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Jackie Burroughs celebrates receiving the Earle Grey Award at the 16th annual Gemini Awards in Toronto on Oct. 29, 2001. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

Jackie Burroughs, the stage and screen actress best known for her role as schoolteacher Hetty King on TV's Road to Avonlea, has died at the age of 71.

The British-born Canadian actor died at home in Toronto Wednesday afternoon, CBC News has confirmed. She had been suffering from stomach cancer.

As the stiff but kindly Hetty King, Burroughs brought both dignity and comedy to Road to Avonlea. The CBC family series, adapted from Lucy Maud Montgomery's books, ran from 1990 to 1996 in Canada and the U.S.

She worked with Canadian actress Sarah Polley, then just a teen, on the program. Polley played Hetty's niece Sara Stanley, who moved in with her aunt after the death of her mother. 

In addition to playing King, Burroughs played Mrs. Amelia Evans in the 1985 Anne of Green Gables television movie.

She appeared in more than 100 films and television shows over the course of her career, doing voice work on The Care Bears Movie and Heavy Metal and acting in films such as The Dead Zone, Last Night, The Republic of Love, Willard and The Grey Fox, for which she won her first Genie for best supporting actress.

When reviewing The Grey Fox, New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael said Burroughs' "big, toothy sensual smile won [her] over" and gave the film "some artifice and some musk."

In 2003, comedian Rick Mercer had Burroughs on his sitcom, Made in Canada. He told the Toronto Star he was impressed by her experience and carefree sense of humour.

"The whole time she was on set I couldn't quite believe it was happening," he said. "She told me a lot of great stories while we were waiting around. And then when the camera came on, she took the Mickey out of herself."

"She's the greatest to work with," Avonlea co-star Zachary Bennett told The Star a year later.

"She's got a split personality. She's this fearless actor and she's a slacker college guy. Felix and Aunt Hetty would have belching contests and trade fart jokes. I couldn't keep up with her."

Burroughs, born in Lancashire, England, immigrated to Toronto with her family at age 12 and attended the University of Toronto, before moving to New York City with her husband, Zal Yanovsky of the band Lovin' Spoonful.

After she split from Yanovsky in 1968, she returned to Canada and began her long-running stage and screen career, working on numerous Stratford and Shaw festival plays and films with artists such as Peter O'Toole, David Cronenberg and Deepa Mehta.

During off-season, she divided her time between an apartment in Toronto and a vacation home in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Burroughs won the best leading actress Genie in 1988 for her performance as a "sexual tourist" in A Winter Tan, a film based on the Maryse Holder book Give Sorrow Words. She produced, directed, wrote and starred in the film.

Burroughs also won two Canadian Film Awards, five Geminis (three for Road to Avonlea, one for Further Tales of the City and the Earle Grey Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian Cinema) and three Genies (for The Grey Fox, A Winter's Tan and The Wars).

In 2005, she received a Governor General's Award for Performing Arts. At the award ceremony, Michaëlle Jean called Burroughs "forever young" and said she brought "the enfant terrible [to life] on our theatre stages."

"I've always played old, even when I was young," Burroughs once told the CBC. "They know better than to cast me in the goodie-goodie grandmother roles, though."

Burroughs' final film was Small Town Murder Songs, which debuted at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Although her part was a cameo, she received much praise for her performance.

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Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, right, laughs as Jackie Burroughs reacts to going the wrong way after receiving the lifetime achievement award for the performing arts during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Nov. 4, 2005. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)