ARCOLA - It was a fitting tribute and celebration for the Happy Nun Café Saturday night at the Arcola Prairie Place Complex.
The doors opened at 5:30 p.m. for event. With 454 guests slowly making their way into the venue, greeters escorted everyone to their assigned tables, which were adorned with cream-coloured tablecloths, gold napkins and runners, and boasting a lantern as a centerpiece.
A silent auction was held in the northwest corner and along the south wall, Nun souvenirs could be purchased along with homemade honey prepared by Shannon Shakotko’s son. She was a former owner of the Nun.
Some people wore glitter and lace, while others came casual.
The stage housed a black and gold glitter backdrop, with stands holding several guitars and a set of drums that would be used by the bands that attended.
As it neared 7 p.m., Gayla Gilbertson, the chef and owner of the Nun came on the stage.
Gilbertson welcomed the large crowd, which gobbled up all of the tickets in a matter of days. She said this was the largest crowd to ever be served by the Nun. She thanked everyone for coming out and supporting the Nun, not only that night but over the past years.
She went on to thank her staff and friends for helping over the past weeks with the preparation of the meal, setting up the tables, picking up stock, or being there when she would forget something. Will, the sound guy was also there to help with the stage like he always did at the Nun.
“The food, the entertainment, the laughter, the tears are what brought the Nun alive,” said Gilbertson.
Gilbertson and her husband Leon had lengthy discussions on whether to rebuild the Nun after it was destroyed by a fire on Dec. 15, 2022, but they felt it would never be the same.
“The history just would not be there,” said Gilbertson.
Members of the Stoughton Tecumseh Fire Department were on hand, and they were praised for their 10 hours of grueling work in the sub-zero temperatures the night of the fire, trying to save some of the building. In the end nothing could be salvaged, yet they continued to work throughout the night, because that is what they do, said Gilbertson. The only thing that remains is the deck which is still standing.
At that time, Shakotko came to the stage. She spoke on the history of the Nun and how it has touched so many lives.
“The Nun hosted weddings, concerts, funerals, graduations, reunions, bridal and baby showers, Zumba and movie nights,” said Shakotko.
“Inside the Nun’s walls it has been danced in, played in, sung in, prayed in, laughed in, cried in, proposed in and slept in.”
Shakotko read out some of the historical and meaningful things that the Nun had been holding before the fire.
The blackish pews came from the convent’s chapel, and the green desk and light fixture in the entrance was from one of the classrooms in the convent and a gift from Yvan Hurriet.
The bar was one of the old counters in Donvil’s general store in Forget, but was also used as a prop on the set of the movie Who Has Seen the Wind, filmed in Arcola.
Marion Biram from Carlyle and Forget created the paintings that surrounded the fireplace. They depicted the view coming into Forget, leaving Forget and a trailing Moose Mountain Creek.
The books came from Storthoaks and Gainsborough School after they closed their doors and through many personal donations.
The fire king mugs were collected from across Canada.
The old oak-framed chalkboard was from the former bank across from the high house in Arcola. It was lovingly preserved and moved by Gayla and Leon with Katie Vinge-Riddell’s last menu on it, which hung above the French doors.
Vinge-Riddell was the owner of the Happy Nun when she died in a vehicle collision in 2017.
Shakotko ended with saying a prayer by Mary Oliver.
The Caragana Ramblers then took to the stage. They are a local band from Forget. They performed while the staff made the final changes to the meal.
Gilbertson said that three bands had to cancel due to some health issues, so they would do a small performance. As the song Be Our Guest played, Gilbertson and her staff danced through the crowd and sang along, having the crowd in laughter.
According to staff, this was something that Gilbertson would do on a regular basis at the Nun. Gilbertson directed the tables to the buffet lines.
A supper buffet of red wine-braised beef and white wine mushroom chicken was served, with maple and dill carrots, Nun salad and Nun dressing and special Nun mashed potatoes. Dessert followed.
Lisa Moen and Garth Howell were next to entertain. They thanked the Nun for making them feel so welcome each time they performed there and making them feel like family.
Teagan Littlechief and Morgan Turk then performed. During a slide show of the Nun’s memories, Littlechief sang, I will Remember You and also performed I’ll Always Remember you this Way.
Chris Henderson also took the stage, and the closing act was courtesy of the Tilted Kilts. All singers and bands had performed at the Nun and are from the southeast region.
The evening ended with laughter, tears and a lot of memories that will be forever cherished in the hearts of those that visited the Happy Nun Café.