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(2018 - Fall/Winter Issue)


RH (Robert Holmes) Thomson isn’t one to mince words. Unbridled passion is clearly evident in the roles he plays and how he pursues his life. The award-winning stage, film and television actor embraces roles that challenge him intellectually and emotionally while actively engaging in promoting Canadian culture and diversity, First Peoples and honouring and naming those killed in World War I. 

Thomson has had a very successful career for many decades playing historical figures ranging from Dr. Frederick Banting, Edsel Ford and Samuel Lount to his current role as Matthew Cuthbert in CBC TV’s second season of Anne with an E. (He also played the role of Jasper Dale on the Road to Avonlea with Sarah Polley in the 1990s.)

Growing up in Richmond Hill, Ontario, it was geography teacher N. Roy Clifton who inspired Thomson to unleash not only his acting talents but to venture beyond the norm. “He was a non-conformist, eccentric and independent thinker.” Thomson spent time in Los Angeles, New York and London before deciding to make Toronto his permanent home. 

Besides performing Thomson has directed theatre productions across Canada from Halifax’s Neptune Theatre to Theatre Calgary. For Thomson words matter and he has scripted his own play, The Lost Boys, as well as other acclaimed works over the years. His commitment to Canada’s arts and culture community has been acknowledged with many awards and he was named to the Order of Canada in 2010. 

A pet program he has spearheaded since 2010 is “The World Remembers,” an international centenary project, which individually names the millions killed in WWI from the 40-plus nations who were involved. It is a Herculean project, which will culminate on November 11, 2018. The intention is for each country involved to name individually those who died in WWI. Thomson has elicited support from governments, schools, libraries, cultural and military organizations and the private sector. 

Thomson may act for a living but his passion for the profession, Canada and all its people is as real as it gets. 

Who did you respect as an actor growing up?

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I was fascinated by Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. Idiosyncratic physicality—there was a kind of weird originality. I never cared for the “ordinary” Roy Rogers type. It was okay, but it was the individualists who always attracted me.

What three things do you love most about Canada?

We have an incredible land. We haven’t quite figured out how we’re going to live here, because of the First Peoples issue, but we do have an incredible land. Secondly, we have a moderate people. We weren’t formed by revolution. We weren’t formed by War Lords. We don’t have a series of national myths that have smothered our imagination. We’re creating those myths, and that attracts people to Canada. We’re not jingoistic, so that non-jingoistic, non-star, non-celebrity-driven egalitarianism is refreshing. And thirdly, the experimental journey we have started on to recalibrate our relationships with First Peoples is exhilarating, frightening and important and could bring us to be an absolutely unique country. I find that so exciting.

What is your favourite place to visit in Canada? 

The Rockies. I’m not a climber but I’m a big hiker. I’m at home in the mountains.

What would be a dream destination for you?

The Arctic Circle. Baffin Island. Anywhere rugged, like the north shore of Newfoundland near Québec.

What do you like to do when travelling for leisure?  

I’m not a thrill seeker. I totally enjoy sitting in the pub, café or small restaurant. I like absorbing the key signature and culture of different places. I always want to hear a piece of music from each place. I want to know what are the artists doing? What are the singers doing? What are the playwrights doing? What are the actors doing?

Is there an item you bring with you on every trip?

My passport to get home!

What award has meant the most to you?

The Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. I stood beside Sarah McLachlan and we sang O Canada. I sang with Sarah McLachlan! How often do I get to do that? I thought, these are the artists I adore being with. And it’s my country’s main award. Speaking to the country, for the country, with the country, that was my actual exhilaration.

What are you most passionate about?

Canada becoming a “full” country. Canada growing into who we could be—honest and just relationships with all its peoples.

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