Stone re-building project will be a unique world class site – Part 1

One of the largest and most exciting stone re-building projects ever undertaken in North America is currently underway at Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) in Bruce County and when finished, it will be a unique North American world class site.

The dry stone walling project will see a major renovation over a number of years of what is known as the Amphitheatre at Saugeen Ojibwa Nation (SON).  When the project began, it was expected that it would take 10 years to complete.
   Historic Wesley United Church

The Amphitheatre is located outside of Southampton on the grounds where Wesley United Church, also built of stone, stands.  Tiered seating surrounds a stone stage patio and everywhere you look dry stone walls create one of the most picturesque sites anywhere.  It is so picturesque that many weddings are held in the Amphitheatre with its backdrop of the Saugeen River.

All photos by Saugeen Times
                                                             View from Wesley United Church
Begun in 1972, the theatre had seating for 1500 and took ten years to build with 900,000 tons of rock.  From the original theatre concept, it expanded to include terraced gardens, nature trails, a lily pond, beautiful trees, shrubs and flower beds.


Born at Holland Centre, Grey County in 1916,  Reverend Stotesbury was very familiar with rural Ontario and rural Saskatchewan where he worked in Esterhazy.  When he came to the Saugeen ‘reservation’ as the first ordained minister in almost 50 years to officiate at Wesley United Church, he realized that the people needed a friend as well as a preacher.

Looking out over the mighty Saugeen River from the church viewpoint, Stotesbury, who had studied classical Greek tales, remembered the amphitheatre concert of tiered seating overlooking a stage.  He saw that it could be set into the hill in front of the church with the river valley as a backdrop.

                                        View from the top of the former Amphitheatre

Money was scarce but, with his three-ton truck and a beam jack, he scrounged stone from old foundations, farmers’ fields and tobacco kilns not in use.  Many volunteers also donated time and/or materials, and although engineers told Stotesbury that it would cost $250,000 to build, he estimated it was built for less than $200,000.

The parking lot at the amphitheatre entrance was said to be the site of an ancient burial ground but, following an extensive archeological dig, no evidence was uncovered.

Reverend Stotesbury, retired in 1981, but kept busy working at the amphitheatre and gardens during the summer and was an honorary member of Saugeen First Nation band.

Today, the amphitheatre is undergoing a refurbishment that will not only restore the site’s stonework but is also teaching several of the Saugeen’s people a skilled trade as stone masons.

Dean McLellan, who is leading the refurbishment, says that unfortunately, loose gravel laid between the stones is resulting in deterioration creating an unstable and unsafe facility.

Part 2 to follow ….