Lesley Bonisteel and
The Old Church Theatre Story by Vic Schukov Photography by Daniel Vaughan When Lesley Bonisteel was a little girl growing up on her father’s farm north of Trenton, in a rural patch formerly called Johnstown, she wanted to become a pioneer. “The simple way of life has always appealed to me. We did hobby farming here. As a child, I had a pig and a horse and a goat. When I moved back 10 years ago, I got a Jersey cow and named her Buttercup. We were great friends,” she laughed. “My Dad used to tell us stories about his early years on a farm with no electricity. I was always saying to him, ‘Dad, tell us the story about when you were a little boy. Tell us about the time the butter churn exploded.’ We would hear the same stories over and over again and never tire of them. My father was the kind of guy who would lean on a fence post and chat with neighbours. He took a real interest in people.” Lesley’s Dad, Roy Bonisteel, was an icon in the early days of television and the host of CBC’s longrunning Man Alive. Lesley Bonisteel was born in St. Catharines. “My parents met at a local radio station. My Dad worked at CKTB radio and my Mum wrote commercials.” 10
COUNTY & QUINTE LIVING WINTER 2017
When Lesley was 10, the Bonisteels moved to Trenton, her father’s hometown. “I first attended a one room schoolhouse in Glen Miller, then on to Batawa and Frankford Public Schools, then Bayside High,” said Lesley. “Instead of college, I got married and had a bunch of kids. I home-schooled all my children.” Ten years ago, she and husband Brian Weston moved back to the place of her father’s birth and built a home on the 50-acre Bonisteel family property, across the street from the 140-year-old by then vacant Johnstown United Church. “The church closed in 1972 and sat empty for close to 20 years,” said Lesley. “It was in rough shape, and Dad was approached to see if he might want to keep it standing, and he did but he had no real purpose for it. We spent a while doing renovations, and always had our family Christmas and News Years parties here. When neighbours asked, he would give them the keys and let them use it for Christmas pot luck or for actors to practice there. Dad always loved the old church. He would talk to me and Brian about what to do with it. We decided we would like to buy it, and Dad was thrilled.
County and Quinte Living Magazine Winter 2017