The Campbell River Art Gallery lost a pillar of the arts community with the passing of Doris Ritchie June 10 — a woman who initiated and built many of the arts groups we’ve come to treasure.
“When I moved here [in 1959],” wrote Ritchie in a reminiscence, “Campbell River was nearly at the end of the public road, and although very beautiful, I thought it focused more on hunting and fishing, and could do with some theatre — opportunities to study art, act and sing and dance.”
As a woman of quiet determination, she set out to make those things happen in the fledgling mill town.
In her first years here, Ritchie worked part-time as a court recorder, under Roderick Haig-Brown, and later also worked as the Director of School District 72’s night school. This role led her to form the Campbell River Concert Association, to host classical performances in the junior high school gym. Her connection with Laszlo Gati of the Victoria Symphony allowed Ritchie to bring in international musicians to Campbell River. Their visits here, as Ritchie recalled, were “black concerts,” because they circumvented the usual circuit of New York agents.
A colleague who served with Ritchie in the Concert Association remarked on her quiet grace, charm and know-how, which she often preferred to exercise in supporting roles.
“Because of Ritchie we brought many big name entertainers to Campbell River,” her friend wrote in an unsigned note in her retirement guestbook. “The Bolshoi Ballet, the Vancouver Symphony and many outstanding soloists. Ritchie seemed to be on a first name basis with every impresario in Canada. Consequently she had great bargaining power.”
Ritchie also founded the Campbell River Arts Council during these busy years, and helped start a summer school of art, with workshops instructed by internationally known artists. During her tenure the Council started an annual exhibition for regional artists that will celebrate its 30th anniversary as the Members’ Exhibition at Campbell River Art Gallery in 2012.
About six years after her move to Campbell River, Ritchie was widowed. She was 43 and had three children to raise. She remarried two years later, to Lorne Ritchie, who shared her passion for painting, music and outdoor pursuits like hiking, skiing and kayaking.
Ritchie’s commitment to community service never faltered, even in her senior years.
“You have to contribute to where you’re living,” said Doris in an interview with Campbell River Art Gallery staff.
In 1976, Ritchie ran for election to the School Board and topped the polls for many years thereafter. That didn’t stop her from continuing to build the arts organizations that make Campbell River a leader in its cultural facilities.
The impressive response to locally organized classical performances and an eclectic mix of jazz, dance and other forms of music, led to the city’s purchase of the aging Van Isle Theatre. Ritchie was invited to serve on a committee to plan for its conversion to a performing arts theatre that was later renamed the Tidemark.
“Once the theatre was established,” wrote Ritchie in biographical notes, “the next project in my mind was to have a public art gallery.”
With the local museum set to move into a new facility in 1994, the Arts Council raised funds to refurbish the museum’s former quarters in the Centennial Building into a public art gallery. Regional artists like Jeanne Ralston and Gordon James shared Ritchie’s vision and determination to create a space where local and touring artists could display their work.
The Gallery proved an immediate success, growing from 6,000 visitors in its first year to over 20,000 annually today. Ritchie was proud to serve on the Gallery’s board during its first years. When she retired from the gallery board in 2001, 40 friends gathered at the gallery to celebrate her many years of community service in the arts. Though she’d retired from administration, Ritchie continued to teach watercolour classes at the gallery until she was well into her 80s.
Ritchie was an inspiration to all who knew her and Campbell River’s cultural scene is far the richer for her grace, vision, energy and passion. This fact was recognized by the City of Campbell River in June 2007, when she was honoured with a Community Builder Award.
A special fund has been established in Ritchie’s memory, to create a 30th anniversary publication for the annual Members’ Exhibition in April, 2012. The Campbell River Art Gallery and Arts Council, who co-host this exhibition, will pay tribute to Doris in their retrospective book about the local visual arts scene. Donations can be sent to Campbell River Art Gallery, 1235 Shoppers Row, V9W 2C7 or dropped off at the Gallery, Monday to Saturday, 10-5 p.m. Tax receipts will be issued. Call 250-287-2261 for more details.