Stephen Andrew Arsenych: Lawyer. Actor. Entertainer. Bon vivant. Born April 27, 1929, in Winnipeg; died June 26, 2019, in Calgary; of heart failure; aged 90.
It is possible that Steve Arsenych never really grew up. Throughout his life he would amuse himself with jokes that only he could delight in. The family dog, for example, was given a Ukrainian name that he told his English-speaking family meant “cute dog” but was really a curse word, yelled by his wife and children for years in the neighbourhood. We only found out about this private joke many years later when a person of Ukrainian background told us what our dog’s name really meant.
Steve was born on a kitchen table in 1929, the youngest son of five children. He was always a gifted athlete and played elite basketball, competing in the Canadian national championships in 1949. But most of all he wanted to be an actor, which he discovered and fell in love with while attending the University of Saskatchewan. His father, however, had other ideas. The family was prominent in Winnipeg’s Ukrainian community. His father was the first lawyer and later first judge in Canada of Ukrainian origin, and so Steve fulfilled a deathbed promise to his father to become a lawyer.
While a student, he performed at Greystone Theatre in Saskatoon and met fellow drama student Patricia Graburn. They would marry in 1954 and move to Regina after graduation and the birth of their first son, James. Three more children were born over the next 10 years: Jeffrey, Jessica and Jonathan.
In Regina, Steve worked as a commercial and oil-and-gas lawyer and an actor. He was probably best known for playing Louis Riel in The Trial of Louis Riel, which is performed in Regina every summer. He kept a beard most of his life that he started in 1967 when he first took that role.
Halloween was also fun for Steve. He would wear a translucent mask and old work clothes and wait motionless, like a statute, in a chair on a dimly lit porch, for the next trick-or-treater. He would wait until they almost walked past him and then, ever so slowly, move toward them – the screams! On Dec. 7, he was also known to greet people by saying, “Happy Pearl Harbor Day” to get their reactions.
While Steve was an extrovert and enjoyed being in the public eye, he never revealed his private feelings to anyone, even his family, even about the type of frustrations that led to his divorce from Patricia, an event that surprised his children. This intensely private side was frustrating because even in his final days his family never knew what was really on his mind or what comorbidities were ailing him.
I think my father thought that we all had roles to play and that we should stoically stick to them and not act out of character or discuss our feelings. Steve enjoyed life to the best of his ability and followed his motto, which he would often loudly sing out: “I love life and I want to live!” Steve wanted to live to 100 years of age so that he could get the recognition letter from the Queen of England, but he lived to 90 and got letters from the mayor of Calgary, the Premier of Alberta, the Prime Minister and the Governor-General, which were much appreciated. I believe he truly enjoyed life in his private way, but adulting did take away some of the enjoyment, perhaps to his chagrin. I often wonder: Was my father a lawyer who was a frustrated actor, or an actor who was a frustrated lawyer?
S. Jim Arsenych is Steve’s son.
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