In the mid 1950s The Actors Fund of America, which had been in existence since 1882, asked members of Canadian Equity, then a subsidiary of its American counterpart, to help them raise funds for their cause. It was, however, decided – in the words of Jane Mallett – “that we could better look after those in need in the theatrical profession, either visitors or residents in Canada, if we raised such a Fund and administered it ourselves.” Five actors, Ms. Mallett, Barbara Hamilton, Donald Davis, Barry Morse and William Needles, put a symbolic $1 into a pot, and the Fund was launched.
After a series of benefit performances at the Crest Theatre, the Fund was incorporated on May 27th 1958. Its stated purpose ” to care for the aged, sick and destitute”, was not confined to any one branch of the entertainment business, but was “designed to help anyone, anywhere, who has ever been engaged in any branch of the entertainment industry,” a commitment which the Fund has held dear ever since. Despite its name, in other words, it is not and never has been a fund intended only for the benefit of actors. Jane Mallett, to whom the Fund and its beneficiaries owe an enormous debt of gratitude, remained its President until her death in 1984.
Now, 50 years after those visionary actors put $5 into a pot, the Fund they created disburses over $500,000 annually to camera-operators, grips, stage-hands, actors, directors, make-up artists, location managers, dancers, carpenters, musicians – in short, to members of all the many and various trades and professions that make up the entertainment industry. In turn, it is generously supported not only by individuals and long-standing contributors such as theatres, festivals and enterprising producers, but also by the majority of the performing and technical unions and associations whose members it exists to serve.
Over the years, many distinguished members of the profession have voluntarily given a great deal of time and care to ensure that the Fund will always be ready to help those in need. Robert Christie, Grant Cowan, Penelope Doob, Gino Empry, Marion Gilsenan, Gary Goddard, Celia Hamilton, Vanessa Harwood, Araby Lockhart, Judy Richardson, Sandy Webster, William Webster and Kenneth Wickes are just some of those who over five decades have served on the Board of the Fund with distinction, a tradition the current members strive to continue. Like their predecessors, they are dedicated to preserving and strengthening the health of the Actors’ Fund of Canada so that it can provide the timely, sensitive and much-needed assistance on which all members of the entertainment community can continue to rely.