The director of the North Shore Celtic Ensemble prepares for the last Centennial Theater show

Co-founder Claude Giguère ready for emotional final event at famed North Vancouver venue

Claude Giguère remembers the first time he engaged his North Shore Celtic Ensemble for a concert at the famous Centennial Theater in North Vancouver.

It was the early 2000s and the NSCE, formed in 1998 by Giguère and Spirit of the West rocker Jay Knutson, was only a few years old. The Centennial Theater was by far the biggest venue they’d ever booked so far, and they were more than a little worried they’d have enough butts in the seats to see their ensemble of high-energy youngsters playing at fund.

“It was a huge project for us,” Giguère said. “It was like, ‘God, how are we going to do this?’… You hope people will come. Renting a theater like this is very expensive and you don’t want to fail.

The set weren’t sure they could pull it all off, but they had backup – a dance group called Eire Born Nora Pickett Irish Dance Academy – to share the stage with them.

The big day arrived, and the theater was…well it wasn’t full, but it was full enough to make the show a success.

“We were lucky because the Irish dancing troupe, they had a bigger school than us,” Giguère said. “I think they had about 100 kids, and you put their families in there, we must have had maybe half [full]. … It was an acceptable number, but it wasn’t a full house by any stretch of the imagination.

It was, however, the start of an annual tradition that continues to this day. The Celtic Ensemble continued to book the Centennial Theater once a year – the show quickly settled into a regular spot on the last Saturday in November – and eventually they no longer needed to partner with anyone another to occupy the seats. They now fill it almost every year on their own, and although the show is not usually a Christmas show itself – the band show the full range of their exciting and eclectic repertoire – the late November date has become a beloved annual holiday tradition. for many on the North Shore.

And that first Centennial Theater show played a huge role in helping the ensemble get to where it is now, Giguère said.

“Until then, we had played mainly at festivals, outdoor venues, care centers and that kind of thing. So, going to a big theater with all the technology, then suddenly you think differently, and then you have more possibilities. And so that was exciting, and that pushed us to develop what the Celtic Ensemble has become now, to develop the idea of ​​what the ensemble could be and to involve the children in the creative aspects of setting it up. a show as well.

They return to the Centennial Theater at the end of this month, and this year’s show will be particularly poignant for several reasons, the first being that the set was unable to stage one last year due to issues. related to COVID-19. They are absolutely thrilled to be back on the big stage this year, Giguère said.

The main reason, however, is that this will be the last Centennial Theater show for the ensemble with Giguère leading the group. He recently announced that the 2021-22 season will be his last as head of the ensemble, and it will therefore be his last major theater performance on the North Shore.

“Every year we have graduates from the set and we celebrate them [at the Centennial Theatre show],” he said. “And now I will be one of the graduates, after 23 years.”

When Giguère leaves the group at the end of the season, he will be replaced by professional violinist Gabriel Dubreuil, a former member of the ensemble who already helps lead the group.

“He really understands what the whole thing is,” Giguère said. “I’m fully confident he’ll do a great job. … He’ll be fabulous there, and he’s already doing so much.

Before he says his final goodbyes, however, there will be the big show at the Centennial Theater. Many of the band’s friends will be in attendance for the show, Giguère said, including several former band members who will be returning for the special occasion.

“It will be really moving to be surrounded by so many people who have nurtured me so much,” he said. “The whole thing is ultimately about connections, it’s about those beautiful people you meet along the way.”

Connections is a keyword for the set and it’s also the name of the upcoming show. Some of his former students will appear on stage for presentations during the show, renewing the bonds that have been formed by members of the ensemble over the years.

“For me, it’s very special to have that connection,” he said, adding that instead of always looking forward like he has with the ensemble over the years, he finally has the chance to look back. “You always think about the future, but now is the one where you start thinking about what’s been done, thinking back a bit, and connecting. … Reconnecting with all those people who grew up with it. together over the years is extremely special to me. I think it’s going to be an amazing show, and I can’t wait to see some of these people who were eight, nine, 10 when they started with us and who are now in their thirties.

The North Shore Celtic Ensemble’s Connection show will take place on Saturday, November 27 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Centennial Theatre. Guests aged 12 and over must show proof of vaccination to enter, and all patrons will be required to wear a mask inside the theater. For more information on tickets, visit the Centennial Theater website.