Actress Martha Henry, one of Canada’s most famous stage actresses, who starred in some of Canada’s first big theatre productions, died in Ottawa on March 30. She was 83.
Henry – born Martha Floyd at a remote Ontario location in 1930 – received her first professional theatre experience at the CBC New Theatre in Ottawa, where she appeared in a number of student shows. For the CBC, this led to the role of Jean Little where she was brought in as a lead in an adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts, a one-act play with a development from Krippendorff. Henry was immediately taken by the work of Inga Sveve’s play, which was given her first professional roles in Canada, and then travelled with the play to Britain and France.
The award-winning and much-celebrated Martha Henry. Photograph: Jay Mallin/Demotix/Corbis via Getty Images
With Henry in the role of Alma, the trio of ghosts in Ghosts, the play earned Henry Canada’s first award in theatre, the first English translation of another language received in Canada.
Later, Henry continued her solo work in smaller and more independent theatres, including Elizabeth Taylor’s Playhouse, in Winnipeg, and Fast Company, in Vancouver. She then found more roles in downtown Toronto, and then moved to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Stratford – North American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.
In 1990, Henry won a New York Observer award for Best Actress for her performance in William Saroyan’s Heart Like a Wheel, and another in 1994 for Caroline, or Change, alongside Tony Award-winner Talia Shire. Her roles included Agnes Gooch in Thérèse Raquin, Sidney McKay in Proud Mary, and Inga in Rings Around the World.
With Shire and George Wendt in Caroline, or Change. Photograph: Bloomsbury
Many of these recognitions are now held with Henry by a newly constructed Bronze Grove plaque in the heart of Ottawa’s Robin Hood park, an event that is dedicated to the great Canadian female actors who have passed in the park.
Jasmine Noonan, the artistic director of Toronto’s O’Connell and Company Theatre, said of Henry: “The first name that came to mind when I heard the news was Martha. From early on Martha Henry was a performance name, a name that reverberated. Martha was and still is a true artist. Her career was long and diverse, a long list of plays from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia through the territories and all the way to mainland Canada.”
Henry’s last role was in Toronto in the 2017 season in Macbeth by Robert Lepage.