There are many performers in all aspects of the Entertainment business that either reside in or were born in Toronto. We don’t seem to hear about them daily in the latest celebrity news. Their profiles and career highlights can be obtained through various sources however, profiling their accomplishments in local and national media outlets are far and few between. With that said, I would like to bring to light one such pioneer’s achievements in the Entertainment/Broadcast Industry who’s career contributions spanned over 40 years and can still be seen, heard and felt, 26 years after his passing. This pioneer’s name is Bernard Cowan
His career started on stage as a teenager, and continued to radio, and then on to television. On radio he was an actor, host, and interviewer on such programs as, “The 1010 Swing Club,” ”Lux Radio Theatre,” and for 17 years “The Toronto Symphony Pops Concerts” where he amongst other things Interviewed the likes of Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. After a meeting in 1959 with writer/producer Arthur Rankin Jr., VideoCraft decided to add a Canadian division to their international production company with Bernard Cowan as their representative. This collaboration with Bernard Cowan as the Supervisor/Director of Dialogue, produced and contributed his voice to such classics as “Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer,” “Return to Oz,” and “Pinocchio,” just to name a few. He also continued in Canada to produce many more cartoons including the Marvel Super Hero series, “King Kong,” “Thom from T.H.U.M.B.” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Spiderman.”
His talent was not only used behind the scenes. His golden voice narrated numerous Television shows, Documentaries, and hundreds of Commercials. One would be hard pressed to name a television show that was on the air for 10 years. It would be even harder to name one that was on the air for 20 years. Two programs that were on the air for over 30 years each were “Front Page Challenge,” and the “Wayne and Shuster Comedy Specials.” Both programs had one thing in common besides being produced here in Canada, a signature voice, the voice of Bernard Cowan. He also was the Announcer for other programs including “The Pierre Berton Show”, and “The Great Debate”.
Bernard Cowan was also a crusader. He was a founding member, past President, and Vice President of ACTRA. Through the tireless efforts of Bernard Cowan and others, Canadian performers as well as performers around the world receive protections and benefits they would not otherwise have. One such benefit is residuals. Bernard Cowan drafted the first commercial residual agreement in North America, he said, “our time once given is gone, our talent once recorded remains of value.” Interesting considering the time we live in, this “Digital Age”, how relevant that statement continues to be.
There were legendary battles within the ACTRA offices to secure what he felt was in the best interest of Canada and its Performers which led to what is now called “The Bernard Cowan Boardroom”. Bernard Cowan was recognized for his efforts when ACTRA established the Bernard Cowan Medallion. The recipient of this medallion is recognized for their significant contributions to ACTRA. He was also honored by being presented with the John Draine Award for outstanding contributions to Broadcasting which is the equivalent, one would say, to that of the Cecil B. DeMille Award in the United States
There was one more distinction pertaining to this individual, Bernard Cowan not only had the experience and talent to work in the United States, he had many opportunities awaiting his arrival however, he chose to stay in Canada. He loved this Country and he had strong loyalties to his family and friends. He also believed in and fought endlessly for Canadian Performers and knew the talent and opportunities were right here. Bernard Cowan embodied what a true Canadian Broadcaster is and should be looked upon and remembered as a Canadian Star. Perhaps one day he will join others on King Street with a Star on Canada’s Walk Of Fame.
Written by Elliott Cowan