Play Makers: The Untimely Demise of Volcanic Joe


The pink roses fell gently from Miles Canyon Bridge and the ashes soon followed.

Scattered from an empty case of 12-year-old Glenfiddich scotch, they speckled into the Yukon River and continued north through the green current.

After a few seconds of quiet reflection, teary-eyed friends, family and actors raised their cups of scotch in toast as Amazing Grace was sung.

Even the earlier rain had eased and the sun was now peering through the patches of cloud.

It was a magical scene, and an emotional goodbye, but a fitting send-off to a man who touched so many with his passionate, kind heart, his selfless way and a charming genuine demeanour.

I first met Bob Couchman through the theatre.

It was a few years ago and we were both cast in a Murder Mystery at the MacBride Museum which, in typical Bob fashion, was being put on as a fundraiser.

We would participate in two Murder Mysteries together, so it seems only appropriate then that my final moments with Bob would be as cast members again.

The Untimely Demise of Volcanic Joe was indeed one of the most unique theatre experiences I have ever been a part of.

Volcanic Joe was a character Bob had created during his days in Atlin when he was an integral part of the community theatre scene and specifically the well-liked Murder Mysteries.

An old-time miner, Volcanic Joe was one of the most popular of the many characters Bob portrayed over his many years of acting and scripting plays and, once again on this particular night, Volcanic Joe stole the show.

On May 3, 2008, Bob Couchman passed away suddenly while visiting his youngest son, Michael, in Kingston, Ontario.

After spending the day hiking together, they were watching a Jackie Chan film at a movie theatre when Bob suffered a major heart attack.

“It was a real sucker punch for our family,” said oldest son, Stephen. “He was in great health and really took care of himself.”

Soon after Bob’s death, it was suggested that a Murder Mystery be held to honour Bob.

A few e-mails later and The Untimely Demise of Volcanic Joe was born.

Penciled together by Stephen Couchman, it was your typical whodunit Murder Mystery script, with one very unique aspect.

The star of the show had no lines.

As friends and family entered the top floor of Alpine Bakery, the location for Act I, there before them on a table in the centre of the stage was the scotch case.

For about half an hour, fellow actors Mary Sloan, Lily Gontard, Brian Fidler, Chris McNutt, Gareth Sloan and Michael and Stephen Couchman played with the loose script improvising to the audience’s delight as our characters attempted to determine what exactly happened to Volcanic Joe and, more importantly, his riches.

Act II, the final act, was held at Miles Canyon.

After determining Volcanic Joe’s death was an accident and his riches had been donated to various charities, only fitting, the Murder Mystery ended.

Scotch was then sipped and a toast was made to Bob.

His family then walked to the centre of Miles Canyon Bridge and said goodbye one last time.

It was a great final scene.

Stephen Couchman summed up the evening best through an e-mail he sent to the cast shortly after the show.

“I think I had a chance to speak with each of you one-on-one after the “show”

on Sunday, but I just wanted to say how grateful I am for the gift you gave

to the Couchman family and many special friends of my Dad … and a few

complete strangers. Many people came up to me after to say how grateful they

were that we invited them to celebrate Dad in such a personal and special


You know, I spend a good part of my life justifying why it is important to

fund theatre. With all the other vital causes out there, why should people

donate money to keep live theatre alive? Theatre can be many things. It can

reflect the world and create it, commentate, educate, provide a neutral

place to explore challenging issues and, of course, it can entertain and

provide emotional release. You did all that on Sunday for a most

appreciative audience.

All the world is a stage and you are extremely gifted players.

– Stephen Couchman.

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