1921 – May 27, 2014
The actress and social activist who helped bring the 9-1-1 emergency service to Ottawa, Geraldine Migicovsky (nee Shnier), was born in Winnipeg, Man., in 1921 to Russian immigrants Jacob and Ethel Shnier. After moving the family to Toronto in the mid-1920s, Jacob, a merchant by trade, established a soft-drink company. He was only in his 30s when he died from an illness, leaving Ethel with a young family in the middle of the Depression.
From a young age, Migicovsky demonstrated a flair for the dramatic arts, and with the support of her mother, secured a career in radio and, ultimately, television. In 1939, at the age of 18, she anded the title character role in the CBC’s The Life and Loves of Dr. Susan—Canada’s first soap opera. Then the Second World War intervened, rendering the show’s sponsor unable to support the popular daytime drama, thus ending its two-year run.
Migicovsky’s voice won her various radio roles. Among them were Tootsie the hat check girl in a Mickey Spillane-type Canadian detective series, and the long-suffering mother to mischievous contemporaries, John Louis Wayne and Frank Shuster (Wayne and Shuster), at the outset of their ultimately successful careers. During the war, her voice emanated from loudspeakers on the clock on Toronto’s Old City Hall as part of the War Bonds effort.In 1943, she married a fellow Winnipegger, biochemist Bert Migicovsky, whom she met in Toronto through a mutual friend. When her husband returned from a tour of duty overseas, the couple moved to Ottawa, where Bert began his career with the federal Government in the Department of Agriculture. Geraldine became involved in the National Council of Jewish Women, co-ordinating fashion-show fundraisers; became a member of Agudath Israel Sisterhood, serving a term as the organization’s president; and served as vice-president of the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation, which named a scholarship after her under the Pinchas Zucherman Music Education Fund. Migicovsky also served on the boards of many organizations, including the Ottawa Hospital, and was active in the Hilson Public School PTA. She also continued her love affair with media.
In 1962, Migicovsky joined CJOH-TV, where she broadcast for 17 years. Migicovsky and Peter Jennings were the station’s first co-anchors in 1961. She was involved in the production of the Galloping Gourmet, The Amazing Kreskin and Celebrity Cooks. She also appeared on the daily production What’s On and, with Peter Stursberg, co-hosted an action-line type show. Beyond the arts, her contributions to the Ottawa community, Jewish and non-Jewish, were immense.
When she and Bert began to spend their winters in Florida, the implementation of 9-1-1 in the Ottawa region emerged. The Migicovskys would drive to Florida, and as Bert was ill, Geraldine called whenever they stopped to find out if there was an emergency number at that location. Migicovsky served as co-chair of Action 9-1-1, the committee that lobbied to bring the service to Ottawa. After lobbying regional government for two years, it was passed by council in 1986, just three weeks after Bert died. During the following two years required for installation of the service, Migicovsky chaired the 9-1-1 Public Awareness Committee. The first call was made in June 1988 and in March 1993, 9-1-1 logged its 1 millionth call. Subsequently, Migicovsky sat on the steering committee for Action Paramedic, which received funding for the first group of ambulance drivers.
Featured Photo: Geri Migicovsky, Kier Gilmour, 2006. Courtesy Adam Kneeland, Ottawa Citizen Newspaper.
Clipping: Image appears alongside Nyman Engel, C. (1995, April 10). Geri Migicovsky: A life-long involvment with the media. Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 4.