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Victoria performing arts pioneer was dream for directors, audiences

Bill Hosie, who performed during the 1970s with the song-and-dance troupe Les Feux Follets, had a long and varied stage career. SUBMITTED

Singer and actor Bill Hosie helped put professional theatre on the map in Victoria, during a period when the performing arts community as we know it was still an emerging entity. He was a trailblazer in that sense, and was never far from a stage during a career that stretched over several decades and mediums.

Hosie died Feb. 18 after a battle with cancer, surrounded by his wife, Sylvia, and three children, Caldon, Grayson and Sara-Jeanne. He was 81.

“He was loved right across Canada,” Sylvia Hosie said. “He was a very funny man. Very charming and very witty. People have said to me over and over again, he really made you feel seen and heard. People just loved him.”

He was born William Gray Hosie on Oct. 15, 1941, in Aberdeen, Scotland. His family emigrated to Victoria in 1954, and the Hosie children — Bill and Dorothy — quickly immersed themselves in the local theatre scene (Dorothy Hosie died in 2014, after a long battle with cancer).

A few years after his arrival, he starred in a 1959 school production of Lust for Life. Bill Hosie (in the lead role of Vincent Van Gogh) was in Grade 11 and the former Sylvia Mobey (now Sylvia Hosie) played Van Gogh’s sister, Elizabeth.

The roles called for the two to be combative on stage, and even though she was a year younger, the chemistry was electric, Sylvia Hosie recalled. “He thought, ‘Who is that little smart aleck Grade 10 kid that’s playing my sister?’ But by the end of the week, he asked to walk me home and that was the beginning of it.”

They were married in 1965, and shortly thereafter Bill Hosie began landing professional gigs in Vancouver — a rare feat, at the time, for a performer based in Victoria. He would later audition for Alan Lund, artistic director of the Charlottetown Summer Festival, who was doing a cross-Canada casting call for what would become Canada’s most successful musical, Anne of Green Gables.

The couple would go on to do great things, individually and together, and at home and abroad. The family often travelled together as a unit for engagements in cities such as Charlottetown, P.E.I., where Bill Hosie spent 14 seasons over a 20-year period with the Charlottetown Summer Festival performing in Anne of Green Gables and musicals such as The Great Adventure, among others.

Sylvia Hosie, an esteemed educator, choreographer and director, said all three children inherited something stageworthy from their parents. “They were raised on the beaches of P.E.I., even though they were all born in Victoria,” she said. “They would go to the theatre, and there was their dad up on stage.”

Bill Hosie’s career flourished over several decades, with performances on national TV and in stage shows across Canada, the United States, Japan, Scotland, and Germany. He was also a key component of the former Bastion Theatre Company, which was founded in Victoria in 1963. When he stopped acting professionally, in his late 50s, Hosie began working behind the scenes on Victoria productions with the Victoria chapter of IATSE, the stage workers’ union.

That pursuit eventually ran its course, so he switched to golf and crossword puzzles. When walking the golf course became too arduous for him a few years ago, he began using a golf cart. It was then that Sylvia Hosie felt something was amiss. “And then he stopped playing golf, which was unusual.” He was diagnosed with bone cancer last summer.

Hosie’s legacy is rich around these parts, both as a featured and leading performer. His appearance in 1978’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, the first-ever production by The Belfry Theatre, is one of his many career hallmarks, Sylvia Hosie said. “In the ’70s, only three per cent of actors were fully employed. But because he was so good looking, had a gorgeous voice and wonderful comedic timing, he got contract after contract. He was a directors’ dream.”

A public celebration of life is being planned and will be announced at a later date.

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