A veteran stage actor, Shirley Douglas has worked extensively in theatre, film, television and radio since her early 20s and has assumed many memorable roles. The daughter of Tommy Douglas, the former premier of Saskatchewan, co-founder of the New Democratic Party and considered to be the father of Medicare, she is also a committed activist supporting numerous social and political causes.
Shirley Douglas was born to Irma and Tommy in Weyburn, Saskatchewan in 1934. She spent her early years involved in church drama and music activities and on the campaign trail as her father became involved in politics. She began to act seriously at the age of 16 and attended the Banff School of Fine Arts. Douglas spent two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, and then acted in British theatre and television. Returning to Canada in 1957, she married and gave birth to a son, Thomas Douglas. A subsequent marriage to Donald Sutherland in 1965 produced twins, Rachel and Kiefer Sutherland, and in 1967, the Sutherland family moved to California.
It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that Shirley Douglas became involved in the American protest movement -- first in the campaign against the Vietnam War and later on behalf of those suffering oppression, such as immigrants and women. Douglas helped to establish the fundraising group called Friends of the Black Panthers, but due to this involvement, was subsequently refused a U.S. work permit. In 1977, as a single mother, she left California to return to Toronto.
With her return to Canada, Shirley Douglas' acting career continued to develop as she played numerous roles in cinema and television in addition to dramatic roles at the Stratford Festival, the National Arts Centre and various theatres in Toronto. Douglas continued her activism, supporting movements such as Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament.
Shirley Douglas has become well known for her portrayal of strong and passionate women. She has played the role of Hagar Shipley in The Stone Angel, Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and May Bailey in the CBC family television drama series, Wind At My Back, set in Ontario during the Depression. In 1997, Douglas had the unique opportunity to work with her son, Kiefer Sutherland, as they played the roles of the mother, Amanda and her son, Tom in the haunting autobiographical Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie.
Maintaining her intensive support of a universally accessible Canadian healthcare system has been of paramount importance for Shirley Douglas and she has been a national spokesperson for the Canada Health Coalition lobby group. She has also been actively involved in the Toronto Health Coalition and the Friends of Medicare Toronto and has been instrumental in organizing fundraising, ad campaigns and media events in addition to lobbying federal and provincial government officials.
In 2000, Douglas received a Gemini Award for Best Featured Actress in the 1999 television film, Shadow Lake. The following year, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Ryerson Polytechnic University and the Diamond Award from the Variety Club.
(Courtesy of National Library of Canada and National Archives of Canada)