In the simplest division of my life there are two categories: CBC and post-CBC. Between the two is the decisive point when I started my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo and left behind a small village of 300 people in Northern Ontario. My experience growing up in a small Franco-Ontarian village was influenced intensely by my interaction with CBC Radio, and I have not experienced that same relationship since moving away. Jody Porter already made clear the importance of CBC to small communities in her post earlier this week. To that view, I wanted to provide a perspective on the reversal of her situation: as an individual starting off with the CBC and then moving away from it, and the consequences this exposure has had on my upbringing in a rural Northern community.
I was raised in the small village of Val-Rita near Kapuskasing on the TransCanada Highway. I have three distinct memories of the two decades that I spent there as a child and adolescent: snow (which I have seen in every month of the year), my father’s persistent desire for my siblings and I to dedicate ourselves to our education, and CBC Radio.
I do not remember a life without radio broadcasting. It was always somewhere, whether in the morning as we awoke, after arriving home from school, or as background noise during loud dinner conversations in our family of six. My parents had made the decision not to have a television, leaving us with the radio as our only broadcaster. And in Northern Ontario that meant having the options of CBC Radio 1 (Radio 2 never came that far), Radio-Canada, a French-language radio station that played Celine Dion and Roch Voisine, and an English-language radio station that played Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. We naturally gravitated towards CBC Radio 1 (there are natural upper limits to amount of times you can listen to remakes of “All by Myself” before developing pathology). Points North, the afternoon Northeastern Ontario show segued into The World at Six, and then As It Happens (I’m still convinced that Barbara Budd and Mary Lou Finlay’s voices are my favourite sounds).
In in high school, however, this exposure took on a new life. It was no longer background noise in the vehicle or in the living room, but now a companion as I spent long hours studying. When I entered Grade 9, education became a serious pursuit. I knew I wanted more than my father’s life of newsprint, and was smart enough that my teachers began pushing me to deliver academically. As I poured myself into my education, the CBC acted as a passport for an escape from my studies. Importantly, my repertoire expanded into Ideas, Between the Covers, and Cross-Country Checkup. These shows introduced me to philosophy, literature, and Canadian identity. I became passionate about learning more about our country, and began reading the different novels mentioned in Lister Sinclair’s broadcasts. A map of the world went up on my wall, and I began inserting pins into places I had learned about from breaking news stories. The dictionary was used frequently as Katie Malloch’s Jazz Beat was the perfect blend of new music and vocabulary that was just as smooth as the rhythms closing my late-night Sunday work schedule.
As I write this all, I feel incredibly moved. I honestly believe that CBC Radio 1 proved to be the mentor that brought me through a life that otherwise is limited by virtue of its geography. To small communities, the CBC is our connection to the rest of the country. I attended my first Massey Lectures as a fourteen year-old listening in remotely, and hoping that one day I would live in a city where it was even possible to attend a Massey Lecture.
I love where I grew up because it taught me the importance of community and allowed for deep self-reflection. I sometimes refer to that time as my Thoreau moments. But if it wasn’t for the CBC and a few teachers who encouraged me along the way, I would not be where I am today. And whenever I’m feeling homesick or nostalgic, all it takes as remedy is for me to lie down on my bed, turn on my clock radio, and the sound of the familiar episode anthems bring me back to a small, cold room where looking through my window at the Northern lights I listened to the CBC and imagined a world “out there” rich with the ideas of its people, the narrative of its places, and the expression of its arts and culture. And, in that sense, the CBC for me is: home.
Jesse Kancir is a junior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto.