“It’s difficult for me to put into words,” says stage, screen, and voice actor Eric Peterson about receiving an honorary degree from the University of Regina. “It’s a big deal for me,” he continues. “And it affirms to young people the possibility that they don’t have to leave home to achieve success, that being a cultural worker is not just something done by other people in other places.”

Peterson – who was born and raised in Indian Head, Saskatchewan – has fashioned a distinguished 50-year acting career that includes the enduring stage play Billy Bishop Goes to War and lead roles in the TV series Street Legal, This is Wonderland and Saskatchewan’s own Corner Gas. He has performed on stage in countless theatres across Canada, at international festivals, at London’s West End and on Broadway.

As for Corner Gas and his role as the irascible Oscar Leroy, Peterson describes what a huge thrill it was to step out and see his own landscape when he prepared for a day on the set. “I had to pinch myself, but it proved what I believed: that my country can produce successful cultural productions based on who we are.”

Peterson’s pathway to success did require him to travel to establish his career. Along the way, he met other Canadians who were determined to discover and tell Canadian stories. After graduating high school, he attended the University of Saskatchewan, “with no idea of what I wanted to do,” he says. While there, he was persuaded to take a part in a drama production and “took to it like a duck to water.”

After his second year he dropped out, working for a while with a semi-professional drama company before moving to England to work as an apprentice stage manager and stage carpenter, picking up acting roles when he could. When his work permit ran out, he returned to Western Canada, eventually settling in Vancouver where he met many people involved in the arts, including John Gray, who would become his long-time creative collaborator.

Later, in Toronto, Peterson’s experience with emerging groups such as Theatre Passe Muraille, which aimed to create a home-grown theatre telling Canadian stories, profoundly affected his thinking about theatre and his ambitions as an actor. “I realized that theatre – and cultural expression in general – is as important as any other activity in the life of a nation and its people; providing glimpses of what living in Canada and being Canadian is like.”

Peterson’s long list of acting credits include The Farm Show, a collective creation based on conversations with people living in Ontario’s farm country, and Billy Bishop Goes to War, a collaboration by Gray and Peterson that dramatizes the life of Canadian World War I fighter pilot Billy Bishop. The often-revived two-man musical has been a staple for Gray and Peterson throughout their careers. “Billy Bishop established us and made us famous, both in the theatre and on film,” Peterson observes.

As for Corner Gas and his role as the irascible Oscar Leroy, Peterson describes what a huge thrill it was to step out and see his own landscape when he prepared for a day on the set. “I had to pinch myself, but it proved what I believed: that my country can produce successful cultural productions based on who we are.”

Peterson also appeared in Corner Gas: The Movie, and continues to portray Oscar Leroy in the animated TV series.

Peterson receives his honorary degree on June 6, 2019.