The Canadian Club Toronto’s final event of the 2016/17 season featured decorated journalist Peter Mansbridge. On Monday, June 19th, Mansbridge took the podium to reflect on his 5 decades with CBC prior to his July retirement.
Mansbridge posed a question to the audience: “What is a Canadian?” He said that he had been trying to answer it for as long as he could remember. To navigate his way through a simply-phrased but complex question, he travelled the world and told the stories of over 15,000 people. His address to the Canadian Club recounted just 3 of these stories.
His first anecdote took the room to the summer of 1979 in Eastern Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people had escaped their homeland seeking a new life. Small boats took people to safety wherever it could be found. Mansbridge was covering news stories in Japan and Hong Kong when he came across a refugee camp that was taking in those who had fled Vietnam. Talking with these people who had left everything behind to keep their families safe really touched Mansbridge, saying it was something he carried with him for a long time. 30 years later, he was handing out one of his yearly scholarships to a young woman in Milton, Ontario. While taking a photo with the girl and her family, her mother revealed that they had been on one of those boats many years ago, and she was so proud of the life she was able to give her daughter. “The story had come full circle.” he said.
The second took place in 2005, after Sri Lanka had been devastated by the South-Asian tsunami that has been dubbed one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. While delivering updates on location, Mansbridge ran into a group of children playing soccer. After playing for a while, one of the girls pointed to the Canada flag pin attached to his lapel and said “Canada good.” Bringing in the team’s translator, they had learned from the girl that all of the children had been given vaccines by Canadian nurses that same morning. Venturing from their original spot, Mansbridge and team found the medical tent being run by 3 Vancouver nurses that had come to help of their own volition. Using their own money and taking time off from their jobs, the women had vaccinated and treated hundreds of locals. “That was a proud moment to be a Canadian.”
The final story took place in Europe in 1994. Through the pouring rain in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, Dutch people lined the streets waving Canadian flags. 100s of Canadian veterans were applauded, celebrated and met with admiration from the onlookers. In 1945, Canada was instrumental in the liberation of Apeldoorn, and the people had certainly not forgotten. Mansbridge was covering the event when he came across a young woman at the front of the line, carrying her young son. When he inquired about her reason for being there in the pouring rain, she said “I’m here because I want my son to know what a Canadian is.”
Mansbridge was finally ready to answer the question that had haunted him for his entire journalistic career. The anecdotes that he shared on the CCT podium all showcased the perspectives that others had from outside our country about what it means to be a Canadian. “The answer is simple…being a Canadian means we care.” he concluded. Mansbridge talked of Canadians’ reputation for combatting hate at home and abroad, and caring about neighbours “next door, across the street, and across the world.”
In a Q & A with Canadian Club Toronto President-Elect Gillian Riley, Mansbridge revealed that his media consumption is usually in the morning prior to his senior CBC meetings. He is a big fan of Twitter and social media, and thinks that television on its own isn’t enough to keep people informed. When asked about where he sees the future of journalism and what young journalists can do to set themselves apart, he answered with a half-shrug. “I don’t really know…everything is changing so fast.” His best advice was to stay on top of an ever-changing marketplace, and above all else, to “think big, be ambitious and be prepared to start small.”
One of Riley’s final questions for Mansbridge was “Who was the most interesting person you ever interviewed?” Citing the exponential number of interviews he’s conducted, he concluded that it would be difficult to choose just one. While celebrities and famous people are fun and interesting to interview, he said, it was the ordinary people with extraordinary stories that stuck with him. Someone with a raw, honest story who wasn’t looking to “spin” anything was always the most impactful for him.
Speaking on behalf of all Canadians and the international community, we thank you Mr. Mansbridge for your unparalleled dedication and passion to give us the whole story. By interviewing people from all over the globe and all walks of life, you’ve given us all a better sense of ourselves as Canadians and as human beings. The mark you’ve left is one that will never be forgotten, and could never be replaced.
All the best to you, Peter.
If you’d like to know more about Canadian Club Toronto or our upcoming events, visit us at canadianclub.org. Find us on Twitter: @CdnClubTO, Instagram: @CdnClubTO or Facebook: Canadian Club Toronto.
Special thanks to Peter Mansbridge for being a guest of Canadian Club Toronto. Thanks extended to Fred Mifflin for hosting the event and Gillian Riley for thanking.