TONIGHT: a walk in Queen’s Park with the Honourable David Onley on Murdoch Mysteries

Lieut. Governor David Onley with Speaker Dave Levac

Everybody wants in on the act this season on Murdoch Mysteries. Tonight at 9 p.m. on CBC, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David C. Onley, will guest star as Sir Oliver Mowat, one of the provinces most famous and successful politicians.
Onley says the scenes were shot last summer in Toronto, right at Queen’s Park. The former television journalist is a long time fan of the series, now in its sixth season. He loves its take on Ontario circa 1900. Aware that the grand and Gothic legislature building was built in 1893, the history buff tracked down Shaftesbury Films’ head Christina Jennings and suggested his place of business would make a great setting for the series. There are ghosts, creaky floors and lots of old furniture, Onley pitched. What more do you want?
He also said if they needed somebody to play Mowat, who served as Ontario’s Lieut. Governor from 1897 to 1903, he would be willing to go before the cameras.
“I was fishing,” admits Onley, who I last spoke with a dozen years ago when he was a news anchor at CP24 and I was at the Toronto Sun. The Sun used to have these camera set up in the corner of the newsroom and from time to time some of us would be dragged over to yak about some entertainment headline. I used to look forward to those few minutes with Onley. He always knew his stuff, had a sense of humour and was ready to take the conversation in any direction.
Now look at him. Ex-journalists have been stinking up the Canadian senate lately. Here’s a guy who’s brought honour to his office. The Midland native, who contracted polio as a child, has been active in removing barriers to all Ontarians with disabilities as well as promoting educational reforms in aboriginal communities. As vice-regal, he is an inspiration to the provinces 1.5 million residents with disabilities.
After Onley’s initial call, a few writers from Murdoch Mysteries paid a visit to Queen’s Park. Onley took them on a tour and he told them about the ghost that supposedly haunts the place. The writers took one look at those fourth floor balconies and murder plots were hatched.
Onley says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s earlier appearance on the series (he played a desk cop back in Season Four) helped him get past any second thoughts about sullying his office. 
He also felt he had a green light “as soon as I saw the Queen take part in that Olympic opening ceremonies stunt with 007.”

Onley under the Queen’s Park portrait of Oliver
Mowat. No, McGuinty does not play the ghost

Onley has some acting chops. He was active in school plays growing up in Scarborough, often cast in older parts because of his reliance on a cane. “I kept getting typecast as an old man,” he says.
He says it was fun getting dudded up as Mowat. “They had to glue muttonchops on and get me into wardrobe,” he says. Look for his moment of glory towards the start of tonight’s episode.

It’s not easy to shoot at Queen’s Park. After an incident with a film crew, a ban on lights has kept productions away for about a decade. Onley had to convince the Sergeant at Arms as well as the Speaker of the House that the show was on the up and up. Fortunately, Speaker Dave Levac is a Murdoch fan, too, and also appears in tonight’s episode. “His uniform hasn’t changed in 120 years, so he didn’t need a costume,” says Onley.
Murdoch Mysterieshas been the big CBC success story of the season, ballooning up to 1.2 million viewers a week. Onley let the producers know he’s available to play Mowat another three years, until the story lines catch up to 1903. At the rate the ratings are growing, that may happen.

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