Secrets of Rainbow Valley's Mrs. Sleepy Owl revealed

·3 min read
Mrs. Henrietta Sleepy Owl is available for viewing at Confederation Centre Art Gallery — but not for interviews. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Mrs. Henrietta Sleepy Owl is available for viewing at Confederation Centre Art Gallery — but not for interviews. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Mrs Henrietta Sleepy Owl, a longtime favourite attraction at Rainbow Valley, has taken up residence at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, and had two very special visitors this week.

Rainbow Valley was a family-centred tourist attraction on P.E.I.'s North Shore that captivated generations of young tourists and Islanders alike, operating from 1969 to 2005.

Mrs. Sleepy Owl lived in a fibreglass tree in the centre of the park, and through the wonders of modern technology would peek out from her tree when someone stopped by and have a chat. She is currently at Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown as part of an exhibition about tourism on the Island, The Summer Trade.

"I called Michelle when we first heard that Mrs. Sleepy Owl was coming to the Confederation Centre, and I said we absolutely have to go see her," said Susan Freeman, director of sales at the Great George Hotel.

Michelle Westaway, executive director of Meetings and Conventions P.E.I., was just as excited about the idea.

Freeman and Westaway have a special relationship with Mrs. Sleepy Owl. Thirty years ago they were her voice.

'Way ahead of our time'

How Mrs. Sleepy Owl could see the children who were talking to her and carry on a conversation was always a bit of a mystery, and she often got questions about it.

"It's always 'Where are you?' And, 'You're hiding in there. We can see you.' But we were nowheres near," said Westaway.

The voices of Mrs. Sleepy Owl were hidden in a hut far away in the woods. A camera in the tree and an intercom allowed them to see and talk to the children.

Confederation Centre of the Arts
Confederation Centre of the Arts

"It was pretty cool technology to have at that time, and I don't think that either one of us would have even thought of it, that we were really way ahead of our time at Rainbow Valley," said Freeman.

Also something of a secret was the identity of the voices. When asked about their summer jobs, Freeman and Westaway did their parts to preserve the mystery.

They would say they worked at Rainbow Valley, but they told very few about the Mrs. Sleepy Owl part of the job.

Wayne Thibodeau
Wayne Thibodeau

Having a cast of characters for Mrs. Sleepy Owl's voice occasionally led to problems.

"I was in the French immersion program so I would speak French to the French children that would come," said Freeman.

"Then perhaps if they were coming for multiple days they would come back and speak to the owl and there might be somebody that didn't speak French there. So I sometimes got us into trouble, or Mrs. Sleepy Owl would get into trouble because of me."

A start in Island tourism

Both women still work in the tourism industry, and they both credit Mrs. Sleepy Owl for getting them started.

"Every day was different. I think that set the tone for my career," said Freeman.

"When you think about genuine Island hospitality we were born and bred into it in the Cavendish region," added Westaway.

"Yeah, it was a great start."

The Summer Trade exhibition will be at Confederation Art Gallery until Oct. 9.