Skip navigation

Saturday January 7, 2017

WILLIAM MARSHALL June 13, 1939 - January 1, 2017

Film maker, cultural visionary and founder of the Toronto International Film Festival.
William (Bill) Marshall, a Canadian film maker, artistic visionary, political strategist, author, journalist and founder of the Toronto International Film Festival, died on Sunday, January 1, 2017 in Toronto. He was 77.

Bill was born in 1939 in Glasgow, Scotland where he lived until the age of 15 when he immigrated to Oshawa with his sister Kathleen and parents, Josephine and William Sr. He is survived by his wife, Sari Ruda, his children Lee, Stephen and Shelagh, and his grandchildren, Kaitlin, Sunny, Clara, Bridget, Reese and Jonathan.

Best known for his pioneering role in Canada's now vibrant film industry, Bill was a cultural visionary and, with film pals, Henk van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl, founded the Toronto International Film Festival, which has grown from its ambitious beginnings in 1976 into Canada's top cultural event and one of the largest and most influential film festivals in the world.

Bill brought to Canada a strong drive and a keen mind. At 15 he was accepted into several Canadian universities but opted, rather, to enroll at Oshawa Central Collegiate, where he met and later married Beverley Bennett. The couple moved to Toronto in 1957 where Bill would study English at University of Toronto. Living at the time in the nascent arts community in Yorkville, Bill would be profoundly influenced by the many artists, activists and rascals that were assembling to forge a new cultural blueprint for Toronto and the world. His early career included a stint in public relations with brand giant Procter & Gamble. It was at P&G where he met Gil Taylor, a fellow Canadian Armed Forces officer. The two formed a fast and lasting friendship that resulted in the creation of Marshall Taylor Productions, a successful PR firm that morphed into a film production company based on their shared passion. Together the pair produced hundreds of short films and award winning documentaries, as well as their first feature length film 'Flick', directed by Taylor and produced by Marshall. In 1967 a chance meeting in the street lead to Bill's second great partnership when he offered a ride to a neighbour. The neighbour turned out to be David Crombie, who, at the time, was working with other political agitators as part of the 'Civic Action League', which included Art Eggleton and Gerald Robinson. Their mission was to bring change to the political winds prevailing in Toronto at the time. With Crombie's support, Bill ran as the CIVAC candidate for Ward 6 Board of Education. And, while he finished 4th in the race, he and David formed a strong friendship that saw Bill act as his campaign manager and chief of staff for Mr. Crombie for his full three terms as Toronto's 'Tiny Perfect Mayor'. Bill would later be tapped by Art Eggleton for a similar role in his administration, and he continued to play an influential role in every municipal election to date, including acting in an advisory capacity to Toronto's current Mayor, John Tory.

Bill was a legendary storyteller and, with his quick mind, wry humor, and considerable charm, he made strong impressions on the people he met. Bill was as accomplished in matters of the heart as he was in his other endeavours, being three times married to strong and wonderful women - Beverley Marshall (mother of his children), Jo-Anne Lewis and Helga Stephenson, respectively, prior to landing with his fourth and lasting life partner, Sari Ruda, whom he married in 1997 and adored shamelessly.

Bill's story can't be told without mention of his third great business partnership, with planner and arts enthusiast, Henk van der Kolk, together the two produced many films, including the award winning Outrageous, and truly helped to forge, from a hodgepodge of agencies and industry associations, the foundations of the current Canadian film industry. As pioneering leader, Bill was a driving force behind the establishment of numerous industry organizations, including the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, The Toronto Film and Television Office, and was past President of the Canadian Association of Motion Picture Producers. The creative partnership formed with Henk not only provided an environment to incubate great ideas, but also a foundation from which to execute them. Film Consortium of Canada became, at the time, a flash point for Canadian filmmaking and formed the foundations of a strong and enduring friendship.

Bill was a proud Canadian and gave back to his adopted country in many significant ways. From his military service with the Queens York Rangers, where he achieved the rank of Captain, to his myriad cultural and political contributions, Bill leaves an incredible legacy and an indelible mark on the Canadian landscape. He was especially proud to have been honoured as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2002, in recognition of his contributions to the arts and culture in the country. He will be fondly remembered by all who knew him, especially his beloved Bistro Boys, and we will all continue to benefit from the many gifts he's left us.

The family will receive friends at the HUMPHREY FUNERAL HOME A.W. MILES - NEWBIGGING CHAPEL, 1403 Bayview Avenue (south of Davisville Avenue) from 1:00 -3:00 p.m. and 5:00 -8:00 p.m. on Monday, January 9th. A private service will be held, and a public memorial service is currently being planned with details to be announced in the coming weeks. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the family for 'Bill Marshall in Trust' for a purpose to be established in his honour, or a donation can be made in memory of Bill Marshall to the Toronto General Hospital Transplant Program via https://www.tgwhf.ca/card-builder or the Toronto International Film Festival at https://oss.ticketmaster.com/aps/tiff/EN/donation/donate/browse?g=20288&. Condolences, photographs and memories may be forwarded through www.humphreymilesnewbigging.com.

Back to top