Created at Queen's

From the heart and soul

Shelagh Rogers, standing on the front porch of Summerhill.

Photography by Johnny C. Y. Lam

Shelagh Rogers, Artsci’77, LLD’19, is one of Canada’s most beloved radio broadcasters and has a long list of awards and accomplishments.

The longtime CBC Radio journalist, who can be heard interviewing writers on her show The Next Chapter, has been named an officer of the Order of Canada, was chosen to be an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and has spent seven years as the chancellor of the University of Victoria.

Now she is receiving the Symons Medal for her tireless efforts to promote literacy, fight the stigma of mental illness, and foster truth, healing, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

The award is administered by the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown and Rogers joins a list of impressive recipients that includes fellow alumni such as former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie, BA’53, LLD’11; former Chief Librarian and Archivist of Canada Ian E. Wilson, Arts’67, MA’74, LLD’11; and former governor general David Johnston, Law’66, LLD’91. Current Queen’s Chancellor Murray Sinclair, LLD’19 (who is also Ms. Rogers’ cousin), was honoured in 2019. Other recipients include two prime ministers (Justin Trudeau and Paul Martin), Prince Charles, and Supreme Court of Canada Justice Beverley McLachlin.

“I am totally thrilled and deeply honoured to accept this honour, and humbled to be in the company I am in,” says Ms. Rogers.

While the awards are nice, she says she volunteers and does advocacy work because it fills her heart and soul.

Ms. Rogers – who developed a love for radio while volunteering for Queen’s campus radio station CFRC – tries to help others by being open about her own mental-health struggles.

In the early 2000s, when she went on a six-month sick leave from work due to a mental breakdown, the official line from the CBC was that she had high blood pressure. It was technically the truth, but not the real story. When speaking at a public event in New Brunswick, she decided to open up and told the crowd the real reason behind her sick leave: unipolar depression.

“Back in 2003, when I started to talk about mental illness, people were not talking about it publicly,” says Ms. Rogers, who struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues when she was a student at Queen’s. “I feel good about telling that story and trying to take the temperature down about mental illness and advocating for mental care as the priority it should be with physical care.”

Part of the honour of receiving the Symons Medal is the opportunity to give a public lecture about the current state of Canada. The talk takes place on Oct. 13 in Charlottetown; listeners can expect to hear Ms. Rogers’ thoughts about dialogue, listening, and getting to know the truth, to change the story that many Canadians received through their early education about Indigenous Peoples.

“We need to talk to each other and have those difficult conversations to try to heal something that has been broken for centuries and reinforced by government policy,” Ms. Rogers says.

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