Allen Gardens Glasshouse

Monday 3 October 2011

Gary Gilfillan - some memories

Gary Gilfillan
Laurence Packer, Anne Dondertman, Gary at Pollinator booth
Our September newsletter passed on the sad news of the death of member Gary Gilfillan on May 3, 2011, of cancer. This came as a shock to me because Gary helped in the Pollinator Gardens and Hort booths at Canada blooms in late March - and at no point did he mention that he was ill or show signs of it.

I spent several hours sitting in the booth with Gary, which is not a long acquaintance! Nonetheless, two things about him were clear even in such a short time. First, he was wonderful with people. He engaged everyone who paused at the booth in conversation easily and effortlessly drew them in. Second, he told wonderful stories about his life. Both of these characteristics are evident in the ten pages (!) of memorial comments about Gary at the Toronto Star's Legacy website.

Because Gary began work with the CBC in the 1950's and because he seems not to have been a self-promoter, it takes work to find out much about him on the web. He told me at the booth that he actually started out as a dancer and was in a show, but the other dancers convinced him to try another career! His deep knowledge of music made him a valued behind the scenes contributor on many CBC programs, in areas ranging from classical music to jazz to country. He is listed as music consultant on several films, including Dancing in the Dark (1986) with Martha Henry, Neil Munro, and Richard Monette, directed by Leon Marr and The War Against the Indians (1993) directed by Harry Rasky.

I think, based on things he told me, that Gary also played piano on some of the productions he was in, but don't find credits for this online. He worked and was friends with Toronto jazz legend Guido Basso.

There are a number of photos by the fine Canadian photographer Walter Curtin in the Library and Archives of Canada, some of which have Gary in them. Unfortunately none of these seem to be online. However, a great example of Curtin's work is "Conductor James de Priest, Production Assistant Gary Gilfillan and Violinist Juan Fernandez" in the National Gallery of Canada. This 1978 image shows the 43 year old Gary looking much younger than his age. I haven't included it on this page because I don't know what copyright restrictions there may be but have an inquiry in to the National Gallery, so if they allow will post it here later.

Let me close this memorial posting with a story Gary told me. At one point he and some CBC colleagues were recording at Yehudi Menuhin's home in England. The great violinist played some phrases on his Stradivarius, decided the sound was not right for the piece he was playing, and handed it to Gary. Menuhin said for Gary and a young production assistant to come down to the climate controlled room where the violin collection was kept. There Gary reverently put the Strad back in its spot while Menuhin prowled the room. At last the maestro seized two violins, one of them a famous Guarneri, handed them to the young assistant, and went back up stairs. Gary told me that the assistant climbed the stairs as if she were walking on eggshells, as I might well do if I were carrying millions of dollars of musical instruments!

Please, if you have stories about Gary or pictures of him, add them as a comment below or send them by email to us. We'll add them to this posting.

posting by Clement Kent


  1. Awe your love for Gary is so overwhelming.. Indeed good souls dwell forever. People die leaving behind the memories and with these memories they stay with us forever. May God bless the soul.

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