Thunder Bay actor Spencer Hari performs as David MacDonald in A.K.A., which is screening Thursday evening at the Bay Street Film Festival.



The 12th Annual Bay Street Film Festival is set to kick off on Thursday, Sept 15, and will run until Sept. 18. This year’s festival features 45 films, including 17 produced by Northwester Ontario filmmakers, as well as 13 First Nations-themed films and 23 international films. I was fortunate enough to pre-screen one of the films, entitled A.K.A.

A.K.A. is a documentary film, and comes from local filmmaker (and Lakehead University professor) Ron Harpelle. It tells one of the most fascinating pieces of local history I have ever heard.

During the early 1960s when Lakehead University was in its infancy, Dr. David MacDonald, PhD., arrived in Port Arthur and essentially started the university’s psychology department. He taught at LU for three years, and helped stock the LU library with invaluable psychology texts and journals. The only problem: Dr. David MacDonald, PhD., was in reality Ronald Ivan MacDonald, a Hamilton native that only had a grade 12 education.

In the film, Harpelle tells the incredible story of this serial imposter, who assumed the identities of actual psychologists and academics in his quest to help people. The lengths at which MacDonald went to impersonate people was incredible, and similar in a lot of instances to Frank Abagnale, the real-life master forger and impersonator that was the subject of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can.

A.K.A. opens with some incredible archival footage of Port Arthur, and weaves a narrative through the effective use of said footage, along with interviews of LU Alumni that either worked directly with or were taught by MacDonald. The film also makes use of several dramatizations starring the very talented local actor Spencer Hari in the role of MacDonald.

The film recounts the various institutions at which MacDonald “worked”, in cities such as London Ont., Montreal Que., Antigonish, N.S. and Kimberley, B.C.

I found this documentary to be extremely fascinating, and another fine example of Harpelle’s work. I would highly urge anyone that is a fan of local history, or anyone that likes learning about a good scandal to see it. A.K.A. screens on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Bay Street Film Festival. The screening location is at 314 Bay Street (above the Hoito). Tickets can be purchased at Calico Coffee House, Bay Credit Union, Mary JL Black Library, at the festival location itself and online at

Ryan Mackett is an artist and film enthusiast who resides in Thunder Bay. Email questions or comments to him at

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