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Elizabeth Mawson in 2003, when she last played the role of Marilla at age 76. ((CBC))

Actress Elizabeth Mawson, who played Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables - The Musical for more than three decades, died in Toronto on Saturday.

"No matter how many times one saw Anne of Green Gables - The Musical, when Mawson sang the 'Matthew' song, she brought tears to your eyes," said a release from The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.

Mawson, who had turned 81 last week, first joined the Charlottetown Festival and the cast of Anne in 1968.

She didn't take on the Marilla role until 1971 and last played the role in 2003 at age 76, continuing to impress audiences with the strength of her voice in the demanding role.

Elizabeth Mawson struggled with Alzheimer's for several years and passed away early Saturday morning.

"We offer our heartfelt condolences to Liz's family and friends," Wayne Hambly, chair of the board at the centre, said in a statement released late on Monday.

Hambly said the centre would dedicate a special performance of the musical to Mawson this year.

Mawson saw 12 different actresses take on the Anne role, and was an important anchor for the festival cast.

Born in Toronto, and continuing to live there in the off-season, Mawson was also a presence on the Ontario stage, appearing in productions of the Toronto Light Opera Association and the Opera Festival Association of Toronto.

In 1954, she became a soloist at St Andrew's United Church, Toronto, a position she held until 1990. As well, she appeared in several productions with the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Toronto between 1968 to 1975.

Other roles for Mawson at the Charlottetown Festival included Queen Mary in Windsor and Maggie in Johnny Belinda.