September 1997

Remarkable Teachers


Back to our
Front Page ...

Cynthia Dale:
Two Remarkable Teachers

On a hot Friday afternoon in Stratford, Cynthia Dale thinks back 20 years to high school in Etobicoke. This is her day off from performing. On Thursday, she played Guenevere in Camelot and Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, performances she will repeat on Saturday.

Dale has two teachers she wants to talk about, both from one of her senior years at Michael Powers/St. Joseph. "My English teacher, Mrs. Smart. It was my first Canadian Lit course and it changed everything for me."

Dale had always read books, but Mary Smart, her Canadian literature class, and her introduction to works of Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Susanna Moodie, and Northrop Frye were a turning point for Dale.

Cynthia Dale as Guenevere in Camelot. One of Canada’s
best-known performers, she has worked extensively in theatre,
television and film. She is probably best known for her role
as Olivia in the TV series Street Legal.

Canadian literature, Dale asserts, "has become the backbone of my life. Now I’m a voracious reader, and I’m a big Canadian Lit fan. I didn’t know anything about Canadian Lit until then."

It is only with hindsight that Dale realizes how much the experience meant. She learned that "books can make you think. They can teach and humble you and inspire you." Also, says Dale, "Mrs. Smart was the first teacher who spoke to us like we were adults."

Dale, who first appeared on stage at the age of five in the chorus of Finian’s Rainbow at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre, has a strong commitment to staying in Canada. "That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t work elsewhere, but there is a lot to be said for quality of life. I know it sounds clichéd, but the land, the geography and what Canada is – and that comes out in the writing of so many of our novelists – means a lot to me."

Dale’s geography teacher is her other choice. "Elizabeth Heenan taught us about life," says Dale. "She was a great lady. She was ‘happening’ and current and explosive and caring and committed. And, she happened to teach us something about geography."

Heenan talked about current events. "It was the first time in my life," reminisces Dale, "that I thought I’d have to know more than just what’s on the curriculum."

"I didn’t love school," Dale says, "but I loved being in those classes and I worked really hard, which was not my wont. Those teachers inspired me. It wasn’t learning how to write essays or learning about drumlins, it was their passion for what they were doing that I was infected with and affected by."

One day last year, Dale was driving by the school on her way to her parents’ home. She noticed construction under way, so she drove onto the site, amidst the workers. She got out of her car and took three of the old bricks, one for herself and the others for two friends.

"Those years were very important to me," she says, "and I wanted to keep a piece of them. I still have the brick." Dale also has the whole field of Canadian literature, and she still knows what a drumlin is.