Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The Belzberg Family (Murray Belzberg, Leslie Belzberg, Jenny Belzberg, Brent Belzberg). Jenny Belzberg donated an undisclosed amount in the millions to the Eric Harvie Theatre, which was renamed in her honour.

Handout

It started with the seats. Jenny Belzberg, a regular and long-time patron of the Eric Harvie Theatre at what is now the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, has for a long time found the venue’s seats to be a problem. As wonderful as a performance might be – an opera, for instance, or the string quartet competition – her knees rubbing up against the seat in front of her could prove a distraction.

“If it did it for me, can you imagine if a tall man was sitting there,” says Mrs. Belzberg, 92.

So it was one of the first issues she raised to Janice Price. Weeks into Ms. Price’s tenure as the Banff Centre’s president and chief executive officer in 2015, they were both attending a classical music concert, and were chatting at intermission when Mrs. Belzberg raised the subject.

Story continues below advertisement

“She said someday I’m going to help Banff Centre … renovate this theatre, because the seats are so uncomfortable,” recalls Ms. Price. “So, honestly, the very first time I met her, it was a conversation.”

The renamed Jenny Belzberg Theatre officially opens this week, a more than $7-million revitalization project largely funded by Mrs. Belzberg and designed by KPMB Architects. Construction began a year ago and continued through the pandemic, allowing the project to be completed on time and on budget.

“The design is quiet elegance,” says Mrs. Belzberg, who visited the theatre on Saturday. “You know, the colour needs to come from the audience and the actors onstage, not from the surroundings.”

The gift is being called “transformative” – the amount of the donation has not been disclosed, but it is in the millions, and one of the largest private gifts the organization has received.

And the theatre has been transformed, with improved acoustics, sightlines, health and safety features, and a balcony with seating that encircles the room. There are also larger and rewired technical booths, improved wiring to accommodate future technological needs and, of course, more comfortable seats – 638 compared with the previous 930, allowing for a more intimate experience for the audience. Once audiences are allowed back in, that is.

Mrs. Belzberg, who tested out potential seats herself last February, says when the revitalization announcement was made during an event at the theatre, a patron approached her and thanked her. “He said now I won’t have to wear shin pads on my knees,” she recalls.

The revitalization was led by Marianne McKenna at Toronto-based KPMB Architects, who says the project was challenged by – but ultimately benefited from – the constraints: the original concrete Brutalist structure, the impossibility of rebuilding in the national park and funding.

Story continues below advertisement

“Because the budget was so incredibly tight, we pitched to reline that concrete box with a new wood insert and in that we would change the topography,” Ms. McKenna says. “And into the wood liner we would make a better acoustic shell, because performers would dread playing in that hall.”

There were also improvements to broadcasting potential.

Mrs. Belzberg, who lives in Calgary, where she was born, has been an involved and respected figure throughout the renovation project.

Kari Medig/Handout

Mrs. Belzberg, who was the Banff Centre’s board chair from 1987 to 1991, had an unusual level of engagement and involvement – more than in a typical donation process. While she did not have a say on the choice of architect, she was there for that pitch meeting. It began with a single comfortable theatre chair. “Just to say we know what you want. And here’s how we’re going to give it to you,” Ms. McKenna says.

“I’m very excited about what’s happened there and the kind of leadership and inspiration and the determination of, I would say, many women to make something happen,” Ms. McKenna says.

Mrs. Belzberg, who lives in Calgary, where she was born, has been an involved and respected figure throughout the project. When she visited the theatre in early October – before those seats were installed – she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by the president of the CUPE union local.

It’s what the team views as the first phase of a larger theatre redevelopment – one that will later include a new lobby and, another one of Mrs. Belzberg’s top priorities, improved bathrooms. There is a master plan for the larger project, what the Banff Centre is calling the performing arts and learning complex, “on the books for whenever one can run a campaign again,” says Ms. Price, the Banff Centre CEO.

Story continues below advertisement

The theatre opened in 1967, named in honour of Eric Harvie, a business leader and passionate supporter of arts and culture. It has been renamed with the approval – which Mrs. Belzberg specifically asked for – of Mr. Harvie’s family; his great-nephew, also named Eric Harvie, sits on the Banff Centre’s board. The lobby space will continue to be home to a bust of the late Mr. Harvie’s image and a larger tribute wall is planned.

A gala to mark the opening had been planned for Dec. 13, but that is not happening owing to the pandemic. Instead, tours are being offered for locals – physically distanced and with limited numbers, from Nov. 12 to Dec. 12. Beyond that, the centre is considering offering performances from the theatre for remote audiences until they can have people in the theatre again.

Mrs. Belzberg says the arts enriched life for her and her husband and notes that she has been spending a lot of time during the pandemic watching classical concerts on YouTube. “It’s very important in our society and it helps us through these terrible times," she says, of the performing arts.

And she is thrilled with this legacy. “This is for me and for Hy, to be remembered that we were here once,” she says, referring to Hyman Belzberg, her husband of 68 years, who died in 2017. “In our own family, nobody’s [in Calgary] any more and I want to leave something here.”

Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies