May 4, 1928 – February 8, 2020.

With his daughter by his side, David died peacefully on Saturday February 8th at Toronto General Hospital. He was predeceased by his beloved wife and partner, Dorothy, and his brother Desmond. David is survived by the apple of his eye, his daughter Jenny, her partner Christine, close friend Gail Carr, and the Gardner family.

Born in Toronto, David was an actor, director, and historian. He got his start at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre where he played roles such as Othello, Macbeth, Marc Anthony, and Constantin. In 1949, he turned professional with Ontario’s Straw Hat Players. During the 1950s he appeared with the New Play Society, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Crest Theatre, and Jupiter Theatre in Toronto, the Canadian Repertory Theatre in Ottawa, and Brae Manor Playhouse in Quebec. He also toured North America with the Canadian Players. David performed for three seasons at the Stratford Festival, winning the Tyrone Guthrie award in 1956.

Over his long and distinguished creative life, David’s contributions to Canadian theatre were immense. In 1960, he led the founding of the National Theatre School of Canada, which has become the Canadian Centre of excellence in theatre training. Many of Canada’s most important theatre, performance, film, and television artists have been trained at the school. He leaves a lasting legacy for the young artists who graduate every year from the National Theatre School, and for the many Canadian theatres he helped to launch and which continue to inspire audiences to this day.

David directed and produced 75 dramas for CBC Television including CBC’s first full-length film, The Paper People, written by Timothy Findley, which went on to win the Wilderness Award for Direction (1969). He also created the Quentin Durgens MP TV series starring Gordon Pinsent. He served as Artistic Director of the Vancouver Playhouse from 1969 to 1971. During his tenure as Theatre Officer for The Canada Council (1971-72), David was instrumental in launching a new era of alternate and Indigenous theatre, introducing and subsidizing 25 new Alternate Theatre companies across Canada.

David returned to academic life in the mid-1970s, taking first an M.A. (1974) and then a PH.D. (1983) in Canadian Theatre History at the University of Toronto, where he also taught and directed. He lectured at York University, the National Theatre School of Canada, and for 20 years taught the ‘Acting for Camera’ course at George Brown College. During this time he also appeared in productions at the Neptune Theatre, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius, Ontario’s Red Barn Theatre, the Huron County Playhouse, the NAC, and again at the Stratford Festival in 1986. In Toronto he played for Tarragon, Canadian Stage, Necessary Angel, and Factory Theatre. David either performed or directed in more than 850 stage, film, radio, or television shows.

David won the Canadian Film Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Insurance Man from Ingersoll (1976), the ACTRA Award for his work in Bethune opposite Donald Sutherland (1978), and a Gemini Award (1997) for his leading role in the Traders series.

Dr. Gardner wrote extensively about theatre in Canada, was a founding member of the Association for Canadian Theatre Research, and was awarded Honourary Membership in 1993 for his distinguished service to theatre in Canada. In 1999 he donated his 25-year Canadian Theatre history collection to the Thomas Fisher Library at the University of Toronto. David was awarded the Herbert Whittaker/Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association (2004) and the Earle Grey Award (2008).

Finally, and most importantly, we remember David for who he was as a person and this stands above all else. As a father, husband, uncle, friend, and colleague, David exemplified generosity, humility, loyalty, and strength in the face of adversity.

Jenny wants to thank the staff at Hazelton Place for taking such good care of her dad for the past eight years, with special thanks to his personal care worker Grace.

A celebration of David’s extraordinary life will be held on Saturday, May 2, 2020 in the Great Hall at Hart House from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Dr. Gardner established a permanent annual endowment fund in 2014 that gives University of Toronto students the opportunity to acquire real-life, highly-technical experience in directing at Hart House Theatre. Donations in his memory can be made to the fund

Electronic condolences can be left at



May 02, 2020
Great Hall at Hart House
01:00 PM

A celebration of David’s extraordinary life will be held on Saturday, May 2, 2020 in the Great Hall at Hart House from 1:00 to 5:00 pm



March 15, 2020
Peter Hay and Dorthea Atwater
David hired me as dramaturge of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company following a 3-hour job interview when he patiently allowed me to explain what a dramaturge is. I started working with him after his triumphant revival of George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe to open the new National Arts Centre Theatre in 1969. I was soon to meet Ryga to advise on a commissioned work that became the highly controversial Captives of the Faceless Drummer. Unfortunately, the board of the Vancouver Playhouse pushed David out as artistic director after he resisted political interference to postpone and ban the play. David then went to Ottawa, as theatre officer of the Canada Council, and used his position to fight for Canadian content on Canadian stages. Among other playwrights, he invited both Ryga and me to a seminal national conference that he organized: the result was the Gaspe Manifesto which led to the flowering of home-grown drama across Canada for the next fifty years. Under his gentle and gentlemanly exterior, David was a principled fighter. As a boss, he was kind, encouraging and fair: simply the nicest man I ever worked for. Thank you, Jenny, for keeping us in touch with your Dad during the recent past, and please convey our sympathy and condolences to your family. Peter Hay and Dorthea Atwater, founders of the Ryga Arts Festival in Summerland, BC
March 04, 2020
Sandra Bartlett
Dear Jenny, condolences to you and Christine. I knew David and Dorothy through Gail and had many lovely lunches and dinners with them at Gail's and at my condo. Later I lived across the street from them and my daughter Renee watered plants for them when they were away. I loved receiving the painted Christmas cards. I waved at your Dad a few times as he sat reading in the window at Hazelton Place. He was a lovely man and will be missed. Hold tight to your memories.
February 26, 2020
Ron and Helen Grant.
It is with sadness that we heard of David's passing. I have known David since he was my counsellor at Lagakelo camp when I was 11 years old and he was about19 or so. I remember him being an excellent counsellor for our group and he became a valued person and friend of our family, so much so that he travelled with us to the USA for our vacation. We even visited Dave and his parents often of Christmas Eve. Although we have not seen him often during the recent years we did keep in touch with Christmas card and always enjoyed hearing from him and seeing his recent art work. We will miss him. We extend to the family our sincerest condolences. Ron and Helen Grant
February 20, 2020
Pamela Hatch
I am very saddened by the news of David's death. I knew him through my brother and David's friend Eric House. He was such a kind and helpful and talented man. The world's loss.. My condolences to his family.
February 17, 2020
Ron Proulx
David and Dorothy were so very kind to their niece Laurie, and myself, long ago when we were just teenagers, going to their place to dine, and feeling like we were in the presence of real artists with keen wit. He will certainly be missed by the many people who both he and Dorothy touched over the years. Sincere condolences to all family and friends.
February 17, 2020
Alex Fallis
Just a quick note from a member of the Toronto acting community who was influenced and charmed by David. As I started in the business, both he and Dorothy were present, supportive, and always interested in how things were going. My first television gig was a small scene in 'Home Fires' with David, and I learned a great deal about acting for the camera in that day working with him. Like him, I have become an academic, and one of the last times I worked with David I hosted an event at a theatre school where he discussed the Canadian Players and their importance to Canadian theatre in the early 60s- it was an invaluable lesson for myself and the students. My very sincere condolences to his family and the whole of Canadian theatre.
February 17, 2020
John Beckwith.
David was a good friend. We actually appeared on stage together in various university productions as students in -- the 40s! I believe I contributed music to a few of his productions. He directed, and was later directed by, my late wife Pamela Terry. We always had great admiration for his wonderful and varied career. My sincere sympathies to his family.
February 15, 2020
Ann Saddlemyer
Dear Jenny, my sincere sympathy for your loss of a wonderful man colleague, and long time friend. It was always a delight to see his photo, and sometimes his paintings, on the Christmas card. He is very much a part of my world. Ann Saddlemyer
February 15, 2020
Janet M Bessey - Hart House Theatre Manager, Retired
Dear Jenny. Your Dad was a colleague, but above all he was a dear friend. There are so many memories which began in childhood. Your grandparents, David and Madeline, were close friends with my parents, Harold and Isobel, and a result my brother Arthur and I spent many enjoyable times with the Gardner family at their cottage at Alcona Beach. Later, during my visits to Stratford and knowing of my great interest in theatre, David was a wonderful host. It was also there that I was to first meet your mother Dorothy. I continued to follow your Dad’s growing influence in the entertainment world, not only as a performer, director and teacher, but creator and mentor for so many. I did not realize at that time, that my own career in theatre, would have our paths cross on so many occasions especially during my time as Stage Manager and then Manager of Hart House Theatre. David was a special devoted and caring person, and it was indeed a privilege to not only call him a colleague, but more importantly to call him a friend. Please accept my sincere condolences in the loss of someone so very special to so many.
February 14, 2020
Sara and Madeleine
Our thoughts and well wishes are with the Gardner family. He will be sorely missed. As theater and film lovers, we have long appreciated his work and his contributions to the arts. With love,
February 14, 2020
Don Rubin and Patricia Keeney
We are so saddened by David’s passing. He was a mentor and a friend. We are still honoured to be living in his and Dorothy's special home in Sutton. We are in South America at the moment but please know our warmest thoughts are with you at this difficult time. A giant has passed.