by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(January 1, 2021 – Toronto, ON) To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Within the relatively small world of Canada’s performing arts communities, the year that has just ended brought not just the pandemic, but like a shotgun shell it produced a scattering of harmful projectiles doing damage across every facet of a profession that is almost always precarious.
As we take our annual look at those we have lost last year, we need to remember that the entire industry has been forced to change. Productions put on hold, film festivals essentially morphing into television events, openings delayed, stages across the country home only to lonely ghost lights.
As in years past we note the cause of death when we have that information and this year’s list does include a number of people who succumbed to the COVID-19 virus.
The year was only five days old when actor Walter John Learning passed away. Born in 1938 in the small village of Quidi Vidi in what was then the Dominion of Newfoundland, he first pursued a career as a teacher, a pursuit that took him to the Australian National University in Canberra to work on his PhD. Back in Canada in 1966, be became Director of Drama at the UNB Summer Session and in 1968, General Manager of the Beaverbrook Playhouse in Fredericton. There he founded Theatre New Brunswick which presented its first production in January 1969. His career in the performing arts included stints as Head of the Theatre Section of the Canada Council, Artistic Director of the Vancouver Playhouse, Artistic Director of the Charlottetown Festival. In 2018, he was honoured with the Order of New Brunswick for achievements in the performing arts and in June 2019, Learning was appointed to the Order of Canada. Within that busy life Learning was also a freelance broadcaster, writer, actor, and director. He was 81 when he died in Fredericton.
Thérèse Tanguay-Dion was hardly known outside of Québec. Born in Saint-Bernard-des-Lacs on the Gaspé Peninsula. Her initial fame came as the mother and stage mother of Céline Dion, one of her 14 children. She eventually launched her own branded line of food products and then became host of her own TV cooking show, Maman Dion, for the TVA network, which ran for three years ending in 2002. Thérèse Dion was 92 when she died on January 17 at home surrounded by her family.
Kit Hood was the co-creator of the Degrassi series of television shows along with Linda Schuyler. Born in England, he worked there as an editor before moving to Canada in 1969 where he continued his career working in advertising editing commercials for companies like Rabko, Montage, Cinegraph and Projections. Hood and Schuyler formed Playing With Time Inc in 1979. Their first major project together was Jimmy: Playing With Time, an hour-long study of a 73-year-old marathon piano player and his gruelling attempt to better his own world record by playing non-stop for 117 hours at the Canadian National Exhibition. Kit Hood was 76 when he died at his home in West Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia on January 20.
Anyone who knows anything about the Toronto music scene and particularly the once vibrant live jazz scene knows the name Norm Amadio. Born in Timmins, Ontario in 1928, he moved to Toronto and began to play in the city’s nightclubs in the late 1940s. One of Canada’s top jazz pianists, Amadio became one of Toronto’s leading accompanists. In the 1950s and 1960s he played at main jazz venues like The Towne Tavern, The Colonial, Bourbon Street, George’s Spaghetti House and the First Floor Club. Amadio worked for CBC Television becoming Musical Director for the weekly Music Hop show, hosted by Alex Trebek. He was a band member on CBC’s Wayne & Shuster Show and spent fifty years at the CBC as an orchestra leader and musical director for series like The Tommy Ambrose Show, Swing Gently, Down Home Country, and the syndicated series Nashville Swing. Amadio was 91 when he died on January 21.
Canadian author Jake MacDonald was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He wrote ten books of both fiction and non-fiction, including his 1997 novel “Juliana and the Medicine Fish,” which was made into a feature film in 2015. In 2019, his first play The Cottage was staged at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s John Hirsch Mainstage. MacDonald died January 30 after a fall at a home he was building in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. He was 70.
George Walter Blondheim was 63 when he died on February 1. A musician and a composer who often working in film and television he was born and raised in Edmonton and at various points in his life lived in Vancouver and Kelowna, British Columbia commuting to Los Angeles for many years. He returned to Edmonton in the spring of 2018 and a few months later was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Screenwriter Diane Cailhier was born in Valleyfield, Québec. Working in French she is mostly known for her work in series television, particularly 2 frères and Chartrand et Simonne. For the Erik Canuel film Le survenant she adapted the novel by Germaine Guèvremont. She was 73 when she passed away in Magog, Québec on February 5.
Earl Pomerantz was born in Toronto on February 4, 1945. He began his career writing a weekly column for the Toronto Telegram and began to write for television in the early 1970’s, specifically The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour, which starred his brother Hart Pomerantz and Lorne Michaels. He moved to Los Angeles in 1974 where he went on to write for such hit programs as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi and Cheers among others. He created three network television series, Major Dad, Family Man and Best of the West. His talent was recognized with two Emmy Awards (and four other nominations), a Writers’ Guild Award, the Humanitas, and a Cable Ace award. He was 75 when he died in Los Angeles on March 7, 2020.
The man behind Corus Entertainment and Shaw Communications. JR (James Robert) Shaw was born August 14, 1934 in Brigden, Ontario. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in business administration from Michigan State University then worked for his father’s company, Shawcor, a pipe coating company. He moved to Edmonton in 1961 and founded Shaw Communications in 1966 and was the executive chairman of the company. He legally changed his name to JR Shaw in 2002 and was 85 when he died on March 23.
Also on March 23, filmmaker Giles Walker passed away in Toronto following a 10-year fight with cancer. Born in Scotland in 1946, Walker began his career in 1974 as a documentary filmmaker with the NFB. He soon made the switch to drama, with his NFB film Bravery in the Field which was recognized with an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film in 1979.
The word is used all too easily but it is safe to say Shirley Douglas was beloved by all who knew her or worked with her through a long career. Always remembered as the daughter of Canada medicare founder Tommy Douglas, she was also mother to actor Kiefer Sutherland, who announced his mother’s death on Twitter, saying she succumbed to complications surrounding pneumonia. He said it was not related COVID-19. Born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan April 2, 1934, she grew up to graduate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in England. She began her stage and television career in England and performed in the U.K., Canada and the U.S. playing such iconic roles as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Oenone in Phaedra, and Hagar Shipley in the stage version of The Stone Angel. She is best known for playing May Bailey on the television series, Wind at My Back, which brought her a Gemini nomination. She won a Gemini for Shadow Lake and was also nominated for Passage of the Heart. She held honorary doctorates from Ryerson University, Brandon University, University of Windsor, and University of Regina. In 2003, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Shirley Douglas died on April 5, three days after turning 86.
Jean-Pierre St-Louis is not a well known name. Thought to have been born in 1951 he began his film career in 1987 as a director. He had some twenty films to his credit including several short films between 1977 and 1991 that were made in part with grants from the Canada Council. Jean-Pierre St-Louis was 69 when he died on April 9.
Paul Haddad was born in Birmingham, England on May 20, 1963. Of Iranian descent, his professional acting career began with an appearance on the TV series Night Heat in 1986. He had studied acting at McGill University and later attended and graduated from the prestigious National Theatre School of Canada, also in Montréal, Québec. In addition to his work in film and television he also performed at the Stratford Festival spending two years there in the late 1990s. Diagnosed with throat cancer, he was 56 when he died on April 11.
Actor Pierre Hébert had few credits to his name and is best remembered for his role on Les Bougon: C’est aussi ça la vie where he played Pépère Bougon in 25 episodes of the series between 2004 and 2005. He was 81 when he died on April 13.
Claude Lafortune was born on July 5, 1936 in Montréal and was best known for his work as a paper artist, his creations were the subject of an exhibition titled Colle, papier, ciseaux at the Musée des cultures du monde in Québec. A graduate of the École des beaux-arts de Montréal, Lafortune’s career on television was mainly as a host. He was 83 when he died in Longueuil, Quebec after contracting COVID-19. His work as an artist was covered in Tanya Lapointe’s 2020 documentary Lafortune en papier, aka The Paper Man.
Both May and August saw the passing of 8 people. September, October and December each had only one.
You need to be of a certain age to remember the name of Joyce Davidson. There’s a bit of a “Star is Born” quality to her career as well a bit of being in the right place at the right time. The eldest of four children born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan during the Great Depression, Joyce Brock moved with her family to Hamilton, Ontario where she grew up and met Doug Davidson. She was only 17 when they married, a marriage that didn’t last. While still married she entered a beauty contest, which brought her some momentary fame. She applied for a job at the then recently licensed CHCH-TV and was hired as an assistant on a cooking show. She also appeared in commercials in Hamilton and Toronto and in 1956 was hired by CBC to be part of the on-air team behind Tabloid, a long-running highly popular national current affairs show which had been home to people like Gil Christy, John O’Leary, Gregory Clark, Trent Frayne, Robert Fulford, Lister Sinclair, Jean Templeton and so many others including Percy Saltzman, who did the weather forecast for the nation. CBC’s Max Ferguson was the main host of the show in its last few years. Davidson had been with the show for three years when on a trip to New York she was a guest on NBC and when asked how Canadians felt about the pending 1959 visit of Queen Elizabeth replied “Like most Canadians, I am indifferent to the visit of the Queen.” It sealed her fate in Canada. She moved to the United States in 1961 and continued to work in television journalism. She returned to Canada in the mid-1970s to host her own interview program on CTV, The Joyce Davidson Show. She also returned to CBC when in 1980, she was the host of Authors, a series of interviews with Canadian writers. Davidson was 89 when she died in Toronto on May 7 from complications of COVID-19.
Screenwriters get short shrift. Actors often become renowned for the words that come out of their mouths and directors’ careers rise and fall on how they have brought to life the words that began in a screenwriter’s imagination. Martin Pasko isn’t a household name, but the Canadian-born American screenwriter started out writing comic books first at DC Comics and later at Marvel. In addition to comic books, he also wrote the scripts for something like 100 television episodes and was co-writer on the 1993 animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Born Jean-Claude Rochefort in Montréal in 1954, Martin Pasko was 65 when he died in North Hills, California on May 10.
Actress and singer René Claude began life as Renée Bélanger in Montréal July 3, 1939. She studied piano at the École de musique Vincent-d’Indy, took singing lessons from Alphonse Ledoux, and won a music competition on CKVL radio. After a long career as a singer and recording artist, she turned toward acting in the 1990s including taking some stage roles and appeared in a handful of film and television roles. Appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2009, it was announced in February 2019 that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but died of COVID-19 on May 12 in Montréal.
Playwright, director and actor John Palmer was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1943. He grew up in Ottawa and became involved with theatre while still in high school and as an English major at Carlton University. He directed plays at Le Hibou Coffee House in Ottawa, and at the Black Swan Coffee House in Stratford, which he co-founded with Martin Kinch. In 1968 he co-founded the Canadian Place Theatre in Stratford with Kinch as Canadian alternative to the British fare at the Stratford Festival. In addition to his work as a stage director and playwright, Palmer was also a founding member of Playwrights Guild of Canada and taught at York University, Ryerson University, National Theatre School of Canada, Juilliard, and Brooklyn Academy. He wrote three screenplays and directed three films, including the 2004 film Sugar. John Palmer died on May 15.
Monique Mercure grew up in Montréal and obtained a BA in Music from that city’s Vincent d’Indy Advanced School of Music, where she studied cello and singing. She moved to France to study under the famous mime and movement teacher, Jacques Lecoq, and took dramatic art lessons at Théâtre National Populaire and l’École Dullin. Returning to Canada, she continued her studies in English, working three years at the Montréal Drama Studio, a branch of the Actors’ Studio. Working both in French and in English, Monique Mercure has appeared in more than 30 films including such classics as Claude Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine and Jean Beaudin’s J.A. Martin photographe for which she won a Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and at the Canadian Film Awards in 1977. She won a Genie Award in 1992 for her role as Fadela in Naked Lunch. Her stage credits were many. She was in Les belles-soeurs by Michel Tremblay, Night of the Iguana and performed, over the years, the parts of three characters of different ages in Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, plus roles in plays by Strindberg, Tennessee Williams, Genet and Shakespeare. She was the General Director of Montréal’s National Theatre School from 1991 to 2000. One of Canada’s most distinguished actresses, Monique Mercure was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979 and was promoted to Companion in 1993. In 2006, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She was 89 and had been suffering from throat cancer when she died on May 16 at a palliative-care centre in Montréal.
Québec actress Michelle Rossignol was born February 4, 1940 in Montréal. Her career was long but sparse, appearing in less than 30 productions (film, series, made-for-TV movies) over a span of 55 years. On stage she appeared in Les beaux dimanches by Marcel Dubé, Les oranges sont vertes by Claude Gauvreau and Sainte-Carmen de la Main by Michel Tremblay, among many others. Rossignol was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1991 and a Knight of the National Order of Quebec in 2001. She died in Québec on May 18.
Four days later came news of the passing of Denise Cronenberg, beloved sister of David Cronenberg, and a costume designer who worked on many of his films and on many others. Born in Toronto on October 1, 1938 Cronenberg was also mom to filmmaker Aaron Woodley. She was 81 when she died in Burlington, Ontario, on May 22.
Québec actor André Carter also passed away on May 22. Born December 24, 1945, he was a child actor beginning his career on stage. Known for his work in series television, particularly in Passe-Partout, Pop Citrouille and Entre chien et loup, he was 74 when he died at his home in Dunham, Québec.
June began with word Silver Donald Cameron had died. Mostly known as a journalist, author and university teacher, his 15 books of non-fiction dealt with everything from history and politics to education and community development. Cameron’s only stage play, The Prophet at Tantramar, was about Leon Trotsky’s month-long confinement in a prisoner-of-war camp in Amherst, Nova Scotia, and was also produced as a radio drama, one of more than 50 he wrote for both CBC Radio and CBC Television. In 2012, Cameron received both the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia. He was 82 when he died in Halifax, Nova Scotia on June 1.
If you just count titles, Andrée Champagne had only 10 to her credit, 11 if you throw in a video game, which we don’t track. However if you did an episode count you might be surprised to learn she played the role of Donalda Laloge in 470 episodes of Les Belles Histoires Des Pays D’en Haut between 1956 and 1970. Her other equally if not more important career was as a public servant. She was elected Member of Parliament for Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot and appointed Minister of State for Youth in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. From 1986 to 1990, she served as Assistant Deputy Chair of the Committee of the Whole House, and became Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons in 1990. She served in that role until her electoral defeat in the 1993 general election. On August 2, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced the appointment by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson of Champagne as a Conservative member of the Senate of Canada. She retired upon reaching the age of 75 on July 17, 2014. Born in Saint-Hyacinthe on July 17, 1939, she was 80 when died there on June 6.
Actor Hubert Gagnon is probably not very well known outside of Québec. The vast majority of his work was as a voice actor and a lot of that was dubbing a French voice into an English production. That said he was the voice of Homer Simpson in the Québec version of The Simpsons, a role he had for 27 years until 2017, when he was forced to retire due to health reasons. Born September 29, 1946, he died of cancer at his home in Longueuil, Québec on June 7. He was 73.
Almost a full month passed before we learned on July 5th that Canadian broadway and film actor Nick Cordero had died. He was 41 when he died due to COVID-19. Cordero made his Broadway debut as Bourbon Room owner Dennis in the Broadway company of Rock of Ages. Set in L.A.’s Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages features songs from Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon and others. Cordero appeared in The Toxic Avenger musical off-Broadway, as well as in regional productions of Little Shop of Horrors, The Last Five Years, Blood Brothers and Equus. He was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as Cheech in the 2014 Broadway musical adaptation of the 1994 Woody Allen film Bullets Over Broadway and was twice nominated for the Drama Desk Awards. He was born Nicholas Eduardo Alberto Cordero on September 17, 1978 in Hamilton, Ontario.
Aubert Pallascio’s career was wide and long. Wide in that he worked in film and television and appeared on the stages of some of Québec’s most prestigious theatres including the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, Théâtre du Rideau Vert, Théâtre Denise-Pelletier, Trident and Théâtre Jean-Duceppe among others. Long in that his earliest TV credit is 1963 when he often used the name Louis Aubert, and his last was in 2016, a career that spanned some 53 years. He was nominated in 1996 for a Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in Liste noire. Born in Montréal in 1937 he was 82 when he died in Montréal on July 5.
George Elroy Boyd was born and raised in Halifax and was a playwright but he was also briefly a newsman. In fact he was the first Black national news anchor and one of the original anchors when CBC launched its Newsworld service in 1989. Boyd wrote for the stage, radio, television and motion pictures. His debut play, Shine Boy (1988), was the first play by an African-Nova Scotian to be professionally produced at the Neptune Theatre, where he was appointed “writer-in association” in 1995. His plays have been produced in Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and New York to name some of the major locations. Honoured with awards from his native Nova Scotia, in 2000, his play Consecrated Ground was nominated for a Governor General’s Award for drama. Wade in the Water, was nominated for a Montréal English Critics Circle Award in 2005. His play, Gideon’s Blues, was adapted into an hour-long TV drama, The Gospel According to the Blues, in 2010 by Thom Fitzgerald. Born June 30, 1952, Boyd died on July 7 at the Mont Sinai Hospice in Montréal.
Yves Lever is someone hardly known outside academic film circles. He was a film historian based in Québec where he was born, in Marsoui in 1942. Rather than be remembered for his learned books with titles like, Cinéma et société québécoise (1972), Histoire générale du cinéma au Québec (1988), Les 100 films québécois qu’il faut voir (1995), he will probably be remembered for writing the book that changed the way we look at and often ignore the serious issues and problems with high level personalities. It was his 2016 biography of film director Claude Jutra which addressed allegations that Jutra had sexually abused underage children. It caused an uproar in the Québec film community where Jutra was almost a God, honoured by cultural organization with things like Quebec’s Jutra Awards and the national Claude Jutra Award, it didn’t take long for the truth behind the book to be accepted and Jutra’s name was quickly stripped, consigned to history, ignored if not forgotten. Yves Lever was 78 when he died in Montréal on July 7.
Genevieve Westcott was born in Stratford, Ontario and began her career as a newspaper reporter in Vancouver. She moved her skills into television working at one time or another for Canwest/Global, the CBC, and CTV National News where she was West Coast bureau chief and correspondent. She moved to New Zealand in 1984 and continued her career winning 13 national and international journalism awards. Westcott was 65 when she died of breast cancer on July 10 in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.
Born in Scarborough, Ontario, actor Rob Smith was best known for his portrayal of an obnoxious Scotsman in a series of beer commercials. He was 55 when his body was found in Minden Lake, east of Bracebridge, Ontario. He had entered a guilty plea to two charges of possessing and one charge of distributing child pornography in 2008 and he was reportedly facing new child pornography charges when he went missing. On July 24 Toronto Police asked Ontario Provincial Police to look into his disappearance and although the exact date of his death is not known his body was found on July 26.
Brent Carver was born November 17, 1951 in Cranbrook, British Columbia and became one of Canada’s cherished performers. He will always be remembered his Tony Award-winning performance as Molina in the hit stage production, Kiss of the Spider Woman. It was also staged in Toronto and London. In addition to the Tony Award® for Best Leading Actor in a Musical in 1993, he was also given a New York Drama Desk Award, a Dora Award, and an Olivier Award nomination. Equally known for his remarkable versatility on television or in film, his work was critically acclaimed for his role as the Countess in the feature film Lilies, and for his title role in Whiskers, which earned him an Emmy nomination. Carver also had major roles in the stage productions of Richard III, Cyrano de Bergerac, Tartuffe, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Cabaret, Much Ado About Nothing, and Mother Courage. For his work in 1996’s High Life, he was given a coveted Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best Actor. He won his first Dora in 1981 for his portrayal of Horst in Martin Sherman’s Bent at Toronto’s Bathurst Street Theatre, a play about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. In 2011 he played the role of Pontius Pilot in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar to great acclaim. When his family announced that he had died they wrote, in part, “His love of performing was matched only by his zest for life and lifetime devotion to family, friends and treasured pets..” Brent Carver died in Cranbrook, British Columbia on August 4.
Four days later we lost Salome Bey. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1933, she moved to Toronto in 1964 where she played the jazz club circuit. A renowned singer Bey was usually referred to as Canada’s “First Lady of the Blues.” She didn’t do much acting on film or television and probably won’t be remembered for any of her roles, but she was an active and important part of our rich performing arts community and she will be missed. Her Broadway debut came in October 1972 when she appeared in the short-lived musical Dude, from Hair creators Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot. That same year, she received an Obie Award for her work in Love Me, Love My Children (which had previously run in Canada under the title Justine). In 1976, she appeared in Alex Bradford, Micki Grant, and Vinnette Carroll’s Tony-nominated Your Arms Too Short to Box with God; her performance was preserved on the musical’s Grammy-nominated cast album. Bey subsequently created a cabaret show celebrating the history of Black music, Indigo, which brought two Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Outstanding Performance in a Revue or Musical and Outstanding Production of a Cabaret or Revue. She was honoured with a 1992 Toronto Arts Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal in 1996. In 2005, Bey was made an honorary member of the Order of Canada. She was 86 when she died in Toronto on August 8.
Michael Dumont’s career in front of the cameras began in the mid-1960s and continued until 2017. His role as Zachary Harrison in the series Yamaska ran for 45 episodes between 2009 and 2013. Born in 1949, Michael Dumont was 79 when he died on August 13.
Lorraine Thompson also passed away on August 13. She was a dancer, television host, television producer and one of the co-founders, with Pierre Berton, of the ACTRA Awards. She was the first dancer hired by the CBC for their first televised variety show, The Big Revue. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, she moved with her family to Toronto in 1945. Working mainly in television, she was elected to the board of ACTRA in 1958 as a dancer representative. She would remain active with ACTRA becoming vice-president in 1975. In 1989, she retired from broadcasting to accept an appointment to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board. Lorraine Thompson was 89 when she died in Toronto.
Mainly recognized as an author, journalist and historian, Richard Gwyn was born in Bury St. Edmonds England in 1934 and moved to Canada when he was 20. He began his career as a radio reporter, moved into newspapers. He is best known for his 1980 biography of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, The Northern Magus, and for his two-volume historical biography of Sir John a. MacDonald. He died from Alzheimer’s on August 15.
Father Gaston Roberge was born on Montréal on May 27, 1935. He was a Jesuit priest as well as a film theorist and pioneer of the film appreciation movement in India. He was the founder, with full support of Satyajit Ray, of Chitrabani, the oldest media training institute of Eastern India. His books included The Theory of Indian cinema, Mediation: The Action of the Media in Our Society, The Ways of Film Studies: Film Theory & the Interpretation of Films, Satyajit Ray: Essays 1970-2005, The Subject of Cinema and many others. He was honoured with a National Film Award Special Mention for Best Writing on Cinema. He was 85 when he died on August 26
Québec actor Jacques Galipeau was born September 23, 1923. He became interested in acting and at one point studied acting in Paris for 6 years. He returned to Québec where he found work on stage and on television. In the 1950s he was known for his stage work in productions like Les Fous de Dieu by Friedrich Durrenmatt at Théàtre des Noctamblues. He is probably best known for his role of Clophas in the series Les belles histoires des pays d’en haut working with Denise Filiatrault and Jacques Godin. One of his last roles was in the 2002 Manon Briand film La turbulence des fluides, which starred Pascale Bussieres. Jacques Galipeau was 96 when he died in hospital in Montreal on August 30.
Most of Norm Spencer’s work was in television and some of that was as a voice actor. He was the voice of Sly Fox in the 1998 animated series The Dumb Bunnies and provided the voice of Billy Blazes in 32 episodes of Rescue Heroes, a Canada-China-USA copro, between 1999 and 2013. Born in 1958 he was only 62 when he died on August 31
I can remember hearing Lucille Starr on the radio. I’m old enough not to care that I’m old enough to remember stuff like this. She was born in Saint Boniface, Manitoba and raised in Port Coquitlam’s Francophone community, named Maillardville, British Columbia. Her first hit was quite something. Titled “The French Song” in English, the 1964 hit single was originally titled “Quand Le Soleil Dit Bonjour Aux Montagnes.” I had started my career in radio in ’64, which is why I probably remember the song. It is thought “The French Song,” which became an international success, made Starr the first Canadian artist to sell over a million copies of a record. A street in Coquitlam was named Lucille Starr Way in her honour. She made some TV appearances as herself, wasn’t really an actor, but is included here because she should be. Lucille Star was 82 when she died in Las Vegas on September 4.
Jacques Godin began his career in film and television when he was just 16. Born in Montréal in 1940, he was one of those solid actors who worked regularly throughout his career, appearing in some of the better films this country has produced in either English or, more usually, French. He was cast in The Luck of Ginger Coffey, only his 4th feature film in 1964. He was also in The Pyx with Jacques Galipeau in 1973. He won the Canadian Film Award for Best Actor at the 25th Canadian Film Awards in 1973 for his role in the film O.K…Laliberté, and was a nominee in the same category at the 13th Genie Awards in 1992 for Being at Home with Claude. Godin won a Gémeaux Award for best performance by an actor in a series in both 1998 and 2001 for his work in Sous le signe du lion. In June 2017, Godin was made a knight in the Ordre national du Québec and was 90 when he died of heart failure in Hopital de Verdun in Montréal on October 26.
When I decided to take the research for a television series and put it online in 1998 (which became the foundation for this website), I had to make some decisions on what we would cover and what we would leave alone. One of those decisions was we would not cover personalities only actors, directors, screenwriters and film composers. Today I have decided to waive that rule for one very special personalty. Can you guess who? The answer is Alex Trebek. Trebek hosted a number of television shows in Canada during the 1960s including Reach for the Top, Jackpot and CBC Championship Curling. It was fellow Canadian, the late actor Alan Thicke, who encouraged him to move to California in 1973. He landed a hosting job on an NBC game show called The Wizard of Odds, but the odds were against it and Trebek moved on to shows like Double Dare, High Rollers, Battlestars, The New Battlestars, Classic Concentration and To Tell the Truth before joining Jeopardy!, which had first hit the air in 1964 hosted by Art Fleming. The show had been off the air for a few years when a new reimagined version came to the small screen with Trebek as host. He went on to win six Emmy Awards for outstanding game-show host, most recently in 2019, and also received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 2011. In December of 2019 the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television announced that Trebek would be one of four recipients to be honoured with a 2020 Special Canadian Screen Award, but the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic caused those plans to be put on hold. He used his television show to announce his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019 and promised to fight on while continuing to work. “We have lost an icon,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter. Yes, Alex Trebek was certainly that, but to his millions of fans he had also become a friend, someone we spent a considerable portion of our lives with, someone who made us laugh with his quick asides, someone who urged his contestants to win big, someone who seemed to know more than anyone else we knew and who taught all of us something about the world we live in five times a week. Alex Trebek was 80 when he died on November 7.
Québec actor Michel Mongeau spent about 50 years in radio, television and film. His screen credits total 30 but he played the role of Mike Ferguson most often in the seemingly endless series of made-for-TV movies and series based in the world of hockey, Lance et compte (Shoots and Scores). He was also in Gaz Bar Blues and Shake Hands with the Devil. Michel Mongeau was 74 when he died in Montréal on November 11.
Born in England in the early days of World War Two, David Hemblen immigrated to Toronto with his parents in 1956 and attended high school in the city. He originally embarked on an academic career and was pursuing a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies when he caught the actor’s bug. Spotted by Royal Shakespeare Company’s Clifford Williams in a student production, he acted in the first season of Theatre Toronto, launched in 1967 with John Colicos, Terry Tweed, Barbara Hamilton and other luminaries of the Canadian stage. His stage career included over 70 productions in theatres like the National Arts Centre, Stratford, the Shaw Festival, and roles in regional and local theatres across Canada. He received a Dora Nomination for Best Leading Actor as Dr. Astrov, in Tarragon Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya. As a film and television actor, he was acclaimed for his performances in several films by director Atom Egoyan, garnering a Genie Award nomination for his role in Family Viewing. David Hemblen also developed an international following for his portrayal of Jonathan Doors in the television series Earth: Final Conflict. He was 75 when he died on November 16.
Jasper Alberta-born, Vancouver-based actor and voice actor Kirby Morrow was 47 when he died November 18, 2020, just eight days after the death of his father. His career began in 1996 and he worked steadily right up to the time of his passing. On camera, he was known for the recurring role of Captain Dave Kleinman in Stargate Atlantis. At this time we’re still gathering information on his complicated career, sorting out acting roles, voice acting roles, voice dubbing roles when he became the English voice on foreign produced animated series. In early December 2020, The Kirby Morrow Memorial Scholarship Fund was established to help anyone pursuing an education in the performing arts and there is more information online.
Composer and conductor Andrée Gagnon passed away on December 3. Born in Saint-Pacôme-de-Kamouraska on August 2, 1936, he was the youngest of 19 children and a child prodigy, creating his first compositions long before he turned 10. Following the release of several albums that had immediate success and became international hits, Gagnon was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1978. The following year he was given his first Félix Award in the instrumental category for the album Le Saint-Laurent. He also began composing for film including the soundtracks to Running (1979), the John Huston film Phobia (1980), and The Hot Touch (1981), directed by Roger Vadim. His 1981 world tour took him to the United States, Venezuela, Mexico, Greece, and Romania. In 2018 he was made an Officer of the National Order of Quebec. He was 84 when he died from Lewy body disease, a neurodegenerative disorder.
Yves Laferrière was also an award-winning composer, who collaborated on more than 50 award-winning Canadian soundtracks, including: Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe, Denys Arcand’s Jésus of Montréal (Genie Award, Best Original Soundtrack,1990) and The Barbarian Invasions (Academy Award, Best Foreign Language Movie, 2003), Le sexe des étoiles (Genie Award, Best Original Soundtrack, 1993) by Paule Baillargeon, Le Matou (1985) by Jean Beaudin and La femme de l’hôtel (Genie Award, Best Original Song, 1985) by Léa Pool, to name just a few. He also wrote music for documentaries like Between the Solitudes and Claude Jutra, an Unfinished Story. Born in 1943, he died on December 11.
Our last entry for 2020 is actress Deanne Taylor. Her career was short with only a handful of credits but she starred in one of those early CBC shows that, as I have often referenced this year, you need to be of a certain age to remember. Maggie Muggins was one of my favourite shows in the late 1950s and Taylor played the title character. Born in California in 1946, she died on December 15, 2020 in Toronto.
If we have missed someone, our sincere apologies and please bring this to our attention by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. With the ongoing COVID pandemic and the chaos caused by the bumbling impossible President who has been out of his depth for decades, all we can do is hope for a vastly improved 2021. Thank you for visiting northernstars.ca.
Also see: Passages 2019.
Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.