Sometimes Randy Brogden is just himself, but often and without even realizing it, he becomes Cyril Thomson, owner of the Lester Thomson Garage, mayor of Salmon Arm, and village blacksmith. Randy’s love of history, passion for research, and talent for acting explains this duality.
His path to becoming this historic local figure began nearly two decades ago when he began volunteering at RJ Haney Heritage Village & Museum with the parking. Over time he became more and more involved, learning some blacksmith skills, helping with spring cleanup, building props for the dinner theatre, and taking part in Spooktacular – on the spook trail and reading scary stories. Now he is on the board of directors, but he spends more time in his 1920s suit, greeting guests and entertaining them with stories of his/Cyril’s life and the happenings of Salmon Arm as it would have been a century ago.
It was museum curator Deborah Chapman who suggested he take on the part. He started to do research and Randy has a passion for accuracy.
“Denis Marshall’s book – I read it 10 times. I enjoyed going through the Observer’s microfiche. I’m all about the truth; I don’t want to invent something.”
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After reading so much about these people they started to feel alive to him.
“You feel lost without them when you read their obituaries. I feel bad. I miss these people,” he says. As he mentions a few people whose obituaries he read, he says, “We were neighbours. I was there from 1917.” And then he laughs… “Cyril was…”
Long before he became Cyril, Randy was born and raised in Cartwright, Manitoba, the second of four children. His family owned a mixed farm, with beef and dairy cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and geese.
“We milked by hand and spent a lot of time putting manure around. You learn to work hard doing chores.”
He grew up in a culture of neighbour helping neighbour: “When your combining is done you go help someone else.” But it was the 4-H beef club that got him “hooked on volunteering.”
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Randy went to the University of Manitoba to get a history degree. He taught for several years in Northern Manitoba and then moved to Quesnel where he taught for a few years. In 1995 he was ready for a career change and went to SATE in Calgary to become a mapping technician. He worked on various projects for the next decade and moved to Salmon Arm in 1998. Now Randy works at IC Urethane in the industrial park. Although he has had a few careers and lived in various places Randy has volunteered and become part of the community wherever he happened to be.
Over the past two decades Randy has been very much a part of RJ Haney, Shuswap Theatre, and Roots & Blues. He was a Rotarian for many years, part of the Salmon Arm centennial committee back in 2005, and he volunteered at big sporting events the city has hosted over the years. It’s just who he is; if someone asks for help, he will be there.
For years he did the lighting at Shuswap Theatre but eventually he made his way to the spotlight and is now a seasoned actor with more than a dozen plays to his credit.
“One year I did three shows. I’m always learning something from different directors. I learn something and put it to use.”
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This stage experience has come in handy for his role as Cyril Thomson. Every weekend throughout the summer he wore his suit, put on a boutonnière and strolled around the village. But Randy admits there are just some things he can’t imitate: “Cyril was tall and stooped and I’m not. He smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes and I don’t do any of those. I’m not a smoker.”
Upcoming Haney events include the 13th Annual Cemetery Tour, which takes place on Sunday, Oct. 14. Space is limited to 35; reservations are required. Cost is $10.
The 23rd Annual Spooktacular at RJ Haney Village takes place Oct. 20 and 21. Admission at the gate.
For more information on village and museum events, visit the website: www.salmonarmmuseum.org.