Helene WHITE
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WHITE, Helene Blanche
Born Helene Blanche Oxley
October 18, 1929 – Innisfail, Alberta
March 2, 2017 – Calgary, Alberta
A woman of huge talents and an intensely adventurous and inquiring mind, Helene was a pioneering film and television producer, achieving success in a male- dominated business. Her groundbreaking television series, Connecting, established her as a major player in not only the Canadian, but also North American, television industry. She also co-owned one of the first dog obedience schools in Calgary, worked as a professional actress and playwright, and with her husband Gregor White, was an active player in the booming days of the Alberta oil industry.
She was born in Innisfail to parents of strong pioneer character. Her father, Garnet Tupper Oxley, was descended from a Yorkshire family pioneering in the 1700s at River Philip, Nova Scotia. His godfather was Sir Charles Tupper, one of the Fathers of Confederation, who, as a country doctor, also delivered him. Her mother, Hazel Oxley (nee Cleveland) was often involved with charitable endeavours in Innisfail.
At the age of four years, Helene was diagnosed with polio, and forced to wear braces for over a year. This did not deter the curious and adventurous child from wandering the town, sometimes standing on her head, with her braces carefully balanced above, to the shock and entertainment of her parents.
It is a mark of Helene's indomitable nature, that she became a track and field star when she was a teenager, attending Crescent Heights High School. She won the Grand Aggregate title in track and field for Alberta in the mid 1940s. Her fiery and victorious speed in the relay race, held at Mewata Stadium, resulted in her being carried down Ninth Avenue on the shoulders of the boys track team. A writer for The Calgary herald said it was like watching Secretariat flying down the track.
The Oxley family had moved to Calgary in 1939, at the beginning of World War II. Even then, her intelligence and intellectual curiosity set her apart from her peers. She spent twenty-five cents of her weekly allowance on The New Yorker, the newly established magazine which exemplified cosmopolitan sophistication and literary wit.
Always a fighter against injustice, with a strong sense of moral outrage at any unfairness, young Helene once organized a strike at the Banff Springs Hotel, when she took a summer job as part of a team of underpaid and underfed teenaged dishwashers. The Hotel shut down for several days, and then reinstated the striking staff.
After high school, Helene entered the oil business, first at Suncor in Calgary, and then, becoming, at the age of nineteen, in charge of free hold leases for Canadian Superior Oil Company in Edmonton, She then became the executive assistant to John Dallas at Fortune Oils in Calgary.
But a blind date with a handsome ex-naval office changed her life, leading to courtship, and marriage.
Gregor White was the love of Helen's life, and she, of his. They shared a love of laughter, intellectual curiosity, and an appetite for adventure. At that time, he worked as a landman at Pacific Petroleum. After their marriage in 1952, he formed White Minerals, an exciting and successful venture in the wild days of the oil boom in Alberta. Helene was vice-president, and a member of the board. Gregor was actively running the company until his death. Helene is now president of White Minerals.
They both loved dogs, and Helene, following a stint as President of the Calgary Kennel and Obedience Club, opened two dog obedience schools with a partner, Pauline Rabson. The Western Dog Obedience School had locations in Calgary and Regina.
Yet Helene knew her destiny lay in the life of the artist. Helene first studied visual art, and then enrolled in the newly established Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Calgary. She graduated in 1973 with highest marks and a BFA in Drama, with a major in Dramatic Criticism, and began a new career.
She became a popular Alberta actress, appearing in productions at Theatre Calgary and Stage West, including the extremely successful Norman, Is That You? at Stage West Edmonton, starring opposite Gale Gordon, will-known from the Lucille Ball television series. She was also a successful playwright, researching and writing Echoes in the Attic, a very well received Edwardian styled entertainment performed at the Palliser Hotel, and at the John Irwin antiques shop. She also appeared a performer in the piece, receiving glowing reviews for her acting and writing. Her colleague from U of C, Victor Mitchell, directed. Together, Mitchell and Helene produced and directed two mystery plays, with an innovative production at the United Church in downtown Calgary, following the European movement of using "found space" for theatrical productions. They also presented the western premiere of the controversial Michel Tremblay Quebecois play, Hosanna, and had the unusual experience of having their show closed by the vice squad.
Helen joined the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, knowing her creative path lay in the world of film and television. She wanted to direct. Always a savvy and brilliant businesswoman, she invested in the stock market and made enough to produce an award winning documentary on Agnes Hammond, a woman she had met through the Calgary Kennel and Obedience Club. Lady in Motion was an affirmation of independence and joy, winning numerous awards, including a bronze award at the International Film and Television Festival of New York in 1982. It was shown repeatedly on CBC Television, and established Helene as a producer and director with an elegant, detailed and uplifting approach to her work.
Helene formed HBW Film Productions, then created and produced Connecting, a groundbreaking series for the teenage market. Connecting, a teen talk show in an interactive format, was produced with then partner Garry Toth, and became a huge success, running in Canada from 1980 – 1985. It was a landmark series, in that the teenagers were treated as young adults, and their comments were taken seriously. The topics, for a time, were sophisticated and innovative, encouraging young people to examine real issues.
In 1999, Helene became the Canadian producer of a major international dramatic series, Caitlin's Way. She formed another company, Riverwood Productions, for the U.S./Canadian co-venture. Shot in High River, the series aired on Nickelodeon in the U.S. and Global in Canada. It was the highest rated premiere in Nickelodeon's history, with extraordinary ratings.
Throughout her career, Helene hired and mentored many people who, after beginning their careers with her guidance, later went on to further success. She opened doors, both creative and professional, to countless newcomers and established artists. If one were to list some of the most prominent performers, directors and writers in Calgary (or western Canada) odds are good that Helene offered them their first jobs.
Helene Blanche White is a true artist, an individual who followed her dreams. Her achievements have earned her a place in the history of Canadian film and television.
A Memorial Service will be held at McINNIS & HOLLOWAY (Park Memorial, 5008 Elbow Drive S.W. Calgary, AB) on Friday, March 17, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. Condolences may be forwarded through www.mcinnisandholloway.com. If friends so desire, memorial tributes may be made directly to The Calgary Humane Society, 4455 – 110th Avenue S.E., Calgary, AB T2C 2T7, Telephone: (403)205-4455, www.calgaryhumane.ca.
In living memory of Helene White, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park.




To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Calgary Herald on Mar. 4, 2017.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
No memorial events are currently scheduled. To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
Memories & Condolences
Not sure what to say?
15 entries
February 26, 2019
Still missing our weekly Sunday visits, Helene. The laughter, the anecdotes, the philosophizing and ranting about the film industry, and of course your account of your amazing life. Sometimes I even miss the cats. But only because you loved them so much. I wrote your obituary with great love and respect.
Linda Kupecek
Friend
February 26, 2019
Wish you were here, Helene, to analyze the state of the business, not to mention the state of the world! You always had strong and interesting opinions on everything. Bartley and I are grateful to you for mentoring us and all the support you gave us in our artistic work over the years. Margaret Bard, Pacific Victory Pictures
Margaret Bard
Coworker
May 11, 2017
Helene was an inspiration to me as well as being lots of fun. In Greece, she introduced me to Restina wine and I think of her whenever I enjoy a wee sip. She also encouraged my writing of stories which evolved into three published mystery novels. Helene was a delight and will remain in the memories of many of us.
Benni Chisholm
March 19, 2017
I will miss our weekly Sunday visits, our lively conversations and the inspiring soul of amazing Helene, a true artist! With all my love,
Linda
linda kupecek
March 16, 2017
She was a very supportive and caring producer. Everything a director/writer could hope for. A bright, intelligent and witty human being, diverse in her interests and talents. I will miss her encouraging words and conviction. She was one of the good ones. Always in my heart.
Francis Damberger
March 10, 2017
So very sorry to hear of Helene's passing. She was an inspiration to many women looking to follow in her footsteps.
Bev Bliss
March 8, 2017
my respect for Helene is infinite, remembered with respect and gratitude.
arvi liimatainen
March 8, 2017
stephana johnson
March 8, 2017
What a loss, but what a full and generous life lived! Helene made a profound difference for many in the production industry especially the women. She will be remembered with fondness, respect and gratitude.
Joanne T. Levy
March 8, 2017
I am a stranger to Helene White, but to read of her life and accomplishments on International Women's Day has been inspiring and touching. What a wonderful tribute to a remarkable woman! My condolences to those who loved her.
Deborah Sudul
March 5, 2017
We've lost a truly wonderful person. One of our moments that always makes me smile was her insistence on riding with me to the top of a 50-foot crane, shooting one of the end-of-episode shots for Caitlyn's Way. She came along for the ride, and as Producer, that was her prerogative. We had the most glorious view, and wonderful chat while we did this. Sleep well, Helene. You will be forever remembered, and always missed.
Rick Grbutt
March 4, 2017
Helene, sweet Helene. I have wonderful memories of moments we shared so long ago. Such desire to tell stories that inspired. So strong, so kind. So determined, so supportive. So committed, so giving....so long for now dear Helene, the industry has benefitted so much because of you...the planet was so much better when you were around...Peace.
Paul Jolicoeur
March 4, 2017
Beautifully written. A fascinating tribute to the life of an equally fascinating woman who was a true pioneer in film in Alberta and across Canada.
Margaret Bard
March 4, 2017
A real loss to our community and I'm touched by the lovely tribute to Helene. There are so many amazing aspects to her life that I was not a part of. I was lucky to be involved in Caitlin's Way in the beginning of my film career and I enjoyed the support and encouragement of Helene at that time and later as my career continued. One of my favorite quirks of Helene's when working with her on Caitlin's Way was when she would be out on set and she'd make a call on her cell phone. Helene was a talker and a walker - this meant every time she took a call, at some point she would get up and start to walk away from the crew still talking into her phone. The locations crew were always on high alert just in case Helene would stray into the shot when she was on one of these excursions. Inevitably I would catch her once or twice per episode and it became our running joke. I'd call it my modified "football tackle" and Helene would laugh and apologize for making me run after her. I hope Helene's journey to the next great adventure treats her well, she was a lovely woman and a true pioneer for women in this business.
Sue Bristow
March 4, 2017
What a lovely review of this remakable woman's life. I will miss our long talks about "the biz" we both shared a love for.
Marion Milner
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