Jim Gleason first came to Peterborough to study at Trent University.
During that time, he met Robert Winslow when the two were performing a student production of “Waiting For Godot” at one of Trent’s venues. By then, Robert was already mulling over an idea for an original play about the Cavan Blazers, and brought his friend to his family home on the 4th Line so he could see the area and the farm for himself. Putting aside his Irish Catholic background, Gleason saw the vision. In 1992 when the time came to mount the first production, he was there helping put it all together. He brought a unique combination of skills to the task: his contractor skills came in handy in his role of Production Manager, putting sets together and organizing the set, but as in most new ventures, he did whatever needed to be done. That meant being on stage as well as behind it, for example playing the role of Colonel Williams in the Bell of Batoche. Gleason remained a key player at the 4th line until 2001, when the time and financial pressures of a growing family forced him to seek more lucrative year round employment.
His construction work took an interesting turn when he was invited to participate in the construction of straw bale houses by Tina Therrien of Camel’s Back Construction, Ontario’s first straw bale building company. This unique construction process is very sustainable and environmentally friendly, and for the next few years Gleason and his crew built two straw bale houses per year, some for local customers but many further afield in places like Midland and Parry Sound. His last straw bale home was a massive three-year project in Oakville known as the Gilgan House. Owned by the son of Mattamy Homes founder Peter Gilgan, the home is a testament to green construction, incorporating large passive solar elements, geothermal heating and recycled wood and concrete floors clad with local clay mixed with straw and sand construction debris. While the project was both stimulating and rewarding, it required living away from home all week. Gleason decided to return to local projects that would allow him to spend more time with his teenage children before they left home.
While his profession life was centred on the tangible, Gleason never lost his interest in the arts. During the off season during his tenure at the 4th Line Theatre, he performed regularly with Washboard Hank, whose style of music was folk, playing the guitar and singing. He then discovered a love for Cajun music, and formed the band BobCajun with four other musicians, playing local venues on the weekend. A year ago two band members moved to Quebec, so he found other Cajun-style musicians and formed the band Pays d’en Haut which performs Cajun music at major festivals and in local venues three or four times per month. One of their most recent performances took place a few weeks ago at the Mount Pleasant Women’s Institute Hall and was a roaring success.
While his family was growing up, they lived in a transformed church in Mount Pleasant, where the alter served as a stage where his musical son and his friends practised on weekends. Gleason now lives in Peterborough but is often seen in the area, where repeat customers week him out for their renovation and construction projects. KG