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The CBC's Andy Barrie On Becoming Canadian

"Homesick for a place you've never been." For American born CBC radio icon Andy Barrie, the words of poet Robert Frost capture his feelings about the country he now calls home. Mr. Barrie, who has long since become a Canadian citizen, spoke at a benefit dinner for Trent University's Friends of the Bata Library on May 20, 2004.

In his talk to scores of CBC radio fans, Mr. Barrie covered broad territory encompassing the discovery of radio technology (by a Canadian, of course), the CBC itself and the unique role it plays in Canadian broadcasting, the increasingly distinct Canadian identity, and his own personal story of becoming a Canadian.

The pervasive theme of Canadianness made itself known early on as Mr. Barrie spoke of trepidatiously crossing from the U.S. to Canada at the border in Vermont as an AWOL soldier during the Vietnam war. He likened himself to British emigrant and pioneer Susanna Moodie, arriving with little knowledge of Canada and some unrealistic expectations. Shortly after securing a position with CJAD radio in Montreal, he found himself in the midst of the FLQ crisis in a city occupied by martial law – and those superficial perceptions of Canada quickly fell away.

From that moment on, Mr. Barrie confesses a fascination with Canadian history and, through it, he draws comparisons between Canada and the United States. He contrasts the goals of "peace, order and good government" in the British North America Act to tenets of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence. "Canadians have a sense of communalism, as opposed to communism, a tendency to regard ourselves as part of a community," said Mr. Barrie, "where Americans see themselves as a individuals first."

As opposed to becoming more homogeneous culturally, Mr. Barrie sees Canada as becoming more Canadian than ever, increasingly determined to declare its distinctness in the face of global economic pressures. Referencing Michael Adams's book Fire and Ice, he spoke of Canada as increasingly tolerant and secular as the U.S. becomes more entrenched in tradition and fundamentally religious.

Even our television programming has become more Canadian in its content. The top five shows on CBC television were American programs when the national broadcaster first went to air, but in 2004, that is no longer the case.

Ending his talk with some hilarious CBC stories, Mr. Barrie took a moment to remember Peter Gzowski as one of the key personalities involved in the turning point for Canadian broadcasting, as someone who introduced us to our own country. Mr. Barrie had the opportunity to tour Peter Gzowski College and the First Peoples House of Learning at the Enweying building prior to his talk.

The Friends of the Bata Library is an association dedicated to cultivating interest in all aspects of the Bata Library and its resources. Founded in 1978, the Friends raise funds for special library purchases and other library needs through memberships and an annual dinner. Over the years, the annual event has raised $61,000. Each year, the Friends also sponsor several talks of interest by prominent speakers drawn from the literary, library and publishing worlds.

Photo: Mr. Barrie had the opportunity to tour Peter Gzowski College and the First Peoples House of Learning at the Enweying building prior to his talk.

Posted May 21, 2004

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