Christopher Newton, the former artistic director of Canada’s Shaw Festival, has died. He was 85.

The Shaw Festival, which has its home at Niagara-on-the-Lake, near the Canadian-U.S. border in Ontario, said Newton died peacefully on Monday morning.

“It is no exaggeration to say that, without Christopher Newton, there would be no Shaw Festival today. He set a very high standard in everything he did, and long after his retirement as artistic director in 2002, he continued to be a passionate supporter of the festival and the arts,” festival artistic director Tim Carroll said in a statement on Sunday.

Born in Deal, England, on June 11, 1936, and educated at Sir Roger Manwood’s School in Kent, the University of Leeds and Purdue University in Indiana, Newton moved to Canada in 1961 to audition for the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. He began his acting career with the Canadian Players, Manitoba Theatre Centre, before going on to a stage career with the Shaw and Stratford festivals and Broadway.

He launched Theater Calgary in 1968 and served as artistic director until 1971 when Newton took over as artistic director of the Vancouver Playhouse. In 1979, Newton was named as the Shaw Festival’s artistic director where during his 23 seasons in the post, he directed theater plays like Cavalcade, Misalliance, Man and Superman, You Never Can Tell, Caesar and Cleopatra, Major Barbara, The Cassilis Engagement and After the Dance.

In 2003, Newton adapted and performed a dramatic reading of Horton Rhys’ A Theatrical Trip for a Wager and, in subsequent seasons, directed Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End. His stage acting credits at the Shaw Festival included A Flea in Her Ear, The Philanderer, The Suicide, Cyrano de Bergerac, Private Lives and The Marrying of Ann Leete.

In 1997, he appeared in the North American premiere of The Secret Life and stepped into the role of Sir John Faringford for the final weeks of the 2002 remount of The Return of the Prodigal. Onscreen, Newton appeared in the 1966 TV movie Henry V, and the 1960s TV series Seaway, Playdate and Quest.

Newton leaves behind his husband, Nicholas MacMartin. The Shaw Festival will hold a celebration of his life on a future date.

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