Lister Sinclair 1921 - 2006

Broadcaster, Playwright, Renaissance Man

Plaque located at: 31 Hillcrest Park, Toronto, ON, Canada

Lister Sinclair was born in Bombay, India to Scottish parents. Oddly enough at 18 months old he was sent to live with an aunt in London, England and didn’t see his parents again until he was seven. He makes reference to serving a long sentence at an English boarding school. Lister was gifted at mathematics and won a scholarship to St. Paul’s School in London.

While visiting North America with his mother in 1939 World War II broke out. Mr. Sinclair was not fit for military service due to a back injury as a teenager. Unable to return to the continent they stayed on with friends in Vancouver.

While at the University of British Columbia, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and physics. In 1942, he moved to Toronto and continued his studies at the University of Toronto and also lectured in mathematics to undergraduates.

His career was most memorable. He joined the CBC in 1944 and retired in 1999. Fifty five years is a long career and he was indeed one of Canada’s most prolific broadcasters.

He wrote over 650 radio and television plays during his career. In 1949, he wrote Hilda Morgan, which was controversial as it featured a pregnant unmarried woman considering an abortion.

His major contributions were to the programs that focused on the curious and diverse subjects like “Ideas“, “Man at the Centre”, and “The Nature of Things“.

Bernie Lucht, longtime friend and executive producer of Ideas best described Lister as mischievious, brilliant, a compassionate genius with an expertise in everything from poetry, to mathematics, to music, to literature, and to culture. “He was simply a remarkable man.”

A truly elegant man who did elegant work.

In 1985 Lister Sinclair was made an officer of the Order of Canada.


Photo from

Photo from

On November 4, 2014, the Cabbagetown People team met with Gloria Saarinen, long-time partner of Lister Sinclair. Ms. Saarinen shared with us memories of her life with Lister Sinclair.

Gloria Saarinen is an internationally-acclaimed concert pianist and teacher. She worked with the great orchestras and conductors of the world, including Sir Ernest MacMillan.

The transcription of this interview has been shortened and slightly edited.

Memories of Lister Sinclair as told by Gloria Saarinen

“When he was a baby just after he was weaned, his parents went to India. The father had a job there and they left him with his mother’s sister in London who, according to Lister, hated kids. She didn’t want him. So he never saw his parents. They’d write to him. I think he was seven before he saw his parents again. But the sister needed money and she was being paid. So she put him in boarding school at St Paul’s Boarding School, which is in London. And I know three people who all went to St. Paul’s School. And all hated it.

“He ended up in Vancouver and he met all sorts of people at the university. There was Jon Drainie and Barry Moss and Pierre Berton. A whole host of people (and) all of them ended up coming to Toronto. And then Lister wrote that play We all Hate Toronto, which is quite fun.

“Lister was fearless when it came to discussions, talking, words, ideals. I’ve never met anyone who was quite as fearless as he was. But then under duress when he’s attacked, he’s powerless. He doesn’t know what to do. He won’t stand up for himself. So that’s just who he was.

“He was reading all the time. And I used to watch him. He’d stand on one leg, with the other one crooked behind the other one. Just standing there reading, anywhere. He was funny. He was always dry, humourous. And other times he quoted poetry. He talked about all sorts of things. Whether it was talking about just water or whatever it happened to be. It was fascinating.

“And we travelled South America, San Jose and all kinds of places. And went on cloud forest walks. And saw butterflies and strange, unbelievable things. And saw wonderful architecture that he knew everything about.

“During the time when we were in Cabbagetown, we always liked wandering around. And pottering in the shops because you never know what you’re going to find.

“Lister was very Scottish in terms of loving Robbie Burns. He wouldn’t call him Robbie. He said, ‘He never got called that. It was Rob Burns. Nobody called him Robbie.’ So that’s what he said. And (he) knew the Burns tartan. And Lister has got his own tartan. And he was very, very strong on ‘You don’t wear tartans if you’re not a Wallace or a Stuart or whatever it is. You should be wearing the right tartan’.”

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