BORN: Toronto, Ontario • 13 July 1934
“So what’s the weather doing up in Yellowknife this morning?” It’s an easy question but a typical one, posed by a man who earned his living asking them. Judging from the success of his radio program, more than a few Canadians wanted to hear the answer. Weekday mornings, Peter Gzowski’s Morningside was compulsory listening for over a million loyal fans until his last broadcast in the spring of 1997.
Unravelling the influence of this writer-turned-broadcaster begins with this program—which was actually less a radio show and more a national conversation. Every morning, whether the chat was about politics with Dalton Camp, writing with Margaret Atwood, or the big issue of the day in a northern village with an absolute unknown, it was all about being Canadian. “I consider myself a writer,” Gzowski said. “And my beat is Canada.”
Elowever you describe it, the CBC’s Morningside was the most important radio program in Canadian history. It’s hard to exaggerate its influence: for fifteen years after 1982, when Gzowski took over as host, the daily mix of interviews and discussion came to define Canadian life. More than a dozen producers micro-managed the flow, but it all seemed relaxed and unrehearsed because of Gzowski himself.
In hindsight, his career as a newspaper and magazine journalist was perfect training for becoming Peter Gzowski. He grew up in Ontario small towns in privileged circum¬ stances, but it seemed clear from the beginning that Gzowski was going to be a writer. The University of Toronto was a place to practise the craft, but he never stayed interested enough in classes to finish a degree.
Instead, he worked as a reporter at any newspaper that would take him: in Kapuskasing for a spell, then out to Moose Jaw.In 1958 he landed back in Toronto with a job at Maclean’s. He rose rapidly through the ranks and, in a hothouse writing environment with a host of other talents, did some of his finest work.
The twice-monthly newsmagazine was just beginning to discover its Canadianness; on subjects like Quebec, hockey, and the north, so was Gzowski.In 1969 he left full-time print journalism for a job at CBC radio. On the airwaves Gzowski was a hit from the beginning: he had a sincere passion for the country, but was enough of a journalist to ask the right questions of his guests.
His first regular show, This Country in the Morning, was immediately popular.For Canadians in any field of endeavour, Morningside soon emerged as the national forum of record. Prime ministers, heroes, the mighty and the fallen were all interviewed by Gzowski. His favourites—the regulars—became famous in their own right.
Somehow, the show stayed intimate, the smoky-voiced host the person Canadians turned to. Whether celebrating the success of one of our own, marking the change of seasons, or mourning the death of someone we all missed, Gzowski did as much as anyone for twenty-five years to make Canada a community.