GARDNER, Dr. David Emmett - May 4, 1928 – February 8, 2020 - With his daughter by his side, David died peacefully on Saturday February 8th at Toronto General Hospital.
He was predeceased by his beloved wife and partner, Dorothy, and his brother Desmond. David is survived by the apple of his eye, his daughter Jenny, her partner Christine, close friend Gail Carr, and the Gardner family.
Born in Toronto, David was an actor, director, and historian. He got his start at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre where he played roles such as Othello, Macbeth, Marc Anthony, and Constantin. In 1949, he turned professional with Ontario’s Straw Hat Players. During the 1950s he appeared with the New Play Society, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Crest Theatre, and Jupiter Theatre in Toronto, the Canadian Repertory Theatre in Ottawa, and Brae Manor Playhouse in Quebec. He also toured North America with the Canadian Players. David performed for three seasons at the Stratford Festival, winning the Tyrone Guthrie award in 1956.
Over his long and distinguished creative life, David’s contributions to Canadian theatre were immense. In 1960, he led the founding of the National Theatre School of Canada, which has become the Canadian Centre of excellence in theatre training. Many of Canada’s most important theatre, performance, film, and television artists have been trained at the school. He leaves a lasting legacy for the young artists who graduate every year from the National Theatre School, and for the many Canadian theatres he helped to launch and which continue to inspire audiences to this day.
David directed and produced 75 dramas for CBC Television including CBC’s first full-length film, The Paper People, written by Timothy Findley, which went on to win the Wilderness Award for Direction (1969). He also created the Quentin Durgens MP TV series starring Gordon Pinsent. He served as Artistic Director of the Vancouver Playhouse from 1969 to 1971. During his tenure as Theatre Officer for The Canada Council (1971-72), David was instrumental in launching a new era of alternate and Indigenous theatre, introducing and subsidizing 25 new Alternate Theatre companies across Canada.
David returned to academic life in the mid-1970s, taking first an M.A. (1974) and then a PH.D. (1983) in Canadian Theatre History at the University of Toronto, where he also taught and directed. He lectured at York University, the National Theatre School of Canada, and for 20 years taught the ‘Acting for Camera’ course at George Brown College. During this time he also appeared in productions at the Neptune Theatre, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius, Ontario’s Red Barn Theatre, the Huron County Playhouse, the NAC, and again at the Stratford Festival in 1986. In Toronto he played for Tarragon, Canadian Stage, Necessary Angel, and Factory Theatre. David either performed or directed in more than 850 stage, film, radio, or television shows.
David won the Canadian Film Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Insurance Man from Ingersoll (1976), the ACTRA Award for his work in Bethune opposite Donald Sutherland (1978), and a Gemini Award (1997) for his leading role in the Traders series.
Dr. Gardner wrote extensively about theatre in Canada, was a founding member of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research, and was awarded Honourary Membership in 1993 for his distinguished service to theatre in Canada. In 1999 he donated his 25-year Canadian Theatre history collection to the Thomas Fisher Library at the University of Toronto. David was awarded the Herbert Whittaker/Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association (2004) and the Earle Grey Award (2008).
Finally, and most importantly, we remember David for who he was as a person and this stands above all else. As a father, husband, uncle, friend, and colleague, David exemplified generosity, humility, loyalty, and strength in the face of adversity.
Jenny wants to thank the staff at Hazelton Place for taking such good care of her dad for the past eight years, with special thanks to his personal care worker Grace.
A celebration of David’s extraordinary life will be held on Saturday, May 2, 2020 in the Great Hall at Hart House from 1:00 to 5:00 pm.
Dr. Gardner established a permanent annual endowment fund in 2014 that gives University of Toronto students the opportunity to acquire real-life, highly-technical experience in directing at Hart House Theatre. Donations in his memory can be made to the fund https://donate.utoronto.ca/gardner.