Born in 1927 in Regina, Ms. Hyland attended the University of Saskatchewan before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, from which she graduated with the silver medal, according to the Stratford Festival. She made her professional debut in London in 1950 and quickly won her first major role, as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. During the next four years she acted with John Gielgud and was directed by Peter Brook.
In 1954, she returned to Canada at the invitation of the Stratford Festival's founding artistic director, Tyrone Guthrie, to star in the Festival's second season as Isabella in Measure for Measure opposite James Mason. In nine seasons as a member of the Festival acting company, her roles included Portia (The Merchant of Venice), Olivia (Twelfth Night), Perdita (The Winter's Tale), Desdemona (Othello) and Ophelia opposite Christopher Plummer's Hamlet. In 1979 she returned to the Festival as director of Othello.
"Frances Hyland was a leading lady at the Stratford Festival of Canada for many of its formative years," said Stratford's current artistic director Richard Monette. "She was very courageous in her choices, and she was extremely dedicated to the art of the theatre. When I was in my 20s, I attended a lecture she gave, and in it she said something I've never forgotten. She said she'd become an actress because it was the best way she knew, given her particular abilities, of exploring the human condition. I was fortunate enough to work with her later on, and I can attest that that is exactly what she did: she dealt with the world, and all its problems and joys, through her art. She was a great lady of the theatre."
Her career took her to theatres across Canada, including the Shaw Festival, the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Calgary, the Citadel, Centaur Theatre and the Vancouver Playhouse, where, in 1967, she created the title role in George Ryga'sThe Ecstasy of Rita Joe, an experience she counted among her most meaningful achievements.
On Broadway she appeared in a stage version of Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward Angel" opposite Anthony Perkins. At Chicago's Goodman Theatre she was Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, for which she won a Joseph Jefferson Award. Her other awards included the 1994 Toronto Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for theatre in 1994. She was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971.
Ms. Hyland was predeceased by her former husband, George McCowan. Survivors include her son, Evan McCowan, his wife Anne-Marie, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.