Gordon Pinsent | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Gordon Pinsent

Gordon Edward Pinsent, CC, FRSC, actor, writer, director (born 12 July 1930 in Grand Falls, NL; died 25 February 2023). A cultural icon in his native Newfoundland, Gordon Pinsent was a fixture in Canadian film, theatre and television for more than 60 years. Often described as a Renaissance man, the former soldier and noted painter rose to prominence as the lead in CBC-TV’s Quentin Durgens, M.P. (1966–69). He adapted two of his novels, The Rowdyman and John and the Missus, to the big screen, starring in both and directing the latter. His more than 150 credits as an actor include the movies The Shipping News (2001), Away from Her (2006) and The Grand Seduction (2013), as well as the TV series Street Legal, Due South, The Red Green Show and Republic of Doyle. A Companion of the Order of Canada and an inductee to Canada’s Walk of Fame, Pinsent won a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2004 and numerous lifetime achievement awards.

Gordon Pinsent, actor
Pinsent, Gordon
Pinsent is responsible for the screenplays of many of his own best roles (photo by Heather Graham).
pinsent, gordon
gordon pinsent, writer and star of The Rowdyman, produced by Lawrence Dane and directed by Peter Carter (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/MISA-6535).

Early Life and Career

Gordon Pinsent attended high school in Grand Falls (now Grand Falls-Windsor), Newfoundland, before serving as a private in the infantry division of the Royal Canadian Regiment from 1948 to 1951. Diversely talented, he began his successful career as an actor in Winnipeg, where he joined John Hirsch's Theatre 77. Pinsent appeared in many stage roles in Winnipeg, Toronto and at the Stratford Festival. He also performed on radio and TV, including the title role in the notable CBC-TV series Quentin Durgens MP (1966–69).

Career Highlights

Newfoundland settings and characters are important in Gordon Pinsent's writings. Responsible for many of his own best roles, Pinsent wrote the screenplay and the musical version of The Rowdyman (film released in 1972), playing the charming and irresponsible character in both. The Rowdyman was published as a novel in 1973 and was followed by John and the Missus in 1974. Pinsent also adapted the latter for the stage, playing the leading role at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax. He wrote the screenplay for John and the Missus and directed the feature film, released in 1986. He won the Genie Award as best actor for his portrayal of the title character.

His other Canadian film appearances include Who Has Seen the Wind, Silence of the North and Klondike Fever. He received a Genie Award as best supporting actor for Klondike Fever (1980) and was named best actor for The Rowdyman. He created and appeared in the CBC series A Gift to Last, for which he received an ACTRA Award in 1979. He acted in the television series Due South (1994–99) and played the owner of the Hamilton Steelheads in the CTV series Power Play (1998–99). He wrote and played the lead role of Win Morrissey in the Cape Breton-set television film Win, Again! (1999).

His play Easy Down Easy was produced at the Gryphon Theatre in Barrie, Ontario, in 1987, and his Brass Rubbings at Toronto's Factory Theatre Lab in 1989.

In addition to his role of Sergeant Fraser Senior in Due South, Gordon Pinsent played Hap Shaughnessy in The Red Green Show for more than 10 seasons. He played a major role in the feature film The Shipping News in 2001, and once more displayed his versatility by writing, directing and acting in Heyday, a movie-of-the-week broadcast in 2006.

Pinsent received great acclaim in 2007 for his part in Sarah Polley’s feature film Away From Her, adapted from the Alice Munro short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Pinsent won a Genie Award for best actor for his role as Grant, the husband of Julie Christie's Fiona, struggling to cope with his wife's Alzheimer's disease.

Pinsent also hosted The Late Show on CBC Radio and appeared in episodes of Corner Gas (2009), The Listener (2009), Republic of Doyle (2010) and in the miniseries The Pillars of the Earth (2010). In the made-for-television movie Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (2012), he played narrator Stephen Leacock as an adult. He also collaborated with musicians Travis Good (The Sadies) and Greg Keelor (Blue Rodeo), providing the lyrics and spoken poetry for the double album Down and Out in Upalong.

Pinsent published his first memoir, By the Way, in 1992 and a second, Next, in 2012. Gordon Pinsent: Still Rowdy After All These Years (2011), a documentary, was released on the BRAVO channel as part of its Great Canadian Bios series.


Pinsent received the John Drainie Award for distinguished contribution to Canadian broadcasting at the 1992 Gemini Awards, and the Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement at the 1997 Geminis. He received numerous awards for his work, including Gemini Awards for his roles in Due South and Powerplay and for his teleplay for Win, Again!. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979 and was promoted to Companion in 1998. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

In 2004, he was presented with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. In 2005, the Newfoundland government renamed the Grand Falls-Windsor Arts and Culture Centre the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts in a public ceremony to mark Pinsent’s 75th birthday. He was honoured with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2007, and in 2008, Toronto’s Company Theatre presented Pinsent with the inaugural Gordon Pinsent Award of Excellence.


Canadian Film Awards

  • Best Performance by a Lead Actor (The Rowdyman) (1972)

Gemini Awards

  • Best Guest Performance in a Series by an Actor or Actress (Street Legal) (1989)
  • John Drainie Award (1992)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Guest Role in a Dramatic Series (Due South) (1996)
  • Earle Grey Award (1997)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series (Power Play) (1999)
  • Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series (Win, Again!) (1999)

Genie Awards

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Klondike Fever) (1980)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (John and the Missus) (1987)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Away from Her) (2008)

ACTRA Awards

  • ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence (2003)
  • Outstanding Performance – Male (Away from Her) (2007)

Canadian Screen Awards

  • Best Performance in a Guest Role, Dramatic Series (Republic of Doyle) (2013)
  • Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (The Grand Seduction) (2014)


  • Award of Excellence, Banff Television Festival (2004)

Honorary Degrees

  • University of Prince Edward Island (1975)
  • Queen's University (1988)
  • Memorial University (1988)
  • Lakehead University (2008)
  • University of Windsor (2012)