Memorable Manitobans: Brian Norman Orvis (1931-2010)
Music educator, community activist.
Born on 22 April 1931, son of John and Catherine Orvis, before completing junior high school, he became an organist, choirmaster and piano teacher. After studies in Arts, Theology, Music and Education, he taught in remote communities such as Fort Severn, Big Trout Lake and Lac Suel in Ontario as well as Norway House in Manitoba. While at St. John’s Ravenscourt School he created its first choir. He served as Chairman of the Board of the Selkirk Friendship Centre, Secretary of the Board of the Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres and Secretary of the Board of the National Association of Friendship Centres. Later he became a Member of the Board of The Pas Trappers’ Festival.
He provided leadership in a variety of roles in the native community, largely through his writing, broadcasting and organization skills. For three years he was a CBC editorialist on Native Affairs. For 20 years he was a regular volunteer at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature. For nine years, while on staff at The Cultural Development Branch, he provided liaison with the Aboriginal Community of Manitoba. For six of these years, he taught for The New Careers Branch in its Recreation Leadership Development Program. He was Principal at Victoria Beach School (1964) and taught at Stony Point School (1964-1966).
His northern experience and work with Aboriginal communities helped the government of Manitoba to change the Education Act allowing the use of heritage languages for instruction, replacing a 90 year English-only policy. In 1969 he was called upon by the Premier of Manitoba to work with the Manitoba Centennial Corporation to involve the Aboriginal community in all major celebrations of Manitoba’s year-long 100th birthday. He guided the founding of the Harpsichord Association of Manitoba.
He was inducted into the Order of Canada in April 1976 in recognition of his work in creating understanding between Indians, Metis and other Canadians. Other honours and awards included Life Membership in the Selkirk Friendship Centre, Life Membership in the Winnipeg Friendship Centre, a Special Award from the Metis Community of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Centennial Medal, Centennial Medal, a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), two Manitoba Games Medals (Administration), the Folklorama Volunteer Award, the Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee Medal, and Canada’s 125th Birthday Medal.
He died on 29 November 2010.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 3 December 2010.
We thank Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 3 February 2023