by Ralph Lucas
(January 1, 2023 – Toronto, ON) When we pulled together the list of Northernstars who had passed away this year, there were 29 names we needed to research. That number became 30 when the singer-songwriter Ian Tyson died three days ago. As this list is usually in chronological order, we’ll look more closely at his life and career at the end of our 2022 look back and remembrance of the Canadian film, television and sometimes stage personalities we lost in the last 365 days.
The year began with the passing of one of Canada’s most distinguished actresses. Barbara Chilcott was a driving force in Canadian theatre for more than fifty years. She was also there at the beginning of television and appeared in what is often thought of as the “golden era” of television drama. Programs like BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Folio, Armchair Theatre and many more. Born in Newmarket Ontario in 1922, her career began when she was 21 and toured England and Europe as a member of the Canadian Auxiliary Services Entertainment Unit during World War II. When the war ended she decided to stay in England and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London before making her West End debut in 1949. She returned to Canada in 1950 and performed on CBC Radio before joining her brothers Murray Davis and Donald Davis in their summer theatre company, Straw Hat Players. Her brothers went on to start the Crest Theatre in Toronto in 1953, one year after the start of the Stratford Festival, where she appeared a number of times. Barbara Chilcott was 99 when she died in Toronto on New Year’s Day 2022.
Born in Montreal in June of 1943, director-screenwriter and occasionally editor, Jean-Claude Lord began his career when he was 23 with the feature Délivrez-nous du mal (Deliver Us from Evil). Among his very successful films are Bingo (1974), Parlez-nous d’amour (1976} and Panique (1977). In 1981, he made his first English-language feature, Visiting Hours, which reached 10th place at the U.S. box office in its first week. La Grenouille et la baleine (1988) won several awards at major international film festivals. Best known for the series Lance et Compte, set in the seedy side of professional hockey, Jean-Claude Lord was 78 when he died January 15, 2022 after suffering a massive stroke two weeks before, December 30, 2021.
Sonya Biddle was born in Montreal on December 31, 1957. She was known for her work on stage during the 1980s and early 1990s, but was cast in just 4 films between 1987 and 1999. Sonya Biddle served on Montréal City Council from 1998 to 2001 and was 64 when she died of intestinal cancer on January 19.
Hamilton, Ontario-born sportscaster and television producer Ralph Mellanby was the executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada for 19 years between 1966 and 1985. He also served on the production team for 13 Olympic Games broadcasts. He is remembered for his many innovations to Hockey Night in Canada , including the first producer to use original theme music in 1965, and the first to put cameras behind the benches, also in 1965. One year later he put cameras behind the nets. Hockey Night was the first sports event in Canada to be broadcast in colour (1967) and the first to use slow-motion replay (1969). He was a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Sports Media Canada Hall of Fame, and Canadian Film and Television Association Hall of Fame. Ralph Mellanby was named Broadcaster-of-the-Year in 1990 and received an Honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Windsor in 1991. He was 87 when he died from heart failure in St. Catharines, Ontario.
We have only one passing to report for February 2022, but it was a shock when news broke on the 12th. Highly influential Canadian producer-director Ivan Reitman was 75 when he died in his sleep at his home in Montecito, California. Born in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, now just Slovakia, he began his career and his rise to fame while attending McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. We have a few articles about his life and career and you can read more starting here.
In March we learned of the passings of actor Lawrence Dane and of documentary filmmaker John Zaritsky.
Lawrence Dane started life in Québec but he grew up in Ottawa, Ontario. He took acting lessons to deal with shyness and more than 50 years later was still working as an actor. He is usually remembered for his role as Lt. Preston in 1998’s Bride of Chucky. Dane died of pancreatic cancer at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on March 21, 2022.
John Zaritsky worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years before exploring film. In 1970, he received a Ford Foundation Fellowship to study at the Washington Journalism Center for six months. In 1972, he won a National Newspaper Award for his investigative reporting at The Globe and Mail. In addition to the 1982 Academy Award for his documentary Just Another Missing Kid, Zaritsky’s thought-provoking films received more than 40 industry and major film festival awards, including seven Gemini Awards, a Hot Docs Special Jury Award, Cable Ace Award, Whistler Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, and several Emmy and additional Gemini nominations. He was 79 when he died of heart failure at Vancouver General hospital on March 30.
While it is often said that April is the cruelest month, in 2022, as far as we could find, no Canadian filmmakers passed away. Actor Kenneth Welsh died in May and Matt Zimmerman and Don Cullen died in June, and July became the cruelest month with the passing of 7 actors or directors or people of note who were associated in some way with the entertainment industry.
I had seen Kenneth Welsh in many many films over his long career that began in 1974 and ended in 2020 just as COVID-19 started to slow the industry to a crawl. I was lucky enough to catch his mesmerizing stage performance of A Child’s Christmas in Wales at the Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto a few years ago. We met sometime later and I told him how much I enjoyed seeing him close up. I suggested how much I would like to have him record an on-camera interview, but he had become wisely wary of the growing pandemic and decided we should wait and then do it at his home outside of Toronto. Welsh had spent 12 years working on stage in the United States. After years playing on and off-Broadway in plays directed by Mike Nichols, Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Jeffrey Sherman to name a few, Welsh returned to Canada to work in film and television. In television, Welsh was honoured with Gemini Awards for his work in Empire Inc., And Then You Die, Journey Into Darkness: The Bruce Curtis Story, and Love And Hate. He also won a Genie for Margaret’s Museum. In 1998 he was given the Earle Grey Award for Lifetime Achievement. Welsh also received a Drama League Award, an ACTRA Award, the Gascon-Thomas Award from the National Theatre School and an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta. He is also a Member of the Order of Canada. He was 80 when he died on May 6. ACTRA Toronto called the Edmonton-born Welsh “one of Canada’s all-time great performers, with hundreds of memorable roles spanning decades.”
Born in Sudbury, Ontario in 1934, Matt Zimmerman was brought up in Detroit, Michigan where he began singing on radio as a child performer and in his teens began acting in local productions. After appearing at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespearean Festival and winning a Best Actor award for his performance as Phyrrus in Racine’s Adromache he moved to England on a Scholarship to study at LAMDA, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. After finishing his one year professional course and having joined the London production of West Side Story, he decided to stay in England. He is usually remembered for being the voice of Alan Tracy in the 1960s television series Thunderbirds and sequel films Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. He also appeared in Margaret’s Museum. He was 87 when he died on June 9.
Don Cullen was born January 18, 1933 in London Ontario and grew up in the High Park area of Toronto after his parents moved there in 1936. Known equally for his acting career, his work as a writer and as the founder of the famous, or infamous, Bohemian Embassy, best described as a coffeehouse, which meant something vastly different in the 1960s and ‘70s from today’s chainstore purveyors of coffee, his career was diverse and included radio, television, film and stage and everything from Sweeney Todd to Wayne & Shuster. Don Cullen was 89 when he died in Toronto on June 26.
A year or so after Northernstars was launched, we received an email from Patrick Watson. He was one of the people that influenced my radio career. I landed my first job in 1964, the same year Watson and co-creator Douglas Leiterman launched the highly influencial news magazine show This Hour Has Seven Days on CBC. My interest in radio began to gravitate towards news and information. He wrote to us saying, in part, “Thanks again for your very, very useful site.” Those “Heritage Minutes” you see on television were another initiative Watson was behind starting in 1988. I had previously done my own version on radio in 1976. We shared a deep interest in preserving and promoting Canadian history. Born in Toronto in 1929, Watson began his career playing Jake in CBC Radio’s daily children’s series The Kootenay Kid in 1943 and his career would continue for more than 50 years. He published an autobiography, This Hour Has Seven Decades, in 2004. Patrick Watson was 92 when he died at home on July 4, 2022.
The British-Canadian film writer-director-producer Terence Macartney-Filgate shot more than 100 films in a career spanning more than 50 years. He was a month shy of his 98th birthday when he died in Toronto on July 11, 2022. We posted a biography of him several years ago, which you can read here.
Pat John was a member of the shíshálh First Nation. He is known for playing Jesse Jim, a business partner with Bruno Gerussi in the fictional log-salvaging business on the international hit CBC series, The Beachcombers. Born in Vancouver in 1953, he was 69 when he died in Sechelt, British Columbia on July 13.
Neil Vipond was an actor for almost 70 years, starting his career at the Stratford Festival with Tyrone Guthrie in the 1950’s and emigrating to New York City where he acted on and off-Broadway and at regional theatres throughout the US and Canada. He moved to Los Angeles and enjoyed a long career in front of the cameras including The New Avengers, Phobia (directed by John Huston), L.A. Law, Mad About You, Frasier, Deep Space Nine, Medium and a recurring role on Will & Grace as Julius, the accompanist to Grace’s mom, played by Debbie Reynolds. He was 92 when he passed away July 15 at his home in Quakertown, PennsylvaniA.
Burton Metcalfe was born March 19, 1935 in Saskatoon, but grew up in Montreal and later moved to Los Angeles. He was a producer-director-screenwriter-actor. He is known for his work on the hit CBS series M*A*S*H. He was nominated 13 times for Primetime Emmy Awards for his work as a writer on the series and he was the only producer to stay with the series for its entire run from 1972 to 1983. He was 87 when he died from sepsis at a hospital in Los Angeles on July 27.
I knew the two final people of note who passed away in July of 2022. I was struggling to be a writer and in radio pushing buttons and editing tape at Toronto’s CFRB and its sister station CKFM in the late 1960s and early 1970s. CFRB took a bold chance on a guy with a strange bent toward things that go bump in the night. I recorded many many of Allen Spraggett’s radio shows, titled The Unexplained. He also hosted a TV series titled E.S.P. and was host of the CBC television quiz show Beyond Reason from 1977 to 1980. He was 90 when he died on July 19.
I also met Mike Filey, who was often in the offices of CKFM in those days. He began his career at what is now the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, where he worked for nine years. He then spent five years at the Canadian National Exhibition. In 1972, Filey was an organizer of Heritage Toronto, focused on Toronto’s history. From 1975 to 2020, he wrote the column, The Way We Were for the Toronto Sun. When I moved back to Toronto in 1985 I ended up in the same neighbourhood as Mike and we would bump into each other from time to time. Often referred to as “Toronto’s best-known historian” Filey was honoured with the Jean Hibbert Memorial Award in 2009. Mike Filey was 80 when he died in Toronto on July 30.
I was reminded of that 1934 movie Death Takes a Holiday when in August, like April, there was nothing to report.
Actress and singer Diane Guérin was 74 when she died on September 18. Born in Lachine, west of downtown Montréal in 1948 she was known by her stage name of Belgazou. She became popular in the 1980s with a series of album releases and had started an acting career in the early and mid-1970s, appearing in 3 films. Her last on-screen appearance was in 1998 in the TV series Réseaux. Diane Guérin died of pancreatic cancer.
Québec businessman and philanthropist André Chagnon lived a long life. Born in 1928, he is best known as the founder of Vidéotron, now owned by Québecor. A recipient of the Order of Canada and l’Ordre national du Québec, André Chagnon was 94 when he died on October 8, 2022.
Stage director, filmmaker and actor André Brassard was 76 when he passed away on October 11. Known for his productions of Michel Tremblay’s plays, Brassard served as director of the French section of the National Arts Center from 1982 to 1989 and the National Theatre School from 1992 to 2000. Also known for his films Once Upon a Time in the East (1974) and Le soleil se lève en retard (1977), Brassard received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for his lifetime contributions to Canadian theatre in 2002.
Jeff Barnaby was an award-winning director of narrative films and music videos but is best known for his short films that used unsettling elements of the horror and sci-fi genres to explore aspects of alienation and colonialism. He received his BFA in film production from Concordia University in Montreal. His debut feature, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, had its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Jeff Barnaby was 46 when he died of cancer in Montréal on October 13, 2022.
The month ended with news of the passing of Michael Kopsa. Known for his voice work, his roles included providing the voice of Char Aznable in the English version of Mobile Suit Gundam and for Commander Volcott O’Huey in Galaxy Angel. He also provided the voice of Beast in X-Men: Evolution. He also appeared on-screen in the several sci-fi and other “out there” series like Stargate SG-1, The X-Files and The Outer Limits. Michael Kopsa was 66 when died of complications from a brain tumor on October 23.
Alan Park was 60 when he died on November 10. A comedian and political satirist, Park was best known for his appearances on The Royal Canadian Air Farce where he portrayed such well-known Canadian politicians as Gilles Duceppe, Tony Clement, Peter MacKay and many others from the world of international politics and entertainment. Alan John Park died after a long battle with cancer.
National Film Board of Canada filmmaker, writer, and producer Gudrun Johanna Bjerring Parker began her career during World War II. Her script for The Stratford Adventure was nominated for an academy award, and she was a co-director on Royal Journey, which won a BAFTA. Her film, Who Will Teach Your Child, was given a Canadian Film Award for theatrical short in 1949, the first year the awards were handed out. Born in Winnipeg in March 1920, she was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. Gudrun Johanna Bjerring Parker was a remarkable 102 when she died in Edmonton on November 15, 2022.
Many Canadians, many people, have hyphenated careers. You’ve already read about some who were known to be a writer-director-producer. The Honourable Jean Lapointe was a comedian-singer-actor-raconteur-performer and for 9 years, 5 months and 24 days, a Senator in the Parliament of Canada, who retired when he hit the mandatory age of 75. He started his preforming career when he was 15-years-old old in Quebec City, where he formed his first group, Les Québécaires, and worked at the local radio station, CHRC. His career as an actor includes the title role of one of Québec`s most controversial premiers, Maurice Duplessis, in the 1977 mini-series. Named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1984, he was given a Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada from the Governor General as well as two honourary doctorates from Québec universities. He became an Officer of the National Order of Quebec in 2006. Jean Lapointe was 86 when he died in Montréal on November 18.
Grahame Woods was an award-winning Canadian cinematographer and writer. Born in England in January 1934, Woods was 21 when he moved to Canada. Hired by the CBC, he was cinematographer for both drama and documentary series including Wojeck, McQueen, Corwin, Telescope and This Hour Has Seven Days. For his work on an episode of Wojeck, he was given a Canadian Film Award for Best Black-and-White Cinematography in 1967. As a writer, Woods was honoured with an ACTRA Award in 1981 for Best Writing in a TV Drama for The War Brides, and a Gemini Award for Best Writing in a Drama Program or Mini-series at the 4th Gemini Awards in 1989 for Glory Enough for All. He was also the recipient of the Academy’s Margaret Collier Award, its lifetime achievement award for television writing, at the 2nd Gemini Awards in 1987. Grahame Woods was 88 when he died on November 25.
One day later screenwriter-composer-author-artist Marcel Lefebvre passed away. Born in Québec City in 1941, he spent some 50 years enjoying those areas he seemed destined for, including teaching, philosophy, music, painting, and writing for the stage and for film. His film credits were all released in the 1970s. He was 81 when he died on November 26.
The last month of the year was only two days old when we learned of the passing of Louis Negin. His long career included being cast by Guy Maddin in 12 short films and features. Some titles that come to mind are Cowards Bend the Knee, Sissy Boy Slap Party, The Saddest Music in the World, Keyhole, and The Forbidden Room as well as narrating Maddin’s semi-documentary films Brand Upon the Brain! and My Winnipeg. He also worked with David Cronenberg appearing in his 1977 film Rabid. His on-screen career began in 1954 when he made his first appearance in one of the many drama series television was once known for. Titled The Man Who Ran Away, it was a production of the General Motors Theatre. On stage he appeared in the Stratford Festival production of Tamburlaine, and later appeared in London productions of Fortune and Men’s Eyes and his own play Love and Maple Syrup. Louis Negin died in Montréal on December 2. He was 93.
Doreen Brownstone was born in Leeds, England on September 28, 1922. She started acting during WWII and moved to Winnipeg as a war bride. A mainstay of the Winnipeg theatre and television scene, one credit of note was the 1958 production of Hatful of Rain at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Directed by John Hirsch, Brownstone starred opposite Gordon Pinsent in the very first production at the very first regional theatre in North America. In 2013, Brownstone was given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Winnipeg Arts Council, and in 2017, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Manitoba. Doreen Brownstone had turned 100 on September 28 of this year and died on December 16.
As mentioned at the beginning of this year’s Passages, folk singer and songwriter Ian Tyson had died just a few days before the end of 2022. Always remembered for his song “Four Strong Winds,” and for his long career in the duo Ian & Sylvia, Ian Dawson Tyson was born on September 25, 1933 in Victoria, British Columbia, he moved to Toronto in the 1950s and began to perform in 1959. From 1970 to 1975, he hosted a national television program, The Ian Tyson Show, on CTV. Tyson died at his ranch near Longview, Alberta, on December 29, 2022. He was 89 and had been in poor health for some time.
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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.