Born in Shaunavon on April 25, 1927, Frances Hyland won her first award for acting at 13, playing the title role in Oscar Wilde’s The Birthday of the Infanta, directed by Mary Ellen Burgess. She studied at the University of Saskatchewan with Professor Emrys Jones and received a BA with distinction in 1947, before receiving a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, England. She graduated with the coveted silver medal, and made her professional debut in London in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1950. She performed throughout Great Britain during the following four years.
Hyland returned to Canada in 1954 to the newly formed Stratford Festival, where she played Isabella opposite James Mason in Measure for Measure, as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Olivia in Twelfth Night, Desdemona in Othello, Goneril in King Lear, and other leading roles over eight seasons. She also helped establish the Shaw Festival during three seasons, and starred on Broadway, in Chicago, in Toronto, and at England’s Chichester Festival in between. “She built her career within the emerging network of companies across the country and over the years played all the leading theatres … starring in CBC television and radio dramas and films, and generously sharing her talent and indomitable artistic values.”
Hyland has performed on the stages of every Canadian province and in many Canadian television and radio productions. She also starred in The Drylanders, the first feature film made by the National Film Board. She was awarded the Service Medal of Canada in 1971, and in 1972 received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan, where she was appointed professor of drama in 1975.
Hyland directed the Canadian premiere of Beverley Simons’ Crabdance and the 1979 Stratford production of Othello. However, “she regards her performance in the title role of George Ryga’s seminal Canadian play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, as her most meaningful achievement.”
She has received the John Drainie Award for Distinguished Contribution to Broadcasting (1981) as well as a 1994 Toronto Arts Award for lifetime achievement. She is a recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2003, Frances Hyland was inducted into the Margaret Woodward Theatre Hall of Fame in Regina. Francis Hyland died on July 11, 2004.