Martha Henry | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Martha Henry

Martha Henry (nee Buhs), CC, OOnt, actor, director (born 17 February 1938 in Detroit, Michigan; died 21 October 2021 in Stratford, Ontario). Martha Henry was considered one of Canada's greatest actors. She had a long association with the Stratford Festival and with regional theatres across the country. She also won five Genie Awards and four Gemini Awards for her work in film and television. A Companion of the Order of Canada, she received the Toronto Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Order of Ontario, and honorary degrees from numerous Canadian universities.

Dancing in the Dark

Early Years and Education

Henry studied acting at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After graduation, she came to Canada to audition for Toronto’s Crest Theatre. She played several roles at the Crest but was urged by actor and teacher Powys Thomas to resume her training at the National Theatre School.

Stratford Festival

Martha Henry enjoyed a long and distinguished association with the Stratford Festival. Since her auspicious debut at the festival in 1962 as Miranda in The Tempest, she played most of Shakespeare's major women. Her important non-Shakespearean roles at Stratford included Sister Jeanne in The Devils, Mrs. Proctor in The Crucible and Olga in The Three Sisters.

The directors John Hirsch and Robin Phillips were influential in Henry’s development. Phillips directed Henry in her highly praised performance of Isabella in Measure for Measure in 1975; as well as in Farther West by John Murrell at Theatre Calgary in 1982.

Henry was artistic director of the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, from 1988 to 1995. There she directed A Moon for the Misbegotten, Blood Relations, The Miracle Worker, Miss Julie and The Dining Room.

She returned to Stratford in 1994 to play Mary Tyrone in the acclaimed production of Long Day's Journey into Night, a role she repeated in 1995. She also played Marian Raymond in Timothy Findley’s The Stillborn Lover during the 1995 season at Stratford. In 1996, she played "A" in the Canadian premiere of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. During her 22nd season at the 1996 Stratford Festival, Henry played Regina in Little Foxes and Princess Kosmonopolis in Sweet Bird of Youth.

In 2007, Henry succeeded David Latham as principal of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training at Stratford. She maintained her busy schedule of acting and directing at Stratford. She also appeared with her husband, Rod Beattie, in Macbeth in 1999; as well as in The Trojan Women and All's Well That Ends Well in 2008.

Henry also appeared in non-Shakespearean productions at Stratford, including as Martha in Albee’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (2001). She directed a number of plays at the festival, including Timothy Findley's Elizabeth Rex (2000), Richard III (2002), Of Mice and Men with Graham Greene (2007) and Chekhov's The Three Sisters (2009). She died of cancer at age 83 in October 2021, 12 days after giving her final performance at Stratford in a production of Three Tall Women.

Film and Television

Henry also maintained a busy schedule as an actor in film and television. She won Genie Awards for her performances in The Newcomers (1979); in Murrell’s film adaptation of Timothy Findley's The Wars (1983); in Dancing in the Dark (1986); in Mustard Bath (1993); and in the film adaptation of Long Day's Journey into Night (1996).

For her work on television, Henry received Gemini Awards in 1988 for Mount Royal; in 1989 for Glory Enough For All; and in 1999 for her guest role in Emily of New Moon.

She played Audrey in The Republic of Love (2004) directed by Deepa Mehta, and Rosemary Hauser in Clean (2005), directed by Olivier Assayas. She played Julia, the prime minister's mother, in Paul Paul Gross's miniseries H2O (2004), and Lucy, the owner of the Chateau Rousseau, in Ken Finkleman's At the Hotel (2006). She was nominated for Gemini Awards for the latter two roles. The Life and Times of Martha Henry was broadcast in 1997 on CBC TV.


Martha Henry received many honours, including the Toronto Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre (1989), the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement (1996), the Order of Canada (Member in 1981; promoted to Companion in 1990), and the Order of Ontario (1994). She received honorary degrees from the University of Toronto, York University, University of Guelph, University of Windsor, University of Western Ontario and University of Waterloo.