Former governor general and longtime CBC journalist Adrienne Clarkson will be inducted into the CBC News Hall of fame on Wednesday, the 10th inductee since the honour was established.
Clarkson’s induction comes after a decades-long career in both journalism and government — including co-host of CBC’s The Fifth Estate current affairs program beginning with its first season in 1975, and being appointed the first racialized governor general in Canadian history — and she has an ongoing presence as a writer and cultural commentator in the Canadian media landscape.
Clarkson, 84, who will be attending the ceremony at CBC’s Toronto headquarters, grew up in Ottawa before beginning her career as a journalist at the public broadcaster.
After immigrating to Canada with her family in 1942 as a refugee of Japan-occupied Hong Kong, Clarkson attended school in Ottawa before enrolling at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College and taking post-graduate studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 1965, she was hired as a freelance book reviewer at CBC’s Take 30, before becoming its co-host after the departure of founding host Anna Cameron. With that appointment, she became at the age of 26, the first racialized host of a national TV program in the country.
It was also there that Clarkson developed and showcased her distinctive style of interviewing for which she would be known for years — a style that colleagues and audiences alike found put interviewees at ease while also eliciting deep and telling responses.
In her 10 years at Take 30, Clarkson published two novels, A Lover More Condoling in 1968 and Hunger Trace in 1970. After a brief stint hosting the show Adrienne At Large, Clarkson went on to help found CBC’s still-running The Fifth Estate in 1975. As co-host of the investigative program, Clarkson won numerous awards before leaving after 18 years.
Over the course of the next 20 years, Clarkson served as chair of the board of trustees of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History); agent general for Ontario in France; and president and publisher of McClelland & Stewart. She also returned to host CBC’s limited programs Adrienne Clarkson’s Summer Festival and Adrienne Clarkson Presents.
In 1999, Clarkson was appointed governor general when Jean Chrétien was prime minister. She was the first racialized person, the first without a prior military or political background and only the second woman to assume the role.
Her posting was marked by a modernization of the office, as well as a commitment to northern Indigenous Canadians. She created the Governor General’s Northern Medal (now called the Polar Medal) to recognize those who have made significant contributions to northern identity and culture.
Clarkson also organized a controversial circumpolar trip in 2003 to foster economic and cultural relationships between countries bordering the Arctic Ocean, which led to her becoming the first Canadian to receive the Order of Friendship from the Russian Federation, in 2006. She returned the award in 2022 to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She agreed to stay on as governor general for one year beyond the usual five-year term and left the role in 2005, the same year she co-founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship with her husband, writer and philosopher John Ralston Saul. The institute aims to help new Canadians integrate into the country.
Clarkson has also published a biography on Norman Bethune, a memoir and two books on the immigrant experience in Canada.
The CBC News Hall of Fame was established in 2015 to recognize important figures in Canadian journalism. Last year’s inductee was war correspondent and Emmy Award winner Ann Medina.