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A Brief History

Nestled in a cozy river valley, winding through wheat fields and magnificent badlands, Rosebud is a picturesque community with rural roots and country charm. But a closer look reveals Rosebud to be a vibrant arts community visited by over forty thousand people every year. Located on Highway 840, Rosebud is situated 100 km northeast of Calgary, and 35 km southwest of Drumheller. The name Rosebud derives from the Blackfoot term Akokiniskway, which means “river of many roses.” European settlers began homesteading in Rosebud in 1883, laying the foundation for a strong farming and ranching community. The hamlet flourished in the early 1900s, reaching a population of 300 in the 1920s. By the early 1970s, however, the population dropped to fewer than thirty, and abandoned buildings awaited demolition.

In 1973, LaVerne Erickson, a teacher of music and visual arts, started Rosebud Camp of the Arts as a summer outreach programme for Calgary youth. The summer programmes soon expanded into weekend vacations throughout the school year. Old buildings found new uses as dorms and a retreat centre. In 1977, the camp developed into a residential fine arts high school named Rosebud School of the Arts and operated in this format until 1986. The school combined academics, arts and work experience with individual attention. Tim Erickson joined his brother LaVerne in managing the new school.

The summer of 1983 brought about a seemingly innocent change that significantly impacted the direction of the school. The drama class initiated a fundraiser to mark the centennial of the first white settlers in the area. Their first play Commedia Del’ Arte was presented on an outdoor stage, along with a country-style buffet and musical entertainment. In the following years, staff and students continued to produce shows until they produced a full season of plays in 1988.
In 1986, Rosebud School of the Arts established a Fine Arts Guild – that is, a group of artists whose main objective is to offer apprenticeship-style instruction using the theatre as practical training centre. In 1988, the Alberta Legislature passed the Rosebud School of the Arts Act, recognizing Rosebud as an institution of higher learning. It is under this Act that Rosebud School of the Arts operates today.
In 2001, an eight-month Certificate Programme started with ten students. This was followed by a revised Mentorship Programme offering three years of professional training. The Studio Stage, a flexible blackbox theatre, was opened to provide increased performance opportunities for students.

Since its early experiments, Rosebud Theatre’s popularity grew exponentially to attract 10,000 patrons in 1987, 20,000 in 1993, and 30,000 in 1996. Over 43,000 patrons in 2008 marks the highest attendance to date. In the early 1990s, renovations to the old Opera House exchanged church pews for tiered theatre seats and introduced a heating and air-conditioning system to replace the need for blankets in winter and fans in the summer. Indoor plumbing was not installed until 1991!The Mercantile (the old general store) also underwent renovations to serve as a pre-show dining room. To accommodate current attendance, the construction of Rosebud Centre will expand the Mercantile to include state-of-the-art conference facilities.
Currently, Rosebud Theatre presents five shows per year on two stages, augmented by two shows produced by Rosebud School of the Arts and numerous student projects. Rosebud Theatre shows are performed and produced by a resident company of artists and provide training opportunities for students of Rosebud School of the Arts. As a cultural tourist destination, Rosebud is a benchmark for rural development and commercial success.

Rosebud’s commitment to grass-roots development is evident in the creation of theatre ventures in other communities that now exist and thrive as independent organizations. In 1993, the Chemainus Theatre Festival opened on Vancouver Island as a sister organization to Rosebud School of the Arts. It has grown to become the largest professional theatre on the Island, attracting over 70,000 patrons per year. The following year, 1994, saw the first production of the Canadian Badlands Passion Play in Drumheller. In 1998, Rosebud School of the Arts launched the Canadian Badlands Performing Arts Summer School, a three-week accredited programme for high school students.

The historic United Church is now the Akokiniskway Art Gallery and home to Rosebud Creek Recording Studio, producer of the radio show Rosebud on Radio. The Rosebud Centennial Museum displays artifacts and photographs of pioneer life. Three gift shops sell local and regional art and crafts. Little Country Blessings general store sells farmfresh eggs, local Hutterite bread, and other necessities.
Other attractions include the scenic nine-hole Akokiniskway Golf Course and charming guest accommodations at local bed & breakfasts.