Jan Rubeš was a singer, actor and director whose career spanned more than half a century. Born in Volynĕ, Czechoslovakia in 1920, Rubeš was the second son of a local bank manager. Although he had planned to follow his brother into medicine, his studies were interrupted by the closure of the Faculty of Medicine at Charles University by the German occupying forces during World War II. Rubeš transferred to the Prague Conservatory, where he studied under Hilbert Vavre and launched a career as a promising basso. In 1948, while representing Czechoslovakia at the International Music Festival in Geneva, Switzerland, Rubes sought and was granted political asylum in Canada. In 1950, he married fellow singer and actress Susan Douglas, who would remain his partner for the next six decades (and with whom he would have three children).
Rubeš was a soloist with the CBC Opera (1949-1958), and an original member of the Opera Festival Company of Toronto (later the Canadian Opera Company). He appeared more than 1,000 times in over 50 Canadian Opera Company productions, and participated in some 20 national tours. He also performed as guest soloist with opera companies in Frankfurt, Mexico, Central America, New York City, Detroit, Seattle, and New Orleans.
Between 1953 and 1963, Rubeš appeared as singer and host on CBC’s popular Songs of My People, a program that featured folk music from around the world. He also wrote, produced, acted and directed the TVO television program Guess What (1975), and sang on the CBC radio program Rhapsody with Ivan Romanoff.
Rubeš developed a film career later in life, appearing in more than 100 roles (some of his more memorable films include Witness (1985), One Magic Christmas (1985), The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick and Deceived (1991). He also appeared on Canadian and US television programs such as The Forest Rangers, The X-Files, King of Kensington, and Due South.
Rubeš won a Gemini Award for his role in Two Men (1989), the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (1978), the Canadian Centennial Medal (1967), and the Earl Grey Award for lifetime achievement in television (1990). He was artist-in-residence at Wilfrid Laurier University in 1981, and taught at the University of Windsor in 1985. In 1998, he was awarded a Honourary Doctor of Letters degree at the University of Windsor. In addition to his success in the performing arts, Rubeš was also a lifelong athlete who excelled in tennis.
Jan Rubeš died in 2009 at the age of 89.