Fundy Auditorium, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
The water-carved Flowerpot Rocks at Hopewell Cape, part of a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, may be the most ubiquitous image of New Brunswick. The rocks are robustly dramatic and surrounded by constant movement and action. They’re the perfect precedent for a new amphitheatre at Fundy National Park, just up the coast from Hopewell.
Approximately 300,000 visitors come to Fundy National Park every year. The park’s wilderness trails and spectacular shoreline are the main draws, but immersion in nature isn’t the only attraction. The park boasts a popular golf course and enormous saltwater swimming pool, and it can now claim one of New Brunswick’s most animated works of contemporary architecture. Channelling the physical mass and erratic contours of the bay’s rocky shores, the new Fundy Amphitheatre has brought dramatic architecture to a dramatic location.
Nine Yards Studio designed the new amphitheatre to replace an older version that was notable in its own right—the arched bandshell was installed in 1950, the year the park opened. The new amphitheatre has already become popular, providing, in pre-pandemic times, a welcoming space for visitors and locals to experience almost daily performances including plays, films, concerts, lectures and dance performances—not to mention spontaneous uses, and the hosting of Atlantic Canadian talent during the annual Rising Tide Festival.
The new amphitheatre sits directly on the site of its predecessor, near the campgrounds and the park headquarters. It uses this siting to its benefit, maintaining the previous wraparound wooden bleacher seating and open view of a pond and rolling field beyond. Clad in a black standing-seam metal shell with a darkly stained cedar plank front, the stage is sheltered by a multi-faceted geometric form intended to flow with the park’s natural landscape. The dark tones are a kindred neighbour to the towering spruce trees only a ball’s throw away. The form’s angles were carefully designed to accommodate acoustics, provide uninterrupted views of the stage, and avoid disruption to the park’s vistas.
The structure encompasses a back-of-house area, change rooms, a green room for performers and a storage area—all barrier-free. It also contains lighting, sound and technical amenities that were absent in the older version. Large pivoting doors on either side of the stage do double duty as curtain legs for theatre and live performances, while effectively securing the structure during the winter offseason.
Silva Stojak, the project designer, says she was driven by the fact that there was little that “held the park together” architecturally as compared to other national parks. Considering the prominence of the château-style hotels at Banff and Lake Louise or the more recent Glacier Skywalk at Jasper, built forms can certainly be a vital part of the Canadian national park experience.
The architects aimed, as they put it, to “geographically fit in the landscape and explore different, more exciting geometries.” By so doing, they have enabled the Fundy Amphitheatre to host new types of visitor experiences, while showcasing the park’s landscape and character. They’ve done this using the most dynamic showcase: architecture with people at centre stage.
John Leroux is a retired architect and currently the Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. He is the author of nine books on New Brunswick architecture.