Paper Wheat: The Book


95 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-88833-079-0




Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


Paper Wheat, an episodic play with song, mime, dance, and fiddling, was created by the 25th Street Theatre Collective of Saskatoon. It opened in Sintaluta, Saskatchewan, on March 18, 1977, and toured in the fall of the year amid much critical and audience acclaim. The play was revised for a national tour, opened the National Arts Centre Season in 1979, and was filmed by the NFB.

This book combines the text of director Andy Tahn’s edition of the second version of the play with photographs from the various productions and the musical score. The hardships endured by European homesteaders unfold in Act I as they labour to break the prairie near Sintaluta. Neighbourly co-operation enables them to survive poverty, homesickness, drought, frost, hail, the mercenary shop-keeper, and the dishonest elevator agent. By Act II the co-operative spirit enters politics and actual history. The title suggests the paper commodity futures which are traded by speculators on the floor of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. The farmers realize they must handle and market their own produce to obtain fair return. We meet, in quick succession, Ed Partridge, the philosopher of the Co-operative Commonwealth, the campaigners of 1924 who sign up seeded acreage for the wheat pool, a modern farm family who reflect the affluence of the 1970s, and, finally, the old-timers who elegize the visions of youth.

Something of the versatility, spontaneity, good humour, and exuberance of an actors’ collective are suggested by two essays which preface the play’s text. David Kerr’s “Epic Theatre in Saskatchewan” outlines the production, the Brechtian tradition, and the revisions of the play. Actor Bob Bainborough recalls opening night at Sintaluta. A third essay, “A Short History of the Co-operative Movement in Saskatchewan,” by John Archer, provides the necessary historical context for a better appreciation of the episodes in the play.


Twenty-fifth Street Theatre, “Paper Wheat: The Book,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,