Bell, Carol Gay
Journalist, Founder - Saskatchewan Express, Actress, Patron of the Arts
1980 Saskatchewan Roughrider Cheerleaders in the Travellers' Day Parade in Regina, 1980, as part of the Celebrate Saskatchewan 75th birthday celebrations. City of Regina Archives Photograph Collection, C-340.
Carol Gay Bell has been one of the leading lights in the Regina artistic community for the past 30 years. She pursued a career as a journalist before founding the musical theatre group Saskatchewan Express. She was also the founder and director of the Saskatchewan Roughriders Cheerleaders.
Carol Gay Bell was born and raised in Regina. She attended Central Collegiate in Regina and was one of Central's most distinguished alumni. After graduation, she attended the University of Manitoba and received additional training in radio and television arts at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto, where she won the silver medal as outstanding female graduate. Bell worked as a journalist, becoming CBC's first female staff announcer for radio and television, the first Saskatchewan producer of musical variety on CBC television, Canada's first female jazz disc jockey, and an actress in the first live drama on CKCK television. Aside from her professional career, she became the first certified baton-twirling judge in western Canada, and co-ordinated the first musical theatre program at the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts.
One of Bell's pet projects was the Saskatchewan Roughrider Cheerleaders squad. She founded the cheerleading squad (which consists of unpaid volunteers who support their cheering efforts through fundraising projects throughout the community) in 1960. Bell directed the squad until 1977.
The group that Carol Gay Bell is most closely associated with, however, is Saskatchewan Express. Saskatchewan Express was initiated in 1967 when, as a centennial project, a touring show with Saskatchewan performers travelled the province. From this humble beginning, the Saskatchewan Talent Program in the performing arts began. The program started in earnest in 1974, on a biennial basis. Selected performers toured on an individual basis as part of "Saskatchewan Artists on Tour", and the season would culminate in a gala stage show at the Centre of the Arts. The program was given a boost in 1980 as part of the Celebrate Saskatchewan program for the province's 75th birthday. Carol Gay Bell and her husband Vern took on the troupe full-time at that point. The 1980 tour was known as "Saskatchewan's Greatest Little Travelling Birthday Party." By 1981 the troupe was facing a financial crisis, but a 1983 partnership with Saskatchewan Lotteries has ensured funding for the troupe ever since. Since then, other corporate sponsorship have aided Saskatchewan Express, which has performed for numerous dignitaries (including Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, and Prime Minister Jean Chretien) with numerous celebrities (including Roger Moore, Michelle Wright, the Johner Brothers, and Bob McGrath of Sesame Street.)
Bell has served as artistic director and general manager of Saskatchewan Express since 1980. Her ability to spot artistically gifted young people has jump-started the career of many Saskatchewan performers. Some of the artists and performers who got their "first big break" with Carol Gay Bell and Saskatchewan Express include: Dean Balkwill (Rent and The Lion King); Jody Ripplinger (Aida); Charles Lubiniecki (boy band "4Now" and The Other Half); Jon Ballantyne (jazz pianist); and Ted Warren (drummer, "Boss Brass").
For her work in the community, Bell has received several awards and accolades. In 1985 she was the YWCA Woman of the Year - professional category, in 1986 she won the Larry Schneider Communications and Leadership Award and in 1997 she received her highest honour, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.