By Vernice Shostal

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The Victoria Magic Circle, The Ernie Crockford Ring 183, one of the most active magic clubs in North America, has been bringing magic to the people of Victoria for over 75 years. Interest in magic, which began in Europe in the late 1800s and spread to the English-speaking world in the early 1900s, resulted in the formation of the International Brotherhood of Magicians with Canadian Len Vintus of Winnipeg as its president. Trade magazine *The Linking Ring*, edited by Vintus, gathered magicians from around the globe, including top magician Frank Merryfield from Victoria, who was largely responsible for the birth of Victoria's first Magic Circle, Ring 10, in 1928. While the club lasted several years, the Great Depression and the threat of the Second World War distracted members, and its prestigiously low ring number went to Detroit.

Another well-known magician in the history of the Victoria Magic Circle, Ernie Crockford, who began making a name for himself in his youth when he won major prizes at the first convention of the New Pacific Coast Association of Magicians in Seattle, encouraged other magicians across the continent and up and down the Pacific Coast. As a result, Victoria's second ring, The International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 183, was formed in 1953. After Crockford's death, the club was renamed in his honour.

Born in Wednesfield, a small town in the British midlands, actor, performer, comedian and singer Ray Parker, better known as The Mad Hatter, and one of almost 50 members of the current Victoria Magic Circle, began performing as a puppeteer at the age of 11. Expanding his skills, Ray earned the reputation of a stand-up comedian. "All through my life, I've been a sort of inventor and creator of props," says Ray. At first, Ray didn't realize that some of the creations were magic tricks. "I would play a penny whistle and a string of sausages would come out of my violin case and climb up to the ceiling, but I didn't know it was a magic trick."

In his early 20s, Ray completed his training as an operatic tenor and often appeared both as a comedian and a vocalist.

Before becoming a full-time magician, Ray qualified as a bricklayer, an insurance agent, a photographer, and an industrial X-ray operator. At 36, he came to Canada and got a job as an industrial radiographer. When that job ended - unbeknownst to him, he'd only been hired for three months - he went to work with Alcan before he became a salesman in a beauty supply business, always doing shows at night.

Ray has appeared on screen with actors such as Jack Lemon, Sheena Easton, Hal Linden and other stars. He has appeared on television commercials, network shows, news reports, talk shows, over 60 fairs and exhibitions in North America including the PNE (Vancouver), the Royal Winter Fair (Toronto) and Klondike Days (Edmonton) and entertained on pleasure cruises. He has won numerous awards for children's magic and close-up table magic. Besides the Mad Hatter, Ray has created dozens of costumes, including his famous "Captain Cookie" for naval occasions. Ray is also the club's official town crier.

Born in North Bay, Ontario and twice president of the Victoria Magic Circle, actor and entertainer Eric Bedard, the Cool Magic Dude, works 200 days a year performing on the Princess Cruise Lines. Three or four times a year, his wife, Linda, a nurse, accompanies him.

Assisting his father, Ray Bedard, who performed as the "Great Gilbini" in the late 1950s, Eric began his magic career at the age of seven. At 14, he performed his own solo stage show for an audience of 300 and later incorporated magic into his career as a corporate sales manager and eventually as a highly sought-after motivational speaker. Eric has entertained for celebrities like David Foster, Josh Groban, Merv Griffin, Jim Carey, Pamela Anderson and others.

A Buddhist and a vegetarian, the 58-year-old, who meditates every day and runs 58 kilometres a week, moved to Victoria in 1994. He lives by two mottos: "Today, I'm going to help as many people have a great day as possible," and "Today, I'm going to have more fun than I did yesterday without making a big footprint on the earth."

Apart from cruising, Eric works at corporate functions, such as tradeshows, banquets, think tank seminars and Fortune 500 companies all over the world. He works in New York and Las Vegas several times a year. Recently, he had the opportunity to perform at *Monday Night Magic*, the longest running off-Broadway show in New York. Eric says he was fortunate in his earlier days to have had some great mentors from the club, including the late Tony Eng.

Currently, Eric is working on two books: one, a guide book for professional magicians and serious amateur magicians; and, another, on making the most of every situation by maintaining a positive attitude, setting and attaining goals and living to help make the world a better place.

Magicians from the VMC have been generous with their time to help raise funds for the Mustard Seed Food Bank. For the past 15 years, the club has given well over 100 shows for seniors who are institutionalized and seldom have the opportunity to enjoy live entertainment. Members have also worked with occupational therapists to aid patients in several local hospitals where Magic Therapy is used for cognitive and manipulative rehabilitation.

Around town, every Saturday night, magicians bring a variety comedy/magic act with their Wig and Thistle Show to The Blethering Place on Oak Bay Avenue. On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, with occasional variations in the schedule, The Sticky Wicket Pub on Douglas Street has offered magical entertainment for the past 13 years.

Victoria magicians hold regular monthly meetings. They have an extensive library of books, videos and DVDs, which Club members may borrow for a small fee. For those who already experiment with some magic, or would like to learn, consider joining the enthusiastic, friendly, helpful and fun-loving group of magicians in Victoria.

For more information about the VMC, visit www.victoriamagiccircle.com

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