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R.I.P. Elwy Yost (1925 – 2011)

by on 2011/08/04

Very nearly from the beginning of this site, Gru has heard my common refrain: I dreaded the eventual coming of Elwy Yost’s death. I don’t know what would have bothered me most: hearing it, not hearing it, or finding that no one remembered him.

And yet, with the sad news of his recent passing, the accolades and appreciations have poured freely from all over Ontario and the rest of Canada. Happily, he’s remembered well. Sadly, we have lost a northern star.

An author, teacher, and TV Ontario host, he was born in Weston, Ontario. When he died of natural causes, out west in British Columbia, he was long retired and 86 years old.

I first “knew” him through my mother and father. They frequently tuned in for his TVO shows Magic Shadows and Saturday Night at the Movies. My earliest memory of him is of a great, cherubic, jolly man, looking not unlike Louis Del Grande (of Seeing Things). He was hosting an airing of Popeye Meets Sinbad. Later he introduced me to Dumbo the elephant. Then The Blob, The Thing from Another World, Lifeboat, The African Queen, and too many more to mention.

In the times before digital downloads, optical media, or mass-marketed tapes . . . before deleted scenes, extras, and gag reels . . . Elwy was a hearty blend of detective, magician, and motivational speaker. Before, between, and after double bills, he conducted discussions of his featured films, interviews with cast and crew, and personal exultations. Through the juxtaposition of multiple films, he suggested themes, points for both comparison and unity alike. He gave me an early hint that movies were not just made, but that the stories of their making could be just as compelling.

In a later life, I met him when I worked at TVO. A volunteer running cables, I was unlikely to attract much attention but then, one day, I emerged with a one-of-a-kind photo: my decades-old hero, restraining me in a headlock, with a grimace of mock fury, and gnashing his bared teeth. What I wouldn’t give to see it and laugh again…

Many will compare him to his peer, Brian Linehan, but I’ll always think of him as another James Barber. Words like “avuncular”, “chortling”, and “eager” spring to mind. Like Barber’s “Urban Peasant”, he was real and relentlessly curious, down to earth, and a bit of a rascal, but looking for the good in everything.

It’s a sad epilogue to our month of Canadiana to lose such a fellow enthusiast. He shared with millions a theatrical magic, taught us about creation and context, and inspired many to continue along his path.

So Elwy, rest in peace. You will definitely be missed.

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