Chris Doty

Chris Doty – Bringing History to Life – September 8, 1966 – February 3, 2006

At the fourth annual Brickenden Awards Ceremony on January 30, 2006, Chris Doty stated that he had always wanted “to be remembered as a showman.” Everyone was focused on the word “showman,” and it was not until his death four days later that anyone thought about “remembered.”

At Chris’s funeral service at Metropolitan United Church on February 7, 2006, Jeff Culbert gave a worthy tribute to the almost-standing-room-only congregation of mourners. Jeff spoke of when Chris started to write reviews of the “new boom of London theatre activity… in a conscious effort to give local theatre artists critical feedback on their work and push them to greater heights.” Jeff added that Chris wrote these reviews for the Theatre in London website “in his own inimitable style,” but that Chris was “utterly tireless” and was never paid for any of these reviews. “He just wanted to advance the entire theatre scene.”

So it was that in 2002 Chris co-created (with Jeff Culbert and webmaster Sean Wilson) the Brickenden Awards for Theatrical Excellence in London. This was in addition to his work as an historian, film- and documentary-maker, playwright, arts critic, and his presence as “a staple on the local cultural scene,” according to Patrick Maloney in the February 5, 2006 edition of The London Free Press.

Chris’s most recent play, Citizen Marc, (co-written with Jason Rip) was still on the boards at the time of his death. About “Prince of Pot,” former Londoner and co-owner of City Lights Bookstore, Marc Emery, the play was based on Chris’s earlier documentary Messing Up the System (1991). Wildly successful the previous year was The Donnelly Trial, about the famous massacre in Biddulph Township. This play was based solely on the transcripts of the 1880 trial, during which no convictions were made. The Donnelly Trial played to sold-out houses at the Old London Courthouse, the very site of the original court proceedings.

Chris’s documentary films included The Palace Theatre (1991), Slippery (1995), Lost April: The Flood of 1937 (1997), Vagabonds and Visionaries: The London Story (1998), A Great Day for London: The Royal Visit of 1939 (2000), Let’s Go to the Grand (2001), The Jack Chambers Film Project (2005). Green and Gold: 40 Years of the London Knights was completed just before his death. He also restored a number of older Canadian documentary films, such as Here Will I Next (from 1942), the story of Colonel Talbot’s settlement of the north shore of Lake Erie, The Turkey Point Witch Hunt (from 1962), and Guy Lombardo: A Royal Canadian (from 1977). His original films earned Chris a total of six provincial and national awards.

Chris Doty, once described as an “incisive, opinionated dynamo,” loved his native city of London, Ontario, and dedicated his life to telling its stories with accuracy, humour and affection. “There is no point in doing something that people don’t want to see,” he used to say. Kathy Navackas of the London Fringe Festival said, “As a historian he was the go-to man, he was a stickler for getting it right.” Executive Director of the London Arts Council, Andrea Halwa, commented, “His death leaves a void within the arts community, though his legacy will continue to inspire, educate and entertain generations to come.”

In the three years since Chris’s sudden death at 39, Halwa’s words have been fulfilled many times and in many ways.

In the year before his death, Chris and Jason Rip had devised a new and unique experience for Londoners, titled The Lost Soul Stroll. This was a scary, but humorous tour which, to quote Jeff Culbert, “featured London ghosts and murderers popping up all over the downtown.” Members of the public were invited to tour several sites of past murders and other nefarious deeds, with actors performing the roles of some of London’s notorious late citizens. Jason Rip has been instrumental in continuing The Lost Soul Stroll which takes place annually during the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Chris’s brother, Grant Doty, has established the Chris Doty Endowment Fund leading to an annual award (administered through the London Arts Council) for a local artist whose work will continue Chris’s legacy of being inspired by London’s own stories. One of the first fund-raisers was the June 2006 revival of The Donnelly Trial, again staged at the Middlesex Courthouse.

On November 29, 2006, “The Works: A Celebration of Chris Doty” was held at the Wolf Performance Hall. There were showings of a few of Chris’s documentaries and excerpts from some of his plays, closing with “A Hymn for Chris,” by Catherine McInnes. This well-attended event was also a fundraiser for the Chris Doty Endowment Fund.

At the January 22nd 2007 Brickenden Awards Ceremony Chris was awarded the “Curtain Raiser Award” posthumously. Greg Hanbuch announced that this award would be renamed “The Chris Doty Award.”

At that ceremony, Teresa Tarasewicz, current owner of City Lights Bookshop, who took it over from Chris in 1992, gave a profoundly moving and wistfully humorous tribute to Chris, noting especially his personal kindness to her.

Chris’s spirit lives on and presides over the continuing annual Brickenden Awards Ceremony. His many creative and historical works continue to enlighten and entertain, and through the Chris Doty Endowment Fund, future artists will perpetuate his ever-expanding and vibrant legacy.

His theatre credits included:

  • The Donnelly Trial – a play based on the transcripts from the 1880 trial of alleged ringleader James Carroll for the mob killing of the notorious Black Donnellys of Biddulph Township
  • Lost Soul Stroll street theatre in downtown London regarding London’s grisly past, ghosts and hauntings (in conjunction with actor/ writer Jason Rip)
  • Citizen Marc, The Adventures of Marc Emery (in conjunction with actor/ writer Jason Rip)

His documentary films included:

  • Old Theatres: The Return, 1991 (while still a student at UWO)
  • Marc Emery: Messing Up the System, 1992
  • Slippery, 1995 – Slippery the Seal and Storybook Gardens in London
  • Lost April: The Flood of ’37, 1997 – London’s great flood of 1937
  • Vagabonds and Visionaries: The London Story, 1998
  • Guy Lombardo: When We Danced, 1998 (for CBC-TV)
  • Guelph: City of Opportunity, 2000 – a Guelph, Ontario, promotional video
  • A Great Day for London: The Royal Visit of 1939, 2000 – the British Royal visit of 1939
  • Let’s Go to the Grand!, 2001 – the history of the Grand Theatre
  • Rewind: Fifty Years of Local Television, 2003 – the history of London’s local TV station
  • Green and Gold: 40 Seasons of the London Knights, 2005 – the first 40 years of the London Knights hockey team
  • The Jack Chambers Film Project, 2005

Written by Sheila Martindale, Susan Merskey and Patricia Black, with thanks to The London Free Press, The Londoner, The St. Thomas Times-Journal, Southwest Life in London, the Metropolitan United Church and The London Reader.