Sen. Pamela Wallin remembers her late friend Lynne Delfs, a pioneer in the performing arts world
A week before her death, Lynne Delfs held a Thanksgiving event for 35 at her Toronto home.
In the final stages of her third cancer journey, Delfs was confined to bed, unable to come downstairs to mingle among her guests. Yet she was content, as people took turns visiting with her, says her friend of 40 years and former next-door neighbour, Sen. Pamela Wallin.
“She said, ‘If I can hear the noise, if I can hear laughter, if I can hear wine glasses clinking, then I’ll be happy,’” Wallin says. “She wanted to see her friends and say goodbye.”
That was the way Delfs lived her entire life. Exceedingly generous, she always kept her doors open for friends — many of whom came to dinners so often, they knew where everything was kept in her kitchen. Delfs, who ran a temporary-employment agency in Toronto for 35 years, was a pioneer in many ways, moving to the other side of the world to build not only a successful business, but a network of local performers. “She made community theatre, and living life as an actor, a possibility,” Wallin says.
Born in Perth, Australia, to George and Betty Delfs, Lynne Denham Delfs had three siblings, Gregory, Robin and Neville. Robin died very young, and although Delfs didn’t talk about it much, it had a profound effect on her, says her friend the actor James Nicholson of Vancouver. After graduating high school, she took a job operating a comptometer (an early electromechanical calculating machine) at a remote cattle station in the Outback — a move, says Wallin, that was characteristic of the always-adventurous Delfs. “A job counting cattle … was pretty rough and tough circumstances,” says Wallin, “but she always laughed about it.”
At 24, Delfs moved to London, England, landing a job with the temp agency PD Bureau. In 1969, she relocated to Toronto to set up a new branch in the downtown core. Drawn to the performing arts, she specialized in finding work for local actors and artists. “She flourished, loving every bit of her work, especially the people,” says Nicholson. “She loved theatre, professional and amateur, and found she had the perfect source of temporary workers: actors, whether they were just starting out or between gigs, could temp for her. The proviso she always had was if they got an audition, they would be free to go, and she would cover their position with another temp. It was a perfect match. Lynne became very well known and respected in the theatre world.”
Back then, there was no other business that catered to this group, and Delfs was a trailblazer in both her work and personal life. In those days, “there weren’t a lot of young single women who would pick up and move to a (different) country, start a business and buy a house and live on her own,” says Wallin. “She was braver and more ground-breaking than even she gave herself credit for.” When she left Australia, says Nicholson, “it was because Perth just wasn’t big enough for her dreams.”
Delfs was never married and had no children, but she had an ample circle of friends that she considered family.
When work was over, everyone gathered at Delfs’s house. People who were far from home surrounded her table at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Delfs understood the importance of this kind of hospitality, as she was in the same situation. “If people came to town, they stayed at Lynne’s,” says Wallin. “This was not a woman who was wealthy, but everything she had, she shared — her home, her spirit, her lust for life. She would give you the shirt off her back.” Not only did she offer up her kitchen and dining room for friends to host their own family dinners if their place was too small, she also rented out rooms in her home.
She ran PD Bureau until her retirement in 2005. The office closed a year or so later, having been made obsolete by the Internet. Despite two cancer diagnoses, she continued to travel, making the 30-hour journey to Australia to see family, taking day trips with friends, and even riding a snowmobile in Saskatchewan. As she told her friend Jack Butler at a local theatre the first time they met, “I intend to love my life dramatically.” And she did.
A few months into the pandemic in 2020, Delfs was diagnosed with cancer for the third time. Out of treatment options, she committed to medical assistance in dying. “She wanted to be aware and live life to the very fullest,” Wallin says, “and when she couldn’t, she wanted to say goodbye. She was so strong about it. It was a brave thing to do and takes courage right to the very end.”
Delfs will be remembered “for being an incredible friend,” says Wallin. “(She was) the definition of what friendship could be: no cost, no quid pro quo. You have those kinds of relationships once in your life. Once you were her friend, she loved you and always had your back.”