What does a globe-trotting, salty-mouthed ventriloquist dummy have to do with the history of Victoria’s military?
The dummy, dubbed Spike Ryan (or simply ‘Spike’), belonged to Sheila Margaret Kidd, a Victoria ventriloquist. When Kidd joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS or Wrens) on July 4, 1943 during the Second World War, she brought Spike with her along with her skills as a ventriloquist.
Kidd’s dummy and her skills saw her picked to perform in the popular Meet the Navy shows with her not-so-silent partner.
“Navy discipline is the order of the day during rehearsals of ‘Meet the Navy’, but one rating in the show sasses the officers. He is Spike and his best friend is Wren Sheila Kidd, girl ventriloquist. Wren Kidd is invariably respectful to the officers in the show, but the dummy Spike is unusually salty,” is how an archived quote from a Victoria-based newspaper, on display at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, describes the show.
The Victoria native’s skills were developed during her teen years, when she suffered from painful throat ulcers, meaning she learned to talk without moving her lips, lending itself well to a ventriloquist act, according to museum historian Tatiana Robinson.
Kidd and Spike were a popular pair and they travelled far and wide with their show, including across Canada twice, to the U.K. for an extended stay and then onto Brussels, Paris and finally Germany.
“These character traits – that sort of ingenuity and initiative – probably served her well as a wren when she was traveling,” said Robinson. “You’d have to be quite adaptable travelling in a stage show, as quite a young person – as many people were in World War Two, that signed up. So, I think that’s one of the things that makes her quite a specialist.
She was sort of considered even an oddity because most ventriloquists were men.”
After the war, she was discharged and continued to perform, travelling throughout Canada and eventually settling near Regina in 1959.
From there the trail goes cold, Robinson said.
Until staff at the museum heard from a woman who had found Spike in a thrift store in Alberta.
“He came in a small suitcase with some RCN photos, some snapshots and some archival documents which helped us all put the picture together.”
Now Spike sits in an exhibit at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum showcasing the history of the Wrens and their service.