The many expressions of Suzanne Pasternak
February 14, 1951-September 3, 2023
By Jeanette Arsenault/Quinte Arts Council
Sometimes it’s hard to define an artist. Which genre do you plug them into? Which checkbox do you tick? Which list do they fit under?
Suzanne Pasternak pretty much fits this description: she is a singer, songwriter, performing and recording artist, author, producer, storyteller, lecturer, folklorist, marine historian, writer and documentary filmmaker.
Suzanne has spent over 33 years collecting oral histories in the field, filming and photo documenting her subjects with a focus on eastern Ontario and the various islands in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Her work led her to create historically-based folk operas, musicals, plays, three books, two documentaries and two albums and also has a lecture series.
Her best-known folk opera, Minerva, is a dramatic and true cross border story weaving a tale of a young 17-year-old ship’s cook from 1878 whose name was Minerva McCrimmon. “Not many people know that Minerva was a famous heroine in both Oswego, New York as well as Prince Edward County,” says Pasternak.
She also wrote a book (plus audio book) about another cross border tale called The Story of the 1917 Halifax Explosion and the Boston Tree. Pasternak says, “I was honoured that a copy has been donated to every library in Boston by the esteemed A.C. Ratshesky Foundation.”
The world premiere screening of her audio drama was debuted in December 2017 which was the 100th Anniversary of the first 55 foot Christmas tree that made its 600 mile journey from the city of Halifax to stand in front of the State House in Boston.
“This tradition still continues to this day as a thank you message from the citizens of Halifax to Boston and the state of Massachusetts for their help immediately following the 1917 explosion that killed 2,000 people and critically wounded 9,000,” she explains.
This audio drama features Prince Edward County radio personality 99.3 County FM’s Sam St. Omer as the narrator and features music by County composers Tom Leighton, Kaitlin Shannon and Suzanne Pasternak.
Since 2017, Pasternak has been developing and implementing music theatre programs for a broad spectrum of participants with physical and intellectual challenges.
In 2018 Pasternak was hired by the H’art Centre in Kingston, Ont., to write/direct the musical “The Wishing Tree” with music co-written/directed by herself and Laura Scott. The cast of 50 ranged in diverse abilities including the deaf, Down syndrome, autism and other special needs.
“I have also been having fun producing/co-writing three radio plays performed by seniors for 99.3 County FM radio. Several of the voice actors were in a long-term care home with dementia, had Parkinson’s or some physical challenges,” she says, demonstrating the power of the arts to create opportunities for everyone, regardless of perceived ability.
Cultivating Creativity: The many expressions of Suzanne Pasternak
For publication: March 13, 2020
Updated September 2023
Suzanne Pasternak passed away September 3, 2023