Peter Donaldson (actor)

Peter Donaldson
Born Peter Thomas Donaldson
(1953-10-29)29 October 1953
Midland, Ontario, Canada
Died 8 January 2011(2011-01-08) (aged 57)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Occupation Actor
Years active 1977–2010
Spouse(s) Sheila McCarthy (1986–2011) (his death) 2 children

Peter Thomas Donaldson (29 October 1953 – 8 January 2011) was a Canadian actor.[1][2]

Donaldson was the son of Betty and Norman Donaldson,[2] and was born and raised in Midland, Ontario.[3] While attending Midland Secondary School, he performed in Brigadoon and an abridged version of Romeo and Juliet; his drama teacher did not spot Donaldson's acting potential at the time.[4] He attended plays at the Stratford Festival during his youth, which fired his enthusiasm for acting.[3][5]

Donaldson attended Trent University and graduated from the University of Guelph.[3][6] He also later studied with Uta Hagen, Stella Adler and Olympia Dukakis in New York.[3] He began his acting career in 1975 with a summer stock company formed with fellow Guelph students that played Muskoka resorts.[6] He subsequently worked as a stage carpenter and scene painter in Toronto.[6]

Donaldson was known for his stage work in Shakespearean roles, particularly at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.[1] He auditioned for the festival without success in 1975, but was hired years later by artistic director Robin Phillips, making his debut in Romeo and Juliet in 1977.[3][6][7] He subsequently spent 24 seasons at the festival.[5] Highlights of his career included his 2004 performance in Timon of Athens,[8] as well as roles in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Seagull, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.[5][7] His performance of Jamie in Long Day's Journey Into Night at Stratford in 1995 was widely praised.[5][9] Toronto critic Richard Ouzounian later noted that "Of all the fine actors I've ever seen in the part, only Donaldson gave us the charm as well as the pathos, the hope as well as the despair".[9] He received a Genie award for this performance when it was filmed by David Wellington in 1996 for the film adaptation Long Day's Journey into Night.[1][3] He also worked at the Shaw Festival, and in London as part of Robin Phillips' repertory company at the Grand Theatre.[6]

Donaldson appeared in two CBC television series based on L.M. Montgomery books. He played Ian Bowles in Emily of New Moon and Reverend Leonard in Road to Avonlea.[3] He also appeared in the TV series Little Mosque on the Prairie and Murdoch Mysteries.[10] His film work also included the Atom Egoyan film, The Sweet Hereafter.[1] He also played John Adams in the six-part 1997 PBS television documentary Liberty! The American Revolution.

He met actress Sheila McCarthy in 1983 while working in theatre in London, Ontario, and they were married in December 1986 in Stratford.[3] The couple had two daughters.[3]

Donaldson was diagnosed with lung cancer, and while undergoing treatment continued to rehearse and perform as an actor. He would often have chemotherapy in the morning and work in the evenings. According to the writer George F. Walker "He had such great energy – he never made you feel like he needed special treatment".[3] Roles during this period included acclaimed performances in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Soulpepper Theatre, 'Art' at Canadian Stage and Walker's And So It Goes at Factory Theatre.[3][8] Donaldson died of lung cancer at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto at the age of 57.[2][3] The director of the Stratford Festival, Antoni Cimolino, described Peter as "the finest actor's actor. He was deeply admired for the conviction he brought to his work and the unsparing truth of his portrayals. He was versatile and able to give outstanding performances in modern plays, musicals and classics. But his home was Shakespeare."[4]


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Peter Donaldson was 'finest actor's actor'". CBC News. 10 January 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 "Death Notices". The Beacon Herald. Stratford, Ontario. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 J. Kelly Nestruck (10 January 2011). "Peter Donaldson's death called a big loss for Stratford Festival". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  4. 1 2 "Midland's Donaldson was one of the best". Midland Free Press. 12 January 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 John Coulbourn (10 January 2010). "Stratford veteran Peter Donaldson dies at 57". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 "Peter Donaldson remains modest about his acting". The Record. Kitchener, Ontario. 5 June 1997. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  7. 1 2 Hunter, Martin (2001). Romancing the Bard: Stratford at Fifty. Toronto: Dundurn. p. 128. ISBN 1-55002-363-2.
  8. 1 2 Richard Ouzounian (10 January 2011). "Actor Peter Donaldson dead at 57". Toronto Star. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  9. 1 2 Richard Ouzounian (11 January 2011). "Peter Donaldson: tribute to a master bluffer". Toronto Star. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  10. "Canadian 'actor's actor'". Retrieved 17 January 2011.
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