Ralph Lucas – Biography
by Staff Editors
(June 21, 2021 – Toronto, ON) This website was founded by writer-director Ralph Lucas as an offshoot of an idea for a documentary series entitled Northern Stars – The Canadian History of Hollywood. Launched before the .ca suffix was created, the research for the series was repurposed and went online in 1996 as Northernstars.net, a url which is still active. When it was launched it was just the latest in a long line of projects designed to document and celebrate “all things Canadian,” as Lucas has often said.
The first example of his push for more recognition of Canadian talent came in late 1966 with the publication of a tabloid newspaper devoted to Canadian music where he was co-publisher. This was in the pre-“CanCon” years of Canadian radio, where he had started his career in 1964. In the first, and as it turned out only edition, Lucas wrote an editorial calling for more Canadian music on Canadian stations. It would take the governing body, the CRTC, another five years before regulations would be enacted. During a broadcast career that lasted 22 years, every station Lucas programed or managed always exceeded the minimum quotas.
His next project came in 1977 and used radio. He had become an award-winning radio writer-producer in the early 1970s and spent a few years in advertising writing for print, television and radio but had restarted his radio career. In 1977 he had moved to the Montreal company that owned CFCF-TV, CFCF Radio (Canada’s first radio station), and CFQR-FM where he was working as an announcer. Ten years had passed since the national celebration of Canada’s 100th birthday and Montreal’s magnificent Expo ’67. By then there was little of that “Expo feeling” left in Canada and even less in Montreal as the Province of Québec had elected its first separatist government just one year earlier. Lucas, a fan of Canadian history since grade school, had been collecting odd bits and pieces of information for years and decided it was time that some of that history reached a much larger audience.
While there was some talk about Canada’s approaching birthday, Lucas thought there was too much emphasis on the number and not enough on the deep and rich past of the still young country. He wrote a series of Public Service Announcements that would run on CFCF radio. The overriding theme, while recognizing the nation’s 110th birthday, was the fact that there was “So Much More to Celebrate.” Fifty-two 90-second programs were written. Produced by CFCF’s Keith Grigsby the series was narrated by freelance announcer, Earl Pennington. Two of the finished programs were submitted under the title Canada Week, and both received Honourable Mention Awards at that year’s annual radio commercial festival.
Ten years later, in 1987, Lucas was in Toronto and had left radio to establish his own independent production company. Research began almost immediately on the earliest years of the movies and the role Canadians played in the birth of the industry. The result was a concept for a 13-part documentary series which, as mentioned above, ultimately led to this award-winning website.
In 1992, as Canada prepared to celebrate its 125th birthday he made the decision to update and expand the historical vignettes produced 15 years earlier in Montreal. This new series would kickoff with a 30-minute Canada Day special and then continue with a new 90-second program every weekday for the next 13 weeks. To narrate the series he contacted the agent for one of Canada’s best storytellers and actors, Gordon Pinsent. While the first series in 1977 was heard on just one radio station in Montreal, this new series, Gordon Pinsent On Canada would be heard on a network of radio stations from coast-to-coast. Co-written by Tony Reynolds, the series was produced and syndicated by Lucas’ production company. It featured original music composed by Leon Aronson with technical production by Ron Zakar.
A few years later Lucas turned his attention to Canada’s sports heritage and working with archive material, researched, wrote and produced 130 90-second programs titled, Great Moments from Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Again featuring original music by Leon Aronson, the series was distributed by the radio division of TSN and heard across Canada.
In 1997 when the Province of Ontario enacted legislation to amalgamate the City of Toronto with its neighbouring municipalities into a new “mega-city,” Lucas created, researched and co-wrote 65 1-minute programs. Neighbourhoods of the GTA detailed the history of the many small communities that make up the Greater Toronto Area. It was produced by and aired on Toronto’s NEWS680 radio station.
Since Northernstars was launched, much of Lucas’ time has been given over to researching and writing about the people who make up the ever-growing website. The vast majority of the long, detailed biographies on this website were written by him, and several have been picked up for republication. Lucas is particularly proud of his biography of Mack Sennett, which was used in A Short History of the Movies, published by Pearson-Longman in the United States in 2006.
In 2021, Northernstars reached its 25th year online. Lucas continues to act as Publisher and Managing Editor. He also continues to contribute to the website writing articles and the occasional biography. He also acts as Producer and Director for the website’s ongoing series of on-camera video interviews with Canadian filmmakers. He continues to work as a writer-director in video, a photographer often covering major Canadian film events for Northernstars, and as a writer of fiction, screenplays and poetry. His memoir, The Strathmore Stories was published in 2020. Finally, he is involved in helping to guide the development of The Canadian Independent Visual and Digital Media Association, the nonprofit corporation that will become responsible for taking Northernstars into the future.
Also see: Ralph Lucas’ filmography.