Then & Now

Horizon Stage: How a Spruce Grove facility became a go-to spot for world-class entertainment

March, 2020

By the late 1970s, Spruce Grove was a thriving new haven for families in the greater Edmonton area looking for affordable real estate. A 20-minute drive west of the city, this growing town offered new homes, schools, and parks. But one thing was missing: a space for the arts.


Recognizing that the Tri-Municipal Region of Parkland County, Spruce Grove, and Stony Plain lacked a performing arts facility, a community service committee meeting was held on January 31, 1979 in Spruce Grove. Roughly 100 people attended including members of Spruce Grove Town Council, representatives from the Allied Arts Council and other service clubs and interest groups from Spruce Grove and Parkland County. These local visionaries discussed the cultural aspirations of the region and concluded that there was an urgent need for a theatre in the area.

“It really was a grassroots movement that got this thing going,” says Brandi Watson, the facility’s theatre manager.


In 1982, the regions governing bodies and newly-formed Theatre Management Board decided that in order to conserve funds, such a theatre would be designed as an addition to the newly-constructed $11-million Spruce Grove Composite High School. Fortunately, Douglas Cardinal, the school’s acclaimed architect, had previous experience with this kind of project, as he had incorporated a theatre into his design of Grand Prairie Regional College in 1974.

A cooperative effort between the Town of Spruce Grove, Parkland County, Parkland School Division No. 70, and the Kinsmen Club of Spruce Grove, Horizon Stage marked the first time the town and county had jointly funded the cost of a project. The partners financed roughly half of the $1.3 million facility, with Alberta Culture matching their funds.

Initially called the Young People’s Centre for the Arts, Horizon Stage raised its curtain for the first time on Saturday, February 5, 1983. The inaugural evening featured music by the Meridian Singers, a recital by the Stony Plain Ukrainian Dancers, a presentation from the Spruce Grove Composite High School drama students, and a special guest performance by Alberta’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Culture, Walter Kaasa.


In 1990, the Theatre Management Board was renamed and restructured into the Theatre Advisory Board. Consisting of volunteer representatives from Spruce Grove and Parkland County, the board was broken up into three separate groups who together became the beating heart of Horizon Stage.

The Horizon Stagelighters would provide front-of-house services like ushering and ticket collecting, running the bar and concessions, and welcoming patrons as they arrived. The Horizon Stage Tech Team would offer setup and teardown assistance as well as work behind the scenes to provide backstage and technical support such as lighting and sound.

The Horizon Players, who had been involved with the facility since the beginning, would continue to provide theatre opportunities to the community, both as participants and as audience members. Since 1983, the group—consisting of actors, backstage crew, publicists, directors, and designers—has produced two mainstage productions per season.


By 2008, much of the theatre’s equipment had reached the end of its lifecycle. The tech team was beginning to have trouble providing touring artists with their lighting and sound requirements and patrons were still being seated on bleacher chairs from 1983. It was clear that renovations were required.

“Rather than just replace things piecemeal, it was decided that we did need a more mature look for the theatre, and it needed to accommodate more of the technical demands that were coming in,” Watson says.

First to go were the bleachers, replaced by 318 permanent seats. But because these new seats were not portable, no longer could a Genie lift fit into the theatre to change a lightbulb. Therefore, the next task was to hang three stage lighting catwalks. Also installed was a new shock-absorbent stage floor and state-of-the-art audio system and sound booth. Lastly came the redesigning of both the facility’s lobby and dressing rooms.

“A renovation doesn’t always go smoothly, but the thing that made it worthwhile was someone who walked in when we did the grand reopening and said, ‘this looks like the theatre finally grew up,’” Watson says.

2010s – Today

Today, over half a million audience members have had the opportunity to enjoy roughly 800 productions of live music, theatre, and dance from an array of entertainers ranging from local amateurs to internationally acclaimed performers. Perhaps the most famous of whom would be Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee and Order of Canada member Ian Tyson, who in 2018, opened the theatre’s 35th anniversary season with his 48th performance at the venue. Other notable acts through the years include Tommy Banks, Heather Bishop, Tom Jackson, Moe Koffman, and
Sylvia Tyson. t7x