Catherine McKinnon, singer, actress was born 14 May 1944 in Saint John. She began her career as a child performer on radio and television before becoming one of the leading Canadian pop singers of the 1960s. She appeared on such popular programs as Singalong Jubilee and Don Messer’s Jubilee, and had a hit record with her first album, Voice of an Angel (1964). She also appeared in theatre but is perhaps best known for her rendition of “Farewell to Nova Scotia.” She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the East Coast Music Awards in 2012.
McKinnon rose to greater fame and popularity in Canada with the success of her first album, Voice of an Angel (1964), a collection of folk material. She appeared on CBC-TV’s Don Messer’s Jubilee and Music Hop, and starred on CBC Radio’s That McKinnon Girl. She won the RPM Award (precursor to the Juno) in 1965 for Top Female Singer, and her recording of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go” was a modest hit in Canada in 1966.
She followed the success of Voice of an Angel with Voice of an Angel II (1964), Something Old Something New (1967), Both Sides Now (1968) and Everybody’s Talkin’ (1969). She also sang on Singalong Jubilee cast recordings and the CNE Grandstand show Sea to Sea (1968). Writing in the Toronto Telegram in 1969, Peter Goddard described McKinnon’s voice as “rich, controlled, completely sure in its sense of pitch.” The Globe and Mail’s Blaik Kirby called her voice “a sound so ravishingly beautiful you could worship it.”
In 1966, she moved from Halifax to Toronto, and appeared in the 1967 edition of the Spring Thaw revue. She appeared on The Wayne & Shuster Comedy Special (1967), And That’s the News, Goodnight (1974) and Singalong Jubilee (1959-1969). She also starred in CTV ‘s River Inn (1968–69) and The Catherine McKinnon Show (1970–71). She was the co-host for Global TV’s Everything Goes (1974), and also appeared on television in the UK.
In 1972, she played the artist Emily Carr in the CBC-TV musical The Wonder of It All, written by her husband, actor and comedian Don Harron, in collaboration with Norman Campbell. In the 1980s, her work in the theatre, often alongside Harron, became the focus of her career, and included roles in several revues. She performed at the Charlottetown Festival (Turvey in 1970, My Many Husbands in 1982), at the Rainbow Stage in Winnipeg (Wizard of Oz in 1970, My Fair Lady in 1975) and at Theatre Plus in Toronto (as Marg Osburne in Don Messer’s Jubilee in 1989). She also acted in dramatic roles with Harron at Theatre New Brunswick in Fredericton and the Neptune Theatre in Halifax.
McKinnon returned to recording and performance with a self-titled album released in 1980. Her follow-up album, Patrician Anne (1984), was dedicated to her younger sister Patrician Anne McKinnon, who recorded the minor hit “Blue Lipstick” at 16 and sang on many CBC-TV programs, including Music Hop and, for 11 years, Singalong Jubilee. Patrician Anne McKinnon’s career was interrupted in 1973 by a battle with cancer; she died in 2001.
McKinnon and Harron divorced in 2005.
- Top Female Singer, RPM Awards (1965)
- Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award, East Coast Music Awards (2012)
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2 thoughts on “Catherine McKinnon”
My husband and I were so lucky to meet Catherine McKinnon as we were all on a tour of Oak Island in 2018. She is so warm and friendly and so very interesting. We later bumped into her again at a local restaurant and she remembered us and chatted some more. Here is a link to video I took of her singing “Farewell to Nova Scotia” for our tour group on the shores of Oak Island. She really made it special. https://youtu.be/o6RAjZUXTTg
I met Catherine McKinnon in 1992, while studying at the University of Toronto’s Opera School. It was a chance encounter that turned into a beautiful conversation. She was a sweet, humble lady and spoke with genuine kindness. It was a moment that I will never forget.