Illustration Credit: iStock/Oksana Skrypichaiko.

Charles Leslie McFarlane
(1902 to 1977) Writer, The Hardy Boys

If you’re of a certain age and a lover of mystery books, you probably know prolific writer Leslie McFarlane by his pen name, “Franklin W. Dixon” — the original author of The Hardy Boys books. (Funnily, Carolyn Keene, the original author of the Nancy Drew series, which started a few years after the Hardy Boys came on the scene, was also a pen name — the writer was Mildred Wirt Benson.) McFarlane, who was born in Carleton Place in eastern Ontario in 1902, was a journalist (he served as an editor at Maclean’s magazine), as well as a fiction writer, a screenwriter, director and producer for television and the National Film Board of Canada. The sleuthing teen brothers he imagined (Frank and Joe Hardy) solved cool mysteries and the series sparked a love of reading for a generation of kids. McFarlane lived in Whitby and Oshawa over his lifetime.

Mary Irwin
(1862 to 1938) Vaudeville actress

Often talked about as an American actress, Mary Irwin (born Ada Campbell) was born in Whitby before the turn of the 20th century. A highly artistic woman who is remembered as a comedian, singer and vaudeville actress, Irwin got into show biz when she was 13. Her father had died and her mother decided Ada and her big sister, Georgia, would give variety theatre a shot. They made their first professional appearance just across the border in Buffalo, New York, billed as the Irwin Sisters. Irwin spent years doing vaudeville and burlesque performances and eventually hit the stage acting in theatrical productions. The buxom actress would go back to her vaudeville routes before appearing in silent films. She retired in the U.S. a bit more than a decade before she died.

Christian Corbet
(1966) Sculptor

Christian Corbet is probably best known as a sculptor, but he’s a designer, potter, painter, art historian and forensic artist. The artist born in Pickering Beach has been showing his work for decades and has an eight-page curriculum vitae, which should give you a good indication of the immensity of his talent, awards, media mentions, etc. He’s perhaps best known for his portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, which was presented to the former monarch in 1995. Not only has Corbet mastered portrait work, but he’s also created mixed-media pieces and exceptional medallic art, which is collected and exhibited across Europe. You can find him in more than 100 museums, art galleries and institutions, and he was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Government of Canada.

Marie Dressler

(1868 to 1934) Actress, comedian and singer

Born Leila Marie Koerber in Cobourg, Dressler’s career started when she was 18, when she made her stage debut in Michigan. She worked her way up to performing in chorus lines and spent years appearing on Broadway. She could act, sing and had the ability to make audiences laugh with her physical humour, which made her a star in the musical-comedy genre. She was cast in her first motion picture in 1914 as the title character in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, which was also the first American feature-length comedy movie and starred heavyweights Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the comedy Min and Bill in 1931 — she was the fourth actress ever to win the prestigious Oscar — and remained popular until her death three years later.

Rex Grignon
(1962) Animator and animation director

Fans of animated flicks will be pumped to know one of the greatest animators in history hails from Ajax. Rex Grignon is best known as the head of character animation at DreamWorks for 18 years, but he has a storied career. He graduated from Sheridan College’s animation program and spent time in Europe working on broadcast graphics and 3D commercials before becoming the lead animator on MuppetVision3D and the Jim Henson Hour for the Jim Henson Company. He moved over to Pixar (where he worked on Toy Story) and later landed at DreamWorks, where he led animation for the Madagascar movies and Shrek, which won the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002.

Jerry Edmonton
(1946 to 1993) Musician

Many folks call Jerry Edmonton one of the most underrated drummers in rock history — he’s not as celebrated as Ringo Starr or Phil Collins, for example — but Edmonton made a name for himself as one of Canada’s best percussionists in one of Canada’s coolest bands — Steppenwolf. Born in Oshawa, Edmonton and brother Dennis (his stage name was Mars Bonfire) played in local bands together, including Jack London and the Sparrows, which eventually became Steppenwolf. Dennis didn’t join the band with his brother, but wrote their biggest hit of all time, “Born to Be Wild.” Edmonton continued his music career when the band broke up and died at just 47 years old in a car accident.

Culture Days Durham Region

This year’s Culture Days celebration runs from September 22 to October 15. For three weeks, regions across Canada fête creativity, communities and everything happening in arts and culture, and aims to inspire folks to get more involved in their local communities. There are lots of events, workshops and festivities scheduled for Durham Region — find more information at

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