Paul Almond

Paul Almond

David Paul MacPherson Almond
Born: April 26, 1931 (Montréal)
Died: April 9, 2015 (Beverly Hills, California)

Member: Order of Canada (2001)

Paul Almond was one of Canada’s preeminent movie directors, responsible for the nation’s first wave of art-house films, including the acclaimed trilogy “Isabel,” “The Act of the Heart,” and “Journey,” for which he wrote the screenplays, each of which starred Genevieve Bujold, his wife at the time.

Almond was a distinguished television writer and director, bringing to mass audiences plays by Ibsen, Pinter, Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. He also adapted the works of Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Henry James and others. He directed some episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” for American television.

One of his projects was a documentary examining the lives of mid-century British children. This examination of the rigid British class system first aired as a special on Granada TV. Almond directed “Seven Up!,” a riveting, unforgettable film shot in black and white, which gained wide attention and rave reviews. In subsequent years, the American director Michael Apted checked in with the children every seven years as they passed through adolescence into adulthood. The most recent episode, “56 Up,” was released in Britain in 2012. Almond’s original contribution to the project was overlooked over time, which rankled.

Almond also wrote a series of novels collectively known as The Alford Saga, which depicted his ancestral connection to the Gaspé village of Shigawake.

A little-known aspect of Almond’s biography was his hockey career. The son of an Episcopal priest and a ballerina, he grew up in the wealthy, leafy enclave of Westmount on the island of Montréal, where he lived next to an open-air rink. Every day after school and then after supper he’d skate on the rink, even helping the attendant with the flooding and maintenance.

He began playing hockey at Bishop’s College School, skating in a game against Trinity College School at the venerable Montreal Forum. After a summer spent raising tuition as a deck hand on a Great Lakes ship, Almond attended Balliol College, Oxford. He became editor of the literary magazine, “Isis,” while also playing hockey for the Oxford Blues school team for three seasons from 1949 to 1952.

Late in 1949, he toured the continent with the Blues, playing games against teams in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

In his second year at college, the touring Oxford squad picked up the best players with Cambridge, including fellow Canadian Harry Boyd, a short but fleet centre from Killam, Alta., who had starred with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues before furthering his studies in England. (Boyd also skated for Steatham and Earl’s Court during his time overseas.) Almond skated on left wing on Boyd’s line.

Boyd was invited to play for Sportivi Ghiaccio Cortina. Each team in the Italian Serie-A was permitted two Canadians, so Boyd invited his linemate to join him in the Dolomite resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites. (Cortina would play host to the Winter Olympics in 1956.)

“I had just finished touring with a company that I had formed, the Oxford and Cambridge Players, based on the Shakespearean tradition of travelling players,” Almond wrote in a reminiscence for Balliol. “We travelled in a big furniture van with our scenery and camp cots for sleeping on the stages in the town halls where we played. The O&C Players went on as the Elizabethan Theatre Company, and apparently had a good run. But I left, penniless, so I leapt at Harry’s invitation and, thanks to him, had a glorious winter staying at the top hotel in Cortina, feted by Italian royalty, marquesas and contessas, wintering in the snow; what fun it all was! The rink was out in the open and if we (the home team) lost, no celebration. But if we won and the visitors lost, … wine and beer flowed.”

Paul Almond's Oxford skates

Paul Almond’s skates from his days playing for the Oxford Blues.

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