New honours for one of Canada’s household names
If the country of Canada was a soundtrack, one of the cuts on the album would surely be the melodic tones of broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, whose voice has graced the CBC’s airwaves for more than 30 years. Laughs Shelagh, “It’s my mother’s voice. Her voice is like a cello, mine is more like a viola.”
That musical voice, which has conducted thousands of interviews across the country, has made Shelagh a household name from coast to coast to coast. Her contribution to Canadian culture combined with her volunteerism in the fields of mental health and literacy recently led to her being named an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Shelagh cut her broadcasting teeth at CFRC playing classical music and then worked as the “weather girl” at CKWS-TV in Kingston, before moving on to CBC Ottawa in 1980, where she hosted a current affairs program as well as music broadcasts. From there, she became host of the national classical concert show Mostly Music.
In 1984, when she moved to the CBC in Toronto as the host of various local and national radio shows, she got her first big break. Shelagh always had a following, but it was when she began reading listener mail on Morningside for host Peter Gzowski that Canadians started to sit up and take notice.
“That was the beginning of a lovely friendship,” she recalls. “Peter was a mentor, absolutely. I remember the first time I filled in for him and I was terrified. He told me the secret was to just listen. Everything that he told me and that I walk around with everyday was so simple. That was part of his magic.”
From there, Shelagh was promoted to deputy host of Morningside, followed by stints at various national programs. These days she’s the host of the weekly Vancouver-based program, The Next Chapter, which is all about books and writing. “I feel really lucky that my territory has been Canada.”
Through her association with Gzowski, Shelagh became active in promoting adult literacy through the Peter Gzowski Invitational Golf Tournament. She’s also passionate about reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples and has increasingly become involved in reconciliation events. “If we don’t start creating a new partnership that’s respectful, the very soul of Canada is at stake,” she says.
However, what has really distinguished Shelagh in the volunteer field is her work with mental health organizations. In 2010, the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario gave her its Hero Award and the Canadian Mental Health Association of British Columbia awarded her the Mental Health Voices Award. As well, she has received the Transforming Lives Award from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for speaking out about depression.
Shelagh believes she has suffered from depression since her teen years, but wasn’t diagnosed until eight years ago. “I call that one of the best days of my life. Finally I could name it and then do something about it.” Shelagh started on medication as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. “I felt a huge anvil had just been lifted from my soul.”
Shelagh has spoken to groups across the country about her experiences and describes the process as simultaneously difficult and satisfying. “Even though it hasn’t been easy and I feel like I leave a piece of myself on the floor every time I talk about it, I’m amazed by the acceptance and support when people share their stories after I’ve spoken.”
After 30 years, Shelagh Rogers, O.C., is still passionate about the CBC. “We’re all stretched out across the country and there are so few things that bind us to each other right now, but the CBC is one. It gives us a common reference point. I think that in any democracy having a public broadcaster that asks everybody to be accountable is very important. It’s also vital that there be a gathering place for the stories of this country.”
Shelagh jokes that not only has video not killed the radio star, neither has digital. “What’s so fascinating about radio now is that it’s really democratic. You can take it and podcast it and listen to it when it’s convenient to you. It vaults radio into the 21st century.”
She has no worries that radio will become obsolete. “Any forms of mass communication are never going to beat the intimacy of radio with someone’s voice talking into your ear. That’s because you’re creating your own theatre of the mind.”
And one with a beautiful soundtrack at that.