Donnie Gilchrist was born in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec and, at the age of 9, moved with his family to Ottawa, where he contributed to the household income by dancing for pennies to the tunes of traveling musicians in the Byward Market. At 19, he joined the Canadian army and entertained Canadian troops around the world. Returning to Canada in 1946, Donnie embarked on a career in dancing that would see him unequalled in national competition.
Competitive dancing gave way to entertaining. He teamed with Joan Ann Jamieson for many of his performances and, after a chance demonstration at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier Hotel, dedicated himself to the art of step dancing. Promoted by Frank Ryan and his CFRA radio station, Donnie became a premiere attraction in the Ottawa Valley. His own "broad axe dance", performed with protégé, Gilles Roy, introduced millions, including Queen Elizabeth on July 1, 1967, to the intricacies of this Ottawa Valley art form. He performed the dance in 24 countries around the world and appeared on numerous TV shows, such as Don Messer’s Jubilee and the popular Hee Haw series, as well as at Toronto’s CNE and Ottawa’s Central Canada Exhibition.
As a teacher, Donnie gave birth to the careers of Joan Ann Jamieson, Gilles Roy, Buster Brown, Danny Poirier, and the lady who would carry on his style to new generations, his daughter, Gina. He gave workshops extensively throughout the USA and was the leading dancer and choreographer for the national dance troupe, Les Feux Follet, on European tours.
The mystical feet of Donnie Gilchrist took him around the world where he demonstrated, with great proficiency, the style of dance indigenous to the lumber camps and taverns of the early Ottawa Valley. He performed at every major folk festival in North America and visited every province in Canada. Washington’s Library of Congress, Knoxville’s World’s Fair, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the classical Spiletto Festival held in Italy and the United States were but a few of the important venues he visited. His wife, Zita, his daughter, Gina, and his sons, Barry and Tony, excellent step dancers in their own right, encouraged and supported him throughout his amazing career. For Donnie Gilchrist, the world was his stage but the Ottawa Valley was his home. He danced with his feet, but he danced from his heart, and he left an amazing legacy.