The Ryga Festival Society’s mission is to promote the development of creative and performing arts in Summerland by organizing an annual festival honouring Summerland resident George Ryga (1932-1987), one of Canada’s greatest writers. Ryga wrote “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe,” which awakened the country to the continuing tragedy of Indigenous Peoples and is perhaps the most important play written in English Canada in the past fifty years.
The Society aims to follow Ryga’s inspiration to foster creativity in our region. For a while the Rygas had a coffeehouse in Summerland, and there was always music, discussion, and a lively exchange of ideas there and in the Ryga household. Most of George Ryga’s plays as well as “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe,” deal with social issues.
It was that enduring spirit that inspired a group of people to create the prestigious George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, which is now in its 13th year, with an award ceremony in Vancouver.
The Ryga Festival Society celebrates George Ryga in Summerland in much the same way as Stephen Leacock is honoured in Orillia, Ontario, and more recently Alice Munro is commemorated in Wingham, Ontario – small communities celebrating one of their own. We believe that these communities – just like Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake, which host the Shakespeare and Shaw festivals in Ontario – have found a way of combining culture with economic benefits. We have the same mandate to attract cultural tourism to our region.