Honorary Degree Citation - Roger Abbott* and Don Ferguson

by Dennis Murphy, June 2009

Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you Mr. Roger Abbott and Mr. Don Ferguson: actors, comedians, co-founders of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, and distinguished members of society.

Peter Mansbridge, Jean Chrétien, and the Queen Mother have all fallen victim to Roger Abbott’s wit. Don Ferguson, on the other hand, skilfully preyed on the likes of Bill Clinton, Lucien Bouchard, and Preston Manning. (All in good fun, of course.)

As the co-founders of the CBC’s Royal Canadian Air Farce, Mr. Abbott and Mr. Ferguson have been impersonating Canadian icons for decades.

The troublesome twosome met at Loyola High School in NDG many years ago and became fast friends. Both went on to study at Loyola College, one of Concordia’s founding institutions.

Roger Abbott a commencé sa carrière journalistique dans les coulisses de différentes stations de radio. Pour sa part, Don Ferguson a travaillé en tant que photographe après avoir obtenu son diplôme universitaire. Il a alors été engagé pour une publicité de la Jest Society, une troupe de théâtre d’improvisation mettant en vedette Roger Abbott, justement, et John Morgan, qui deviendront de futurs collègues d’Air Farce. Un jour, on a demandé à M. Ferguson de remplacer un acteur absent et ce fut le début d’une longue carrière.

In 1973, the group founded the Royal Canadian Air Farce. The program was broadcast on the radio for 20 years until it debuted on CBC Television in 1993. Air Farce became an instant hit by mocking politics, satirizing Canadian life, taking potshots at home grown stars, and turning the week’s headlines into punch-lines. Every Friday night, over a million people tuned in to catch their latest outrage.

Who would have thought that two boys from Loyola would be responsible for one of the most successful television series in English-Canadian history? Air Farce was CBC’s highest rated show. They ended their 15-year run last New Year’s eve.

Mr. Abbott and Mr. Ferguson have ensured that Air Farce’s popularity is put to good use. They have helped raise millions of dollars for charities across Canada, ranging from community theatres and arts centres to youth organizations, women’s shelters, hospices and schools. For over 25 years, they have been actively involved in Easter Seals Ontario, which helps children with physical disabilities.

Lorsqu’ils ne sont pas occupés à produire des émissions de télévision pour leur entreprise Abbott Ferguson Productions, ils organisent des activités de financement au profit de l’école secondaire qu’ils ont fréquentée. Leur engagement exemplaire envers la communauté reflète leur attachement à leurs origines.

Maclean’s Magazine took notice of their fine work and selected the Air Farce for their 1991 Honour Roll of Canadians Who Make a Difference. They were also honoured with the Gemini Humanitarian Award for their remarkable contributions.

For their on-screen antics, the comedy troupe received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 1998 and a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2000. They were the first Canadians inducted into the International Humour Hall of Fame in 1992 and have won 15 ACTRA awards and a Juno.

It’s certainly true that Mr. Abbott and Mr. Ferguson are known first and foremost as performing artists, but they are accomplished writers, actors, comedians, and producers. When all is said and done, they can look back on their careers with pride. How many people can say that they created Canada’s number one comedy show, one which was on the airwaves for nearly four decades?

They didn’t take the easy route of success and stardom. Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson rolled up their sleeves and dedicated so much of their time giving back to the community. Their legacy as storytellers and humanitarians is inspiring to us all.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it my privilege and honour to present to you Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson so that you may confer upon them the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

* deceased