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Ayre, John David

AYRE, John David - Age 72, died at his home on October 2 after being ill with cancer. Some will know him as the biographer of Northrop Frye; others as a journalist; and others as the husband of Mary Ann Evans, father of Evelyn (Lucas Sprague-Coyle), Edward (Viviane Yip) and Eleanor (Peter Davidson), brother of Margaret (Jack Fleetwood) and Michael (Ona Jauneikaite), grandfather of grandsons Rowan, Linden, Mackenzie, Asher, and Maddox and brother-in-law of Jim (Donna Murphy) and Don Evans. He is predeceased by his sister and brother-in-law Barbara and Danny Tomlinson, sister-in-law Regina (Siniute) and parents Alan and Joan.

Before moving to Guelph in 1981, John lived in Toronto, attending Armour Heights Public School, Ledbury Park Junior High, Lawrence Park Collegiate and the University of Toronto. He initially combined free-lance journalism with employment as an editor with Scholastic Publishers and copywriter/publicist for TVOntario. His research skills, along with his deep conscientiousness and honesty, made him a consummate writer of features in Maclean’s, Saturday Night and Weekend Magazine on luminaries and artists such as Margaret Atwood, Marshall McLuhan, Margaret Lawrence, Manasie Akpaliapik and David Ruben Piqtoukun. He also followed ballet, accompanying Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn to report on their 1977 tour of Russia; reviewing performances for Maclean’s; and writing profiles of dancers such as Veronica Tennant, James Kudelka, Alexander Grant, Evelyn Hart and Arnold Spohr for which he won the Periodical Distributors Author Award in 1977.

Like many others, John attended Northrop Frye’s lectures at Victoria College. While editor of the College’s Acta Victoria, he wrote a piece on Frye, leading to his 1972 Saturday Night profile and 1989 biography of Frye nominated for the Trillium Book Award and City of Toronto Book Award. In 1974 John’s profile on James Houston appeared in Saturday Night and in 1989 he began a book on Houston’s life and the development of Inuit art. This book will be published posthumously.

John enjoyed his extensive library and reviewed books for journals, magazines and Toronto newspapers. His studies in social and cultural anthropology fuelled a life-long interest in Mexico and Nunavut--their archeology, indigenous peoples, and folk and studio arts. He also read scholarly works extensively, including those on religion, myth, symbolism and iconography, and keenly shared his wide ranging knowledge during conversations. He and Einstein had at least two things in common-- brilliance and a distain for wearing socks.

John was quiet, private, loyal, dependable and ethical, with a surprising sense of humor and of the absurd. Sharing in family duties, his signature dish became macaroni and cheese. In university, this intellectual with dark curly hair and a snappy slim black leather motorcycle jacket quickly won the heart of Mary Ann and along with his family will have it forever.

We extend grateful thanks to the personal support workers, nurses, and doctors who cared for John and to the Wall-Custance Funeral Home. Donations in John’s name may be made to Victoria College of the University of Toronto, Medecins Sans Frontiers, the National Ballet School, and Sunnybrook Hospital.

Given COVID-19 concerns relatives, friends and acquaintances will be welcomed outside in the yard of his Tiffany Street home from 10 am to noon and 2 pm to 5 pm on October 9, 10 and 11. Please contact a family member prior to arriving and “bring your own coffee”. A private burial will be held October 13 in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Condolences can be sent to the family via the funeral home website ( below John’s notice.

A tree will be planted in memory of John D. Ayre in the Wall-Custance Memorial Forest.

Click here to send a condolence message to the family.

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