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Colonial History Vancouver Island

Maureen Duffus - Author and Historian


Women's History

Forgotten Pioneer Women of Dance in Canada

Dorothy Wilson Forster inducted into Dance Hall of Fame

Dorothy Wilson Forster inducted into Dance Hall of Fame
Dorothy Wilson Forster with her younger daughter Jo Clarke, right, and famous former pupil Lois Smith who later became the first principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada. (Photo courtesy Jo Clarke)

At 93 years old, in 1986, Dorothy Wilson Forster travelled to Toronto to join other influential dance teachers from across Canada who were inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame. Taking centre stage again, the tiny lady in an elegant gown gave a brilliant acceptance speech at the ceremony at Casa Loma. Next day she charmed CBC broadcasting legend Peter Gzowski during a long interview, then enjoyed a reunion with a former pupil who later became a very famous Canadian himself, though not as a dancer: Pierre Berton. made a special visit to her hotel for a chat about his long-ago lessons at Dorothy's ballroom dance classes.

The second phase of Dorothy's dance career began in 1939, after nearly 20 years with her Russian Ballet School in Victoria. She was invited to join the prestigious June Roper school in Vancouver, and soon became ballet mistress for musical shows at the popular Theatre Under the Stars. After eight gruelling years of training and rehearsing the musicals and wartime entertainments Dorothy gradually withdrew from the Vancouver dance and theatre scene.

Not long after her 'retirement' a visit by Bill Bullock Webster, a British actor who opened drama schools in BC and was responsible for the earliest provincial drama festivals, asked if she would consider spending a few months as advisor to an enthusiastic theatre group in Fort St. John. Months turned to years in the northern town, where she met and married musician Eugene Forster, and began a second career as regional librarian after completing courses at UBC. Dorothy and Eugene enjoyed a life of theatre, music and travel, "some of the happiest years of my life," she recalled. After Eugene died she returned Victoria to her condominium overlooking Beacon Hill Park. She died in 1990.

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