Aileen Gentles, née Barker, was born in Bristol, England, on May 2, 1936. She obtained an Honours degree in History at the University of London, then won a Canada Council scholarship to attend the University of British Columbia, where she completed her Master’s Degree. After graduation, she joined a BC theatrical touring group, travelling and performing Shakespeare throughout BC for a year. Concurrently she wrote two radio plays for CBC.
During this period, she met Michael Gentles and in 1962 they married. Two children were born: Cynthia in 1964 and Kate in 1966. Mike, also a British expat, had joined the Canadian Army and the family became nomads for the next 29 years, including three postings in Germany as well as to several areas of Canada. Aileen gave herself wholeheartedly to her new role as an army wife and mother, actively participating in all aspects of being the wife of an army officer while also writing skits and plays for the local community, and schools her daughters attended. A great community booster, she was a wonderful motivator, enabling people to achieve things they didn’t know they could with her endless encouragement. Singing in a choir was always a must for both Mike & Aileen; they sang in several in Canada and three different choirs during their postings to Germany. Aileen also lectured in History at several universities whenever the opportunity arose.
They knew they wanted to build their dream retirement home near water and found the perfect spot in 1991 beside the Eagle River in Sicamous. Aileen became a driving, creative artistic force in the Shuswap. She was a key member of the Monashee Mountain Arts Society, which fostered the performing arts in the region, and the founder of the Monashee Chamber Choir and the Monashee Chamber Orchestra. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Cambie Farm Theatre.
Endlessly encouraging, vibrant, enthusiastic, perpetually in motion, Aileen was enormously talented. Active in music and theatre her entire life, her list of accomplishments includes writing 17 poems, three children’s plays, 58 short stories, 18 musical compositions, two radio plays for CBC, and directing five choirs and five plays, including an outdoor production of ‘A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream’. She also wrote and directed two musicals, an Oratorio, and three farm of her most spectacular achievements was the creation of a two and half hour musical theatre history of the city of Wainwright, Alberta in honour of Alberta’s 75 Provincial Anniversary. She did it all: fundraising, getting sponsors, gathering together a cast of 300, organizing volunteers, writing, directing – everything. It was a rousing success and perfectly demonstrates Aileen’s indomitable personality. She died on July 30, 2012.
When it was decided to dissolve the Monashee Mountain Arts Society, president Gord Hynek suggested that the funds remaining in the society be used to establish an endowment fund with Shuswap Community Foundation in honour of Aileen. Upon learning of the proposed fund Karla Krens of the Sicamous Theatrical Group asked if they could be included. Together with a contribution from Mike, the Aileen Gentles Memorial Endowment Fund was created in May 2015.
Income from the fund will be used to award grants to charitable organizations which support the arts in the Shuswap, or to individuals to assist with training and education in the arts, as well as to composers and playwrights for original works, provided such individuals are properly sponsored by charitable organizations.