Roxanne Tellier : The Magic of Don Harron


Funny, the thoughts that go through your mind. You can be watching some mindless entertainment, giving your brain a free ride between weightier tasks like deciding whether to have a cigarette or cook dinner, when suddenly you think …Whatever happened to Charlie Farquharson?

Charlie FarquharsonAnd the next thing you know, you’re reading that Don Harron, who played the Farquharson character since 1952, has quietly left us, at the age of 90.

I can’t remember a time when Don Harron wasn’t on Canadian television.  Born and raised in Toronto, Harron’s talents for writing and comedy were apparent from an early age, when he would  “do “chalk talks” telling humorous stories while drawing caricatures in coloured chalk at company or club banquets, making $10 or $15 a talk.” Pretty good money for a ten year old kid to earn during the Great Depression.

Like a lot of kids from Ontario and Quebec, he worked for a while on a farm, which formed the basis for the character he later perfected – a folksy Parry Sound farmer who could opine on the foibles of his friends and family, and poke fun at the inanities of Canadian politics.

“Every guvmint estimit incloods an extry estimit of how much more it’s gonna cost than yer ferst estimit. That’s how come they always leeve this big deficit on the floor of yer House. And a deficit is what you’ve got wen you haven’t got as much as if you jist had nothin’. If we tried any of this, we’d end up in jail. But the guvmint gits rid of its detts by Nashnullizing them. That’s like the alkyholick who solved his problem by poring the booze in all of his bottles into one big container. Himself.”

The character became an alter ego that he parlayed into 17 books, and a stint as a cast member of the U.S. television show, Hee Haw.

Best known as a comedian, (Harron was a part of the  Spring Thaw revue of 1952, which launched both his television career and  the new CBC Television network,) he was also a strong dramatic actor, appearing in such shows as The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E,  as well as on stage in London`s West End and our own Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

anne of green gables


Always in demand as a comedy writer, he also o-wrote the script for the 1956 television musical Anne of Green Gables, later re-working the production into the popular play performed annually at the Charlottetown Festival.  He also collaborated on a musical about artist Emily Carr entitled “The Wonder of it All.”    

He was the host and interviewer on Canadian television and CBC radio`s  Morningside from 1977 to 1982, before ceding  the position to legendary Canadian broadcaster Peter Gzowski, and had his own afternoon talk show on CTC from 1983 to 1985.

harron mckinnonHe married his third wife, singer Catherine McKinnon, in 1969. When I first arrived in Toronto, they were my neighbours on Lowther Street, as it transitioned from stately, but rundown, family homes  that had become crash pads, into part of a gentrified Yorkville.  I would often see the couple going about their day. They were inevitably friendly and polite, despite the ragtag collection of musicians, misfits and terminally unemployed layabouts they had to rub shoulders with.

He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1980, and a member of the Order of Ontario in 2000. He also received a Gemini Award for Lifetime Achievement in Radio and Television in 2007, and was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

Even in his eighties, Harron continued to write books, and was a high profile advocate for the interests and rights of older Canadians. He was recently part of a postcard campaign urging seniors to use canes and walkers to help keep steady on their feet, using his Charlie alter-ego, with the tagline, “Get over bein’ an old fogey! Get a handle on life.”

Don Harron Farquharson

He was diagnosed with cancer, but chose not to seek treatment. Instead, he died at his home yesterday, surrounded by his family. His daughter Martha said in a telephone interview that, “He was still sharp. He was still capable of being funny even though his voice was barely above a whisper. It’s horribly sad, but it’s beautiful too.”

histry of canadaAlthough I hadn`t thought about the Charlie Farquharson character in years, I`d also recently come across some of his books while sorting through my humour collection. Both the Charlie Farquharson’s Histry of Canada and Charlie Farquharson’s Jogfree of Canda, along with Charlie’s A Broad: Travails In Fern Parts will always have a place on my bookshelves.

Canada has been fortunate to have Don Harron, and so many other talented writers and performers, to enrich our culture. Losing yet another icon diminishes us, but letting their memories go as well would be the real tragedy.

My Double Life Harron

Thank you, Don Harron. We were richer for having you in our midst. It`s horribly sad to lose you, but it`s beautiful too.


Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

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DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’.

The Bobcast

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