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Charlottetown Festival founding father Fen Watkin dies at 96

Joseph Fenwick “Fen” Watkin, O.C. sits at the grand piano during a performance of “By George!” at The Charlottetown Festival in 1976. The music man died Thursday in Toronto. He was 96.  - Confederation Centre archives
Joseph Fenwick “Fen” Watkin, O.C. sits at the grand piano during a performance of “By George!” at The Charlottetown Festival in 1976. The music man died Thursday in Toronto. He was 96. - Confederation Centre archives - Contributed

Prince Edward Island’s theatre community is mourning the death of Joseph Fenwick “Fen” Watkin, O.C.

Watkin was a founding member of the team that brought “Anne of Green Gables—The Musical” to life in 1965 and was a driving force within The Charlottetown Festival for more than 40 years.

Watkin died Thursday in Toronto. He was 96 years old.

The people who worked with him recall the music man fondly.

"Fen will always be remembered for his kindness and humour,” says Adam Brazier, artistic director of Confederation Centre.

“His love of music and storytelling kept him engaged in the theatre throughout his celebrated life. He was a blessing to everyone who had the pleasure of working with him.”

Watkin was a virtuoso pianist and a highly accomplished arranger, conductor, and musical director involved in more than 200 original Canadian productions.

He served for 12 years as associate music director of The Charlottetown Festival and 28 years as music director, spanning more than four decades from 1965 to the late 2000s.

He also performed with the Toronto Symphony, CBC variety shows, and countless community theatre projects. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 2005.

Dean Constable, general manager of theatre at the centre, collaborated with Watkin during the musical director’s final season leading “Anne”.

“Working alongside Fen you immediately realized that he was at the heart of those who had built The Charlottetown Festival.

“He had a wonderful, gentle demeanour, and a terrific sense of humour, but rest assured if you were doing something wrong musically, he would see it corrected. The Canadian musical theatre community has lost an instrumental member and friend and we are grateful for his many contributions.”

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