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13 December 2010

Toby Dancer (1953 – 2004) musician.

++ updated November 2013 to include the stained window.

Adrian Chornowol grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. His Ukrainian-born father was a musician with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Adrian was a child prodigy who played classical piano in the window of the Harmony Kids store. He grew up to be a record producer of note.

He was the music director of a country music television program, where he met Ian Tyson, who credits Chornowol with creating a unique sound for his platinum album Cowboyography, recorded in Calgary in 1987.

In 1989 Chornowol was repeatedly stabbed in his home by two homeless aboriginals. Shortly
afterwards he moved to Vancouver, and as Toby Dancer attempted to transition, as her brother had already done. She was very lonely and succumbed to heroin and then morphine.

Toby drifted to Toronto in 1998. She found the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, and a worker there found her a room. She sometimes played the piano, but needed coaxing. Zepheniah James, from Jamaica via New York, brother of the late Philip James of the Blues Busters, taught music at the Centre and slowly got Toby to play with him. They recorded two CDs. Toby also contributed to the music at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church, and confided in the minister Cheri DiNovo, who is now a New Democrat Member of the Provincial Parliament.  Emmanuel Howard Park United Church now has a stained window to remember her.

Toby died at age 51 of a drug overdose.

The Ontario Private Members Bill introduced by Cheri DiNovo in 2007 to add Gender Identity to the Ontario Human Rights Code is known as Toby's Bill in her memory.  It finally became law in 2012. 
  • Ian Tyson. I Never Sold My Saddle. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1994: 59.
  • Catherine Dunphy. "Toby Dancer, 51: Musical genius died a drifter". The Toronto Star, Dec 03, 2004.

For somebody who made such a mark on Canadian music, Toby has a very small imprint:  Merely a paragraph in Tyson's book, and the obituary in The Toronto Star.  If you google Adrian Chornowol you find entries in Music databases, but they are no more than the name and sometimes a list of albums.


    michele said...

    In 1991, after the stabbing in Edmonton, Toby and I spent a significant amount of time together in Vancouver. He was sober and supported by many in the music community in terms of both his transition and acknowledgement of his immense talent. I'm not sure when she started using drugs again, but I did speak briefly to her after she moved to Toronto.

    I also knew Star, her brother, in 1996, and was saddened when she, too, died.

    They were both amazing people and I was glad to know them.

    One point I would make, and I'm glad Toby was supported in Toronto by the community center, is that if you subscribe to an abstinence model, Toby's continued use of marijuana and other drugs is likely to have contributed to his relapse with heroin and his subsequent death. So sad to have seen this happen.

    Unknown said...

    Thank you for your comments. I am star and Toby's stepsister Laurie. Yesterday we buried Walter Chornowol our father. He is resting in peace now.

    Karen said...

    I knew Adrian and was close to his brother Taras in Edmonton and later in toronto in the 1970s/early 80s. We lost touch, though I ran into Adrian as Toby once or twice, and was very saddened to read of Toby's death. And then shocked to find out that Taras (who I never knew as Star) was also gone. I have loved his wonderful spirit all my life to this day and would very much appreciate any information about when/how he died as I will always wonder about him. Thank you. Also condolences on the loss of Walter, whom I knew slightly from various Ukrainian events, dances, etc in the 80s. Also a lovely man. thank you for this website and a chance to be in touch.