Parkes began acting on stage in 1948. He moved with his family to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1956. His acting career has spanned film, radio, television, and the stage. Parkes worked often on CBC radio, beginning in 1959, and shifted into television and film, acting in such diverse series as the 1960s' ecological adventure series The Forest Rangers, children's show "The Littlest Hobo", and the detective series Cagney and Lacey. In 1968, he won the first Canadian film award (then called the Etrog and now known as the Gemini) for his portrayal of Uncle Matthew in the movie "Isabel". He also received the Andrew Allan Award in 1983 for best radio actor.