Diane Elizabeth Bessai passed peacefully on the afternoon of April 20th in Toronto, surrounded by her family. At 92, she leaves a legacy as a beloved mother, a lifelong arts scholar, and a pioneering voice in 20th-century Canadian theatre and literature.

Diane's resilience and conviction made her a mentor and pioneer, celebrated by her family and the academic community. She is remembered for her academic achievements and her role as a loving mother and grandmother. She is survived by her sister, Mary Kay Brown; her four sons, John, Carl, Thomas, and Frank; their wives and partners, Sandra, Laura, and Maria; and her adoring grandchildren, Riel, Julian, Santiago, Kaiyash, Jakob, Matias, Ziggy, Lucas, Justin, and Evangeline.

Born on June 22, 1931, in Brantford, Ontario, Diane was the daughter of Reginald Lane, an Anglican Minister, and Marion Lane. Her intellectual prowess and love for literature were evident from an early age. She pursued her education at the University of Western Ontario and later at the University of London, where she earned an MA in English with a focus on Virginia Woolf. Returning to Canada in the late '50s, Diane began a distinguished teaching career at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Here, she met her husband, Frank Bessai (Ph.D.), married him in 1963, and started a family. After Frank’s untimely passing in 1969, Diane faced the daunting challenge of raising four young boys while pursuing her Ph.D. Despite these trials, her dedication to her family never wavered. Her tenure at the university broke through significant barriers of the era and helped pave the way for other women striving to establish their academic careers.

Shortly after achieving tenure, Diane co-founded NeWest Press in 1977, a publishing collective aimed at championing Western Canadian literature. This initiative was particularly important in a predominantly male-dominated publishing industry. The collective, which included Diane, held many of their formative sessions in her living room, highlighting her dedication to nurturing literary talent and promoting Canadian culture. A staunch patron of Canadian culture, Diane's enthusiasm for theatre was evident at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, where she was a regular, animatedly discussing plays and scouting for emerging talent. Her seminal 1992 book, The Canadian Dramatist, Volume Two: The Playwrights of Collective Creation, underscored her passion for the transformative power of collective creation in Canadian theatre.

Diane’s influence extends through generations, from the dinner conversations that inspired her sons to her grandchildren’s academic and creative pursuits. Her favourite poet, W.B. Yeats:

'Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.'

A Funeral Service will be held at 11:00 AM on Friday, April 26, 2024 at the Cathedral Church of Saint James, 106 King Street East, Toronto, Ontario.

Donations can be made in Diane Bessai’s memory to Theatre Network of Edmonton.

1 (780) 453 2440


April 26, 2024
Cardinal Funeral Homes - Bathurst Chapel
09:00 AM - 10:00 AM


April 26, 2024
The Cathedral Church of Saint James
11:00 AM



April 25, 2024
Stephen Heatley
To the Bessai Family - Diane was a champion of everything she believed in. I count myself lucky that I was one of those things! She was a wonderful member of my thesis committee at U of A, and she she was on the search committee that gave me the chance of a lifetime as Artistic Director of Theatre Network in 1981. When I was moving to Vancouver in 1999, it was Diane that said "You are NOT throwing those papers away!" (many Theatre Network files) and she drove to my house and picked them up, personally, as part of her creation of the Edmonton Theatre Archives at the U of A. I feel lucky to have known Diane - her wit, her wisdom, her passion and her dedication to everything that she did. She is already missed.
April 24, 2024
Janet Weber
John, Carl, Tom, Frank and your families, I am deeply sorry for your loss. Your mother was definitely the greatest role model I could ever have hoped for. Since childhood, my Aunt Diane was always someone I looked up to and admired for all that she did and achieved; always a inspiration through some of the toughest times and I consider myself blessed to have had this incredible woman as part of my family growing up. Rest in peace Aunt Diane, you will not be forgotten. I will be making a donation to the Theatre Network in Edmonton in memory of Aunt Diane.
April 24, 2024
Peter Flynn
In Memoriam Dianne; Now a guest at Heaven's high feast; Rest inPeace. Sorry Judy can't add her condolence and gratitude for those lively times we shared in Edmonton. Love to you all. God bless you, Peter Flynn, and Judy, in absentia