Peter Mansbridge: Looking beyond The National

(Photos courtesy of CBC)

By Graeme McNaughton/Active Senior’s Digest

For the first time in nearly three decades, Peter Mansbridge is no longer the host of CBC’s flagship news program The National – and he is excited for what’s next.

However, while there are going to be some big changes, some things are going to stay exactly the same for the face of nightly news for many in Canada.

“For the first time in at least 30 years, I’ll have most nights off, which will be very different for me and my family, although I don’t know they’re prepared for having me around more often than I have been in the past,” Mansbridge tells Active Senior’s Digest.

“But the day-to-day journalism that has been my life for almost 50 years kind of slides to an end at that point. I’m not retiring in the sense that I’m going to stop working altogether, I’m definitely going to be doing a few things, some things for the CBC, but the day-to-day life that I’ve led is entering a new phase and will give me hopefully a different perspective on life.”

While Mansbridge, who has worked for CBC since 1968 when he got a gig as an announcer for the broadcaster’s Churchill, Manitoba, radio station, will no longer be anchoring the evening news, he will still be visible to many Canadians.

One of the projects on Mansbridge’s plate, he says, is producing major primetime documentaries for the CBC, with the first coming in the spring of 2018.

“Not every week, but a couple times a year, of a subject of my choice, properly resourced, and I’m quite excited about that idea. I’ve lived in a world, for the most part, of two-minute items and 10-minute documentaries and 20-minute interviews,” he says.

“This will give me a chance to expand my range and do something that I’ve always been intrigued about, which is long-form documentaries, and really getting inside a subject at some length. I’m looking forward to doing that.”

Mansbridge adds that while he does not have any topics set in stone – he will be meeting with a production crew soon to flesh out some of those ideas – there is one part of the country that he would love to work more on: Canada’s North

“I’m particularly fascinated by the North and the Arctic. I’ve always been since I was a kid, and my initial days working for the CBC were in the North. I did a lot of travelling in the Arctic, and I still find that story, the early days of the Arctic, the exploration of the Arctic, the relationship between the Inuit and explorers, I find that fascinating,” he says.

“I’d be more than happy to spend the rest of my time telling stories about that. If in fact I follow through on (the documentaries) with the CBC, some of those stories will in fact be about the Arctic.”

Bringing the stories of Canada and its history, Mansbridge says, is one of the things that he loved most about his job, generating some of the stories that he enjoyed covering the most.

However, the strong focus on Canadiana and Canadian history stemmed from trying to fill in the gaps Mansbridge says were in the education system at the time.

“Initially what drove it was the fact that I didn’t think it was taught well in Canadian schools. The history of others was taught better than the history of ourselves. That bothered me a lot,” he says.

“I found the first time I did a big show on D-Day, on the Normandy anniversaries – I think it was the 50th in 1994 – we did a lot of live programming from France on that, about 20 hours over a couple of days. And I got a tremendous amount of mail, and as I’ve been cleaning out my office, I’ve run into some of it again. There were so many from young Canadians that had no idea that Canada had been involved in the invasion of Europe in 1944, that there was a beach specifically for the Canadians to land on. And I thought that this is terrible that they didn’t know this, and we needed a television program to tell them this.”

Things have changed drastically since then, he says, pointing to CBC’s coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge this past spring, which included shooting the ceremony with a 360-degree camera and putting that footage online – allowing viewers to be immersed in an experience taking place across the Atlantic Ocean.

Mansbridge adds there is much of the country’s past that remains to be fully explored, and hopes to see them brought to the forefront.

“I think we have great stories to tell, and if the Americans ever took an interest in Canada, they would love our stories. There would be all kinds of movies and mini-series about the history of our country, and we should be telling them ourselves,” he says.

“That’s been the driving force – we have great stories and not enough people know them.”

Now with five decades behind him, Mansbridge is ready to step back from a full-time role with the CBC, and that has him missing a lot of what made up his life for the past five decades.

“There’s a certain kind of vibe within a newsroom that creates its own excitement, even on days that are kind of dull and there’s not a lot happening. I will miss that, I will miss the comradeship of a well-run newsroom,” he says.

“I will miss the excitement of the days with big stories happening. They’ll probably want me to get involved on occasion when those days come along. Overall, that’s what I’ll miss.”

Mansbridge adds that even the stuff he didn’t particularly like, he will eventually end up missing as well.

“The natural answer for what I won’t miss is the hours, but I’ll probably miss that too. I’ve worked awfully long hours for almost 50 years, and I’ve never regretted that. It’s come at some cost to me, personally, but when you have the kind of journalistic bug to get to the story, you don’t look at the clock too much, other than your deadline,” he says.

“It’s going to be different for me, to actually have time for myself and my family, but it doesn’t mean I’ll stop being a journalist.”