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Guylaine St. Onge and "my" Canada


I recently read about the passing of Canadian actress Guylaine St. Onge. And though one is always briefly saddened on hearing of the passing of an entertainer, for reasons I'm struggling to articulate, that news continues to linger with me even days later. I did not know Ms. St. Onge, I had never met her, have no connection to her whatsoever. I would not presume to write about her personally, or to offer insight into the impact her death must have had on those close to her (including a nine year old son). Yet reading about her death from cancer has left me feeling rather melancholy.

Any death should be regarded as upsetting, I suppose. Though the pragmatist might argue that we all must die, and so must view such things in their perspective of inevitability. Even celebrities die.

At the same time, St. Onge was no semi-retired grand old dame, but a relatively young (she had not yet turned 40), beautiful, performer whose career should have had years to go. When well-known Canadian actor John Vernon died a little while back, the public could nod sadly, but at least know he had a huge body of work to look back upon. With someone like St. Onge, still in mid-career, one can't help thinking of the roles that might have been, the performances we'll never see.

Perhaps her death now, at this time, impacted on me for reasons that have much to do with happenings in my personal life. Or perhaps it was because, although I can't claim to have slavishly followed her career, I remained peripherally aware of it for many years.

You see, the first thing I saw St. Onge in was also her first role -- in the TV series, Mount Royal. This was around the time that I was first becoming interested in Canadian film and TV as a hobby, when I first began dutifully setting out to watch whatever I could that was Canadian. I suppose, on some subconscious level even I was unaware of, St. Onge evolved to kind of represent, for me, Canadian film and television. Her career and my interest in the business began together. And as a francophone actress who appeared often (perhaps mainly) in English-language productions, she seemed to represent a Canada that was increasingly becoming shunted aside by modern Canadian filmmakers: the bilingual, multicultural Canada -- the Canada I still happen to believe in.

Throughout the ensuing years, I was aware of her, as her career had the usual ups and downs Canadian actors are familiar with. Landing a major role one month, then an unspeaking part in a TV commercial the next, going from guest star in a weekly series, to a regular, back to guest star again. Doing the mass appeal "Hollywood"-style programs...and the art projects. She was one of those performers who, after Mount Royal, when I'd see her in a TV commercial, I'd say, "Hey, there's that girl from Mount Royal", then, as I'd see her a few more time, and could more comfortably put a name to a face, I would say, "Hey, there's Guylaine St. Onge". Probably everyone who watches films and TV have certain actors who they kind of take notice of, who they take pride in recognizing from role to role (I have a sister who seems to be able to name half the films American actor Ed O'Ross has been in). I suppose, for me, Guylaine St. Onge was that sort of actor, the one who was Canadian film and TV, with all its ups and downs. I remember even seeing her in a short film produced (I believe) one year by one of the graduates of the Canadian Centre for Advanced Film Studies and thinking to myself how, after years of her more being associated with the "populist" side of Canadian entertainment, it was nice to see her getting recognition from the more critically regarded side of the field.

As a regular in the final season of the SF series, "Earth: Final Conflict", St. Onge will probably enjoy a cult recognition for some years to come (such is the nature of science fiction and fantasy series) and having appeared in some of Ken Finkleman's post-Newsroom mini-series, the art crowd will no doubt see reruns of her face for a while yet on Showcase or Bravo or where ever reruns will crop up. I don't know if most actors crave immortality, or whether their dreams are more grounded, but, materialist that I am, I would imagine it would be nice to know that, after you're gone, you might still be remembered.

In addition to St. Onge, a few weeks before, I read how Heath Lamberts died -- though not as young as St. Onge (he was in his fifties) he was still unfairly young. I can't, off hand, think of any signature roles of Lamberts' -- I don't recall him being the regular in a TV series, or anything. Nonetheless, Lamberts was a talented character actor, in my mind associated with quirky, eccentric roles in movies like the family film Change of Heart or one of the TekWar SF films. He's the sort of actor whose name may not be familiar, but whose face and performances probably are.

I have no insightful summation for this piece, no thesis to be brought to a clever resolution. I'm just feeling kind of melancholy. Despite her fashion model looks, Guylaine St. Onge was rarely a star performer, usually cast in supporting roles, or as the "other" woman (roles that, admittedly, an actor might actually prefer to playing the generic lead); when she did play the romantic interest, it was usually in one-time guest shot roles in TV series. Perhaps that explains my feelings, my sense that, though she had a long, fruitful career that many actors would envy, there was more potential in her than many directors realized. And because, as a long time watcher of Canadian movies and TV, I'm going to miss watching for her.

The Masked Movie Critic

March 10, 2005

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