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Many great people have come from Shaunavon over the years, from hockey players to writers and everything in-between. One notable resident who went on to make her mark in the world was Francis Hyland. Born in Shaunavon on April 25, 1927, Hyland attended the University of Saskatchewan and graduated in 1948, earning a scholarship to Rada in London. The next year, she would become a silver medalist in the London Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. During that same year, she would make her professional debut on the London stage in A Streetcar Named Desire opposite John Gielgud, who himself would be called one of the greatest English stage actors and would be knighted.
Hyland would star in the London West End for the next five years.
In 1954, Hyland returned to Canada and spent seven years as the leading member of the world-renown Stratford Festival. She also travelled to the United States and performed in several plays in New York including Moby Dick and Look Homeward Angel with Psycho star Anthony Perkins. During that time, she also acted in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Regina, Vancouver, Calgary and the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Other notable roles for her included Isabella in Measure for Measure, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Olivia in Twelfth Night, Perdita in The Winter’s Tale, Desdemona in Othello and Ophelia in Hamlet. She also worked as the theatre director for the National Theatre School in Montreal.
For a number of years, she also acted in television and movies, including Road to Avonlea in which she played Nanny Louisa, as well as the soap opera The Albertans. In addition, she was also in a few Canadian movies including The Changeling, Happy Birthday to Me and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
So well-known was Hyland on the stage that many referred to her as the first lady of Canadian theatre. Despite being a relatively tiny person, she had a commanding stage presence, a vivacious personality and what one critic called a glorious honey-whisky voice.
She spent nearly her entire career in Canada, performing and directing in many productions over the course of 50 years on the stage.
In 1970, she was awarded the Order of Canada.
Hyland passed away on July 11, 2004.