as the two who taught her everything she knows about theatre.

“They really push you to your limit to get the best out of you,” McLean said.

Huggins’ architectural work is also seen in various locations across the city. City Hall, the RCMP building, The Fire Hall, the former Library and Museum are a few of his legacies..

“His work is embedded in the clay of Vernon,” Allum said, adding that Huggins was a theatre consultant in the formation of the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.

“His contribution to the city is major and his contribution to Powerhouse exists because of people like him.”Because of Huggins’ hard work, Allum said, it gave theatre buffs an outlet in Vernon

“A theatre is only a building and is of no value without the human resources to fill it and bring it to life,” Huggins wrote. “Our aim is that the Powerhouse Theatre, with its advanced and excellent physical resources, will continue to attract the people of this community in providing high standard of live theatre.”

Huggins is survived by his wife Mary, sons Michael and Peter, his daughter Susan Sambol, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He will be remembered by all for his contribution to Powerhouse Theatre, the City of Vernon, and the province of British Columbia.

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