College to honour Victoria hitman, David Foster

By: Keith Norbury
June 1, 2017

Victoria, BC – When legendary Canadian music producer David Foster was growing up in a suburb of Victoria, British Columbia in the early 1960s, it was hard enough to buy a record album let alone find a school where he could learn the entertainment business.

He would have loved the chance to attend an institution like the Canadian College of Performing Arts, which is entering its 20th season of training talented and passionate singers, dancers, and actors who audition from across the country.

“I probably would have stayed in Victoria longer,” Foster said in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he has lived for four decades. “But I didn’t like regular school. I was not a good student. All I wanted to do was music from as long as I could remember. So I say bravo to this college and how lucky the kids are to be able to go there.”

The college, founded in 1998, will say bravo to Foster himself on June 30 when it presents him with its inaugural Legend Award at special event titled Dedicated to David: A Legendary Evening Honouring David Foster.

Graduates of the college will perform for Foster, the winner of 16 Grammy Awards among other accolades, at the event, which takes place at the Bayview Place Roundhouse Car Shop in Victoria West.

“And maybe they’ll do some of their own songs as well, which would be great for me,” Foster said. “I don’t want to say that I’m tired of hearing my stuff but it’s always nice to hear new stuff.”

Kenneth W. Mariash Sr., who with wife Patricia owns Bayview Place, described Foster as a “national treasure” and said it is fitting that the tribute takes place at the Roundhouse, which is a national historic site, on the eve of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration.

“I think it’s all going to fit together really well,” Mariash said.

Props gives to famous alum

While graduates of the college, have gone on to remarkable careers on stage, screen and in recording studios across the country and around the world, CCPA’s most famous former student is international superstar Carly Rae Jepsen, who rocketed to fame in with her 2011 hit, “Call Me Maybe.” Originally from Mission, B.C., Jepsen isn’t among the alumni expected to perform at the Dedicated to David event. However, she has shared the stage with Foster in recent months at benefits concerts in Winnipeg and Chicago for his foundation. Foster also made brief cameos on a “rogue video” shot backstage of an Ariana Grande concert in 2015 that he described as “more than impromptu.” It featured a frequently shirtless Justin Bieber, widely credited with launching Jepsen to stardom with a tweet to his legions of fans, lip-synching with her as she belted out, “I Really Like You,” which became a top-three hit in the U.K.

“I love her,” said Foster, adding later that she deserves to be included among such other stellar Canadian musicians as Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Saran McLachlan, and Michael Bublé.

“Because she’s an amazing songwriter, amazing melody writer, and her lyrics are amazing,” Foster said. “She’s a great performer and she’s a really, really, really good girl. And that makes a difference in this business, you know.”

Among the graduates who will take the stage at Dedicated to David is Lindsay Robinson, who this spring received rave reviews for his role as Mick in the three-actor Harold Pinter play The Caretaker with Victoria’s Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. Times Colonist reviewer Adrian Chamberlain described the six-foot-four Robinson’s performance as “an excellent job of capturing Mick’s intimidating physicality and bullyboy humour.” Robinson, who is applying to attend medical school, did another kind of star turn during the intermission at one performance when he used his first-aid training to aid a woman who had passed during the show.

“I think save a life is a bit of an overstatement,” Robinson, 30, said of his heroics. “I just checked on somebody to make sure they were OK.”

Sarah Ann Chisholm, who graduated from the college in 2009, has shared the stage with Foster before. At the David Foster Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Miracle Concert of Giving Celebration in Victoria in 2012, she sang in the backup choir for Josh Groban as Foster accompanied the performance.

Chisholm, who is originally from Nova Scotia, said she is “thrilled to cross paths with David Foster again, this time honouring his philanthropy and incredible contribution to Canada’s artistic community.”

If there’s a piano there …

The play list for the event is expected to include such hits as “Wildflower,” by Foster’s 1970s band Skylark; “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion),” Foster’s ode to wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen; and Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.”

Foster himself isn’t scheduled to perform. However, his favourite grand piano will be brought in from the Oak Bay Beach Hotel to share the stage with him and the performing grads. It won’t take much, he said, to entice him to tickle those ivories.

“It’s not going to take anything to get me to perform,” Foster said. “I mean if there’s a piano there, yeah, so that’ll be the end of that. I’d happily do it. I think that would probably be interesting for the people there. And I like playing my songs. I’m not one of these guys that says, ‘Ah no, I don’t do that song.’”

Were Foster to accompany his performance, “that would be a treat to say the least,” Robinson said. “I’d be honoured. I’m just honoured to be a part of the dedication. The man’s done so much to recognize Canada and his roots. We have such a vast and fruitful artistic community in Canada. And he’s really done everything he can to make sure people are aware of that.”

At the Winnipeg concert last September, Foster was sure to give a shout-out to fellow British Columbian Jepsen. In Los Angeles, he has long been part of a loosely knit “Canadian Club” that has also included such luminaries as the late Alan Thicke, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and crooner Paul Anka — “all proud Canadians that unfortunately moved away from Canada to try to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. It’s a nice club to be in.”

Philanthropy recognized

Victoria broadcasting legend Mel Cooper, an honorary director of the college, conceived of the Dedicated to David event as a fundraiser for the CCPA and chose Foster as the first Legends Award recipient “because he really appreciates young people starting in the business and trying to learn how to be better singers or dancers.”

Cooper noted that organizations like the college, which is operated by a registered Canadian charity, typically have to fight “tooth and nail” to net $20,000 from a single fundraiser. He was fortunate enough to bounce the idea off Bayview Place owners Patricia and Kenneth W. Mariash Sr. of Focus Equities, who “loved the idea” and agreed to hold the event at their facility. Cooper expects Dedicated to David will bring in $200,000.

“The Mariashes have been most helpful,” said Cooper, who owned Victoria’s CFAX radio station from 1973 to 2007. “And they’re also going to give a very sizeable donation to the college.”

Ken Mariash declined to reveal the exact amount but said “it’s definitely in the sixfigure category.”

Like Foster, Mariash said he wishes he could have had some formal musical training when he was messing around with rock music in his youth.

“These guys do a great job and the more they grow and the more their students grow and achieve, the better it is for everybody,” Mariash said of the college.

Mariash has done all right as a property developer, having done projects in many cities, from Calgary and Edmonton, to Tokyo and Los Angeles.

In L.A., where he and wife Patricia have one of their seven residences, he has played golf with Foster on occasion as well as been involved with other fundraising endeavours.

“Every place you go, you try to be part of the community,” Mariash said.

For example, the couple avidly supports the arts in Victoria, where they also have a home, and other Canadian cities. Their philanthropic approach mirrors their business approach: focusing on connecting people, said Patricia Mariash.

“People matter most in any equation,” she said. “As a developer and interior architect I am always looking at how people connect to the experience. It is the same with music and art, the emotional bond to the experience and the value it creates cannot be measured.”

Foster himself is being recognized as much for his legacy of philanthropy as for his contributions to the performing arts. The David Foster Foundation covers the nonmedical expenses of families of children undergoing organ transplants. Foster established the foundation after his mother, Eleanor, told him about the plight of four-year-old Rachel Sharma, who underwent two liver transplants. Before Rachel’s death in 1985, he visited the tot in hospital and a year later established the foundation.

“It was a simple hospital visit down here in L.A.” Foster recalled. “You never know what moment triggers you but if you’re raised right, and a lot of people are, you eventually realize there’s help needed everywhere and you become an unselfish person because of it.”

The foundation’s goal is to raise $50 million by the time it’s done. Foster anticipates reaching that goal by end of next year.

“We’re more than half way there,” he said.

Cooper, who has served on the board of the foundation, said that Foster is “really committed to this program that poor families have to face when a child needs a transplant.” That includes covering the losses a family might incur because a parent has to stop working to accompany the child to a hospital in a distant city, Cooper added.

It’s all about roots

While decades ago Foster transplanted himself to Los Angeles to pursue his career, he maintains close ties to his hometown.

He’ll likely return to Victoria and area four times this year. Aside from the Dedicated to David event, he will come back this summer to celebrate a milestone birthday of his former Skylark bandmate and first wife, B.J. Cook. On Oct. 21, he’ll perform in Vancouver at a miracle gala and concert to mark the 30th anniversary of the foundation. And chances are he’ll squeeze in a boating excursion to Desolation Sound as he has done almost every summer for the last 40 years.

“It’s just roots,” Foster said. “You talk to pretty much anybody and they just always want to go home.”

He also has a large extended family to beckon him back, including the four of his six sisters who still live in Victoria and Vancouver. What was is like being the only son with six sisters? “Can you say King David?” Foster quipped.

He is also known to return to his old neighbourhood in the Victoria suburb of Saanich. A few years ago he even hosted a block party there, where the modest house he grew up in looks frozen in time. On another occasion, about 15 years ago in Vancouver, he presented about half a dozen of his Victoria music teachers and mentor Rick Reynolds with platinum records he had produced with their names etched on them.

“He is one of those people who left Victoria but never really did because emotionally he’s still tied to him hometown,” Cooper said. “And he is one of those Canadian artists who still talks about being a Canadian when he’s talking to a U.S. audience or wherever. And you know, he’s just a big fan of the city and the people here.”

Foster certainly would have made a perfect candidate to attend the college had it existed when he was first learning his craft. As recounted his autobiography, Hitman, his mom discovered he had perfect pitch at age 4 when he shouted out “That’s an E!” as she struck a key while dusting the piano. At age 13, he attended a summer music program at the University of Washington, at the recommendation of Oak Bay high school band teacher Dave Dunnet, even though Foster was attending another high school.

“So playing with college kids when you are 13 was pretty great. That was pretty inspiring,” Foster said. “But again I would rather stayed and done it in Victoria but I had to go to Seattle.”



The following is a small sample of Canadian College of Performing Arts alumni

CCPA alumni from western Canada:

  • Award-winning recording artist, Carly Rae Jepsen
  • Award-winning TV and movie veteran, Ali Liebert
  • Composer, musician, performer and Broadway World Toronto Award Winner, Elliott Loran
  • Award-winning veteran actor, Allison Macdonald

CCPA alumni from central Canada:

  • Broadway actor, Matt Alfano
  • Award-winning actor, writer, director and producer, Charlie David
  • Broadway actor, Sam Strasfeld
  • Disney show runner, producer, director and actor, Derek Baynham

CCPA alumni from eastern Canada:

  • Award-winning actor, producer and director, Julie McIsaac
  • Award-winning actor, Justin Bott
  • Cirque de Soleil performer, Stephanie Fournier
  • Renowned singer/songwriter, Michelle Thibodeau


High-resolution photographs are available to media upon request.


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