Conductor Tania Miller leads the Victoria Symphony Orchestra and an audience of 550 in a Christmas carol sing-along during a concert with the Victoria Choral Society at Qualicum Beach Civic Centre last December.

Bringing the symphony to Qualicum Beach

Eric Charman was the driving force when it came to getting the Victoria Symphony to Qualicum Beach

For more than 50 years, Eric Charman has developed a reputation as the guy who makes calls to prospective patrons of the arts.

After he arranged the first appearance of the Victoria Symphony in Qualicum Beach in 1993, he found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of all that attention.

“I did it as an experiment,” said Charman. “But the whole village started phoning and asking, ‘When are you bringing the symphony again?”

Though he couldn’t have known it at the time, the answer turned out to be, every year since.

The Victoria Symphony will return to Qualicum Beach Civic Centre for two more events this year. On Oct. 3 it will perform Wild, Wild West, a showcase of all-time western classics, from the Yellow Rose of Texas and Shanandoah to themes from Western films like The Magnificent Seven and Blazing Saddles. Then, on Dec. 12, it will return for its traditional Christmas season performance, A Sentimental Christmas.

“The symphony loves coming up there,” said Charman, who maintains homes in both Qualicum Beach and Victoria. “They’re very well-received; they pack the place every time.”

They’ve been doing it since before “the place” — the civic centre — was even built.

Charman, who grew up an orphan in Great Britain before emigrating to Victoria in 1953 and developing a successful career in real estate. But he is better known as a tireless supporter and fundraiser for the arts, particularly the Victoria Symphony, the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Pacific Opera Victoria and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1999 and the Order of Canada in 2000, the 84-year-old has been credited with organizing hundreds of charity events and raising literally millions of dollars for arts organizations.

He also has a soft spot for Qualicum Beach, and it was his purchase of a home here that ultimately led to the initial appearance by the symphony 23 years ago.

“What I did was, one day I went up to the village — that was in the days when you had very little population and they didn’t have the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre built then,” he said. “I put it in the school hall and I walked door-to-door inviting people to come to the symphony.

“Most people couldn’t even say symphony then.”

But the concert was a hit, and Charman continues to serve as the point man in the symphony’s recurring visits to Qualicum Beach. The Victoria Symphony recently celebrated  its 75th anniversary and has been playing across Canada on its Diamond Jubilee tour, Charman said.

As part of its regular season schedule, though, the only place the symphony plays outside of Victoria is in Qualicum Beach. Charman started the relationship by doing what he does best — rounding up local sponsorship and funding and then taking on the role of one-man promotional crew with his door-to-door campaign.

“I had to make this financially attractive to make if possible for the symphony to play outside of Victoria,” he said. “The only other place they ever played was Duncan, back when it was full of remittance men and money.”

Such is Charman’s influence with the arts community in Victoria that he was fêted by the Victoria Conservatory of Music on his 60th birthday. The event was so popular that it has been repeated every five years. In each case, Charman has insisted the party be used as — what else? — a fundraiser for one or more of his beloved arts organizations.

“I’ve been honoured enough,” he told the Victoria News prior to his 80th birthday party in 2012, which included a concert with the Victoria Symphony and the Canadian Scottish Pipes and Drums. “If they want to tie me up on my birthday, they should have a function like we did for my 60th, 65th, 70th and 75th. On each occasion the party raised funds for one of my charity groups.”

Charman will turn 85 in 2017. Which will probably mean yet another birthday bash. And another visit to Qualicum Beach by the Victoria Symphony.

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