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Shirley Douglas

Photograph of Shirley Douglas with raised arms outstretched

(1934- )
Film, Television and Stage Actor; Activist

Shirley Douglas

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, who was the former premier of Saskatchewan, co-founder of the New Democratic Party and considered to be the father of medicare, she is also an energetic and committed activist supporting numerous social and political causes.

Shirley Douglas was born to Irma and Tommy Douglas 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 sixteen and attended the Banff School of Fine Arts. Douglas spent two years at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, graduating in 1952 and then acted in British theatre and television for a number of years. Returning to Canada in 1957, Shirley Douglas married her first husband 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 recently, the role of the steely matriarch, 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 both 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 University and the Diamond Award from the Variety Club.

Shirley Douglas' energy and determination is evident in her acting performances as well as in her strong commitment to universal healthcare. Her contribution to Canadian film, television and theatre over the past quarter century has been considerable and has clearly been matched by her relentless passion and concern for social issues.


Fulton, E. Kaye. — "Stage mother, stage son". — Maclean's. — Vol. 110, no. 11 (March 17, 1997) — P. 66-67

Hampson, Sarah. — "Saint Tommy's torchbearer : Shirley Douglas speaks out on medicare". — The globe and mail. — (March 9, 2000). — P. R3

Knelman, Martin. — "A career of her own : Shirley Douglas returns as May Bailey in the popular TV series Wind At My Back". — Financial post magazine. — (January 1999). — P. 12

MacDonald, Cynthia. — "Isn't life a riot? = Le retour du phénix". — enRoute. — Vol. 17, no. 9 (September 1989). — P. 82-99

Mickleburgh, Rod. — "Medicure - fixing the health system : what Tommy would say". — The globe and mail. — (November 23, 2002). — P. F5

Nikkel, Greg. — "Shirley Douglas visits© health care needs to be saved" [online]. — Weyburn review. — Vol. 90, no. 31 (Aug. 4, 1999). — [Cited May 8, 2003]. — Access :

Scanlon, Kevin. — "High profile : Shirley Douglas : political activist, anti-war actress and NDPer for life". — The Toronto star. — (Oct. 18, 1983). — P. E1

Wagner, Vit. — "Actress has always lived in 'the real world'". — The Toronto star. — (June 8, 1988). — P. C2

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