At the last minute, the actress cast to play busybody neighbour Rachel Lynde in the 1985 Anne of Green Gables TV miniseries could not make it. So the show’s casting director took Patricia Hamilton to producer and director Kevin Sullivan’s trailer for a quick reading, insisting there was no one else for the part.
Not long after, Ms. Hamilton shot her first scene as Rachel. “She was magical,” Mr. Sullivan says. “She was just so downright good.”
Rachel Lynde is uptight and judgmental, but she’s also a caring and important part of the community of fictional Avonlea. Ms. Hamilton expertly played this complex character, getting the funny and heartwarming aspects of Rachel just right.
“When you have a performer like that, then you can write for them,” says Mr. Sullivan, who kept Ms. Hamilton busy with three Anne sequels, and seven seasons of Road to Avonlea.
For the latter, Mr. Sullivan and his team had Rachel experience a stroke and go through the process of relearning how to speak. “She played the role by learning to play music again. Actors who dig deep into challenges like that make it completely authentic,” Mr. Sullivan says.
While Rachel was her best-known role, Ms. Hamilton, who died on April 30 at the age of 86 from complications related to dementia, had a long career as an actor.
“It’s an overused idea to talk about someone as a national treasure. But in my view, Pat really was one,” says playwright and screenwriter Raymond Storey, who worked with Ms. Hamilton on numerous occasions, and lauds her skills and unwavering support for new Canadian theatre.
Her screen career spanned four decades and included appearances in Canadian rom-coms and series such as Street Legal and Traders.
As a theatre actor, she took part in the premieres of many Canadians plays, particularly the English-language versions of the works of Michel Tremblay at the Tarragon Theatre and other venues in Toronto. “She embraced what she called her ‘apron parts,’” Mr. Storey recalls. “She used to joke that they had a whole room of her aprons somewhere.”
“She often played these maternal figures, but in all their fierceness,” he says.
Ms. Hamilton played the lead in his play The Dreamland in the mid-90s. It was a musical, but her part did not require her to sing during its premiere at the Blyth Festival. However, for a remount in Ottawa and Toronto, playwright Mr. Storey and the lyricist put one in.
“We sprang it on her and she said, okay, sure,” Mr. Storey says, adding that she did a great job of it. “Patsy was completely fearless. She threw herself into it and won over the audience.”
Actor Mag Ruffman, who worked with Ms. Hamilton on Road to Avonlea, recalls her colleague playing a man in a play. “She was utterly convincing.”
Ms. Hamilton performed for 13 seasons at the Shaw Festival starting in the 1990s, playing the grand dame roles in classic plays such as Lady Windermere’s Fan, Uncle Vanya, Pygmalion and The Matchmaker.
Her son, actor Ben Carlson, got to act with her onstage at Shaw, playing mother and son in The Return of the Prodigal in 2001 and 2002 – both actors got stellar reviews.
Mr. Carlson says his mother only ever commented on a performance he did as an elementary-school aged child, during which he hammed up air-playing a flute.
“That was good, Ben,” she said. “But you know, when you play that flute, I wonder what it would be like if you were really playing the flute?” He brushed her comment off at the time, but it got him thinking. “It was a good note. It’s the only major note she ever gave me and it stuck with me,” he says.
Many of her colleagues remember her as unpretentious and focused on her craft. “She was really centred, really grounded. She was nothing like Rachel Lynde,” Ms. Ruffman says.
Mr. Carlson says one of his acting contemporaries had a similar compliment about his mother. “He said she was one of the best acting partners he’s ever had. He could always just look at her, look into her eyes, and she was just there. She was so grounded and present.”
Patricia Ruth Hamilton was born in Regina on April 27, 1937, to James Hamilton, a lawyer, and Florence (née Stuart), a nurse, the youngest of their five children, known as Patsy. Two of her brothers died at a young age. Her other two siblings were musical and creative, with Dorothy working as a professional singer for a time and Stuart becoming an accompanist, vocal coach and opera producer.
(Some websites suggest Ms. Hamilton was the younger sister of actor Barbara Hamilton, which is not true.)
Mr. Carlson says he marvels that his mother convinced her parents to let her study drama at Carnegie Tech (which later became Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh. She worked initially in the U.S., which is where she met actor Les Carlson. They moved to Toronto in 1966 and married a year later.
The two became parents to Ben and amicably divorced when he was two years old. (Les Carlson appeared in Sullivan productions alongside Ms. Hamilton and died in 2014.)
Along with her busy career as a performer, Ms. Hamilton taught at the Banff Centre and in Toronto. At George Brown College, she served on the advisory committee for the theatre program, and taught in a program that showed students how to act in period dramas.
Her work as an actor that began in the 1960s wrapped up in the early 2010s, with her final shows including a 2013 run of Margaret Atwood’s the Penelopiad in Toronto.
Ms. Hamilton lived for most of her adult life in Toronto, relocating to Stratford in recent years as her health declined.
Outside of her work, Ms. Hamilton loved music, and especially classical and jazz.
She is remembered as down-to-earth and hardworking. “My mother was a force to be reckoned with,” Mr. Carlson says. “She brought good vibes into the room. I miss her, I miss her good vibes.”
Patricia Hamilton leaves her son and daughter-in-law, Deborah Hay.