The Birth Of The CBC

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For our entire lives, there has been something that has remained as a constant and that is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
When you think of Canadiana, you are probably going to think of something that the CBC has brought to Canada. Whether it is Hockey Night in Canada, Hinterland Who’s Who, The Kids in The Hall or anything else along those lines, Canada has been shaped by the CBC.

In today’s post, I am not talking about the entire history of the CBC, but rather how it all got started. How the CBC began all those years ago when it was just a fledgling radio network using a new technology.

Let’s begin!

CBC is born

Everything essentially begins in 1929, when it was recommended by the Aird Commission that Canada create a national radio broadcasting network. With American radio broadcasting getting into Canadian homes, there was the desire by the government to ensure Canadian content was being well-represented.
At this same time, the Canadian National Railway was offering its own radio network to its passengers, and that network would help to lay the groundwork for what would eventually become the CBC.
In 1932, during the height of The Great Depression, R.B. Bennett established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, or the CRBC.
Using the Canadian National Railway’s radio network, the first service was primarily for the passengers on the trains going through the country.
On Nov. 2, 1936, the CRBC became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC as we all call it, through the Canadian Broadcasting Act. It was also owned by the federal government, rather than a state-owned company, and was modelled after the British Broadcasting Corporation. The reason for this was because of Charles Bowman, who was the editor of the Ottawa Citizen at the time. He felt that public ownership of broadcasting was necessary to protect Canada against the cultural penetration of America.
Leonard Brockington would serve as the first chairman of the CBC, sitting in that post from 1936 to 1939.
In 1939, CBC would begin farm broadcasts and would break ground with full coverage of the six-week visit to Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. That same year, Montreal Candiens’ hockey games were first broadcast on the radio. Other early programming included The Happy Gang, regional farm broadcasts, the National Farm Radio Forum, Femina, as well as NHL hockey with Foster Hewitt. Children’s programming such as Just Mary also proved popular early on.
From this point, the CBC began to expand and offer more and more radio services throughout the country. For the next 30 years, the CBC was responsible for all the broadcasting innovation within Canada. It was not until 1958 that another broadcaster came on the scene.
CBC would introduce a French-language radio network in 1937, and would introduce FM radio to Canadian citizens in 1946.
On Sept. 6, 1952, television broadcasts would begin.
On July 1, 1958, CBC’s television signal was being broadcast coast-to-coast.
So end’s our early history of the CBC, but there were many people who worked at the CBC and had a hand in it, so let’s learn more about some of them.

Leonard Brockington

Born in 1888 in Wales, Leonard Brockington was one of seven children who came to Canada in 1912 after studying at the University of Wales.
Settling first in Edmonton, Alberta, he began working as a civil servant and a journalist. Studying law at the University of Alberta, he moved to Calgary where he became a lawyer and joined the law firm run by James Lougheed and R.B. Bennett. Doing this would have a major impact on his later life.  Lougheed for his part was the grandfather of Peter Lougheed, who would become one of the most important premiers in Canadian history, and the premier of Alberta in the 1970s and 1980s.
R.B. Bennett would become prime minister of Canada from 1930 to 1935.
In 1936, Brockington became the chairman of the board of governors of CBC from 1936 to 1939, as was mentioned before.
Following his CBC career, he would become special assistant to Prime Minister Mackenzie King from 1939 to 1942, adviser on Commonweath Affairs to the British Ministry of Information from 1942 to 1943 and was a member of the Canada Council.
He would pass away in 1966 at the age of 78.

Graham Spry

Born in St. Thomas, Ont. and starting his journalistic career at the University of Manitoba, Graham Spry would go on to become the editorial writer at the Manitoba Free Press.
Choosing to continue his education, he travelled to England and enrolled at Oxford University where he was a Rhodes Scholar. When he came home, he organized a nationwide broadcast to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1917.
At the time, Canada did not have any sort of national radio network but the broadcast for the anniversary inspired the creation of the Aird Commission, which was the royal commission to recommend the creation of a national broadcaster.
Spry and Alan Plaunt then formed the Canadian Radio League, which helped to push Prime Minister Bennett to create the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.
Over the course of his life, Spry would put his efforts behind getting socialist governments elected in Canada. He would run in two elections, 1934 and 1935, as a candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.
During the Spanish Civil War, he fought on the side of the Spanish republic.
In 1938, he married Irene Bliss but unable to find work because of his socialist leanings, he took a job with Standard Oil, where he worked from 1940 to 1946. Once the war was over, he took on the role of agent-general of Tommy Douglas’ CCF government in London, representing Saskatchewan. He remained in this role from 1946 to 1968.
In 1970, he turned down the offer of a seat on the Senate, but was awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada that same year.
He would pass away in 1983.

Alan Plaunt

Born in 1904 to a wealthy lumber family, Alan Plaunt would attend school at both the University of Toronto and Oxford University.
While in Oxford, he began to pay attention to the British Broadcasting Corporation, which at the time was just starting out in the United Kingdom. By observing the BBC, he became a big supporter of public broadcasting.
Working with Graham Spry, he founded the Canadian Radio League in 1930 to mobilize political support for a public broadcasting corporation. This would lead to the creation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation six years later.
From 1936 to 1941, Plaunt sat on the board of the CBC when he resigned out of protest at what he saw as government interference in the coverage of the war by CBC.
As an active socialist, he helped to write the Regina Manifesto, which helped form the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.
Soon after he resigned from CBC, he passed away from cancer at the age of only 37.

Dorothy Marryat

Born in 1887, Dorothy Marryat spent her childhood in England and did not come to Canada until she was 16, when she settled with her family in Alberta.
In 1923, Dorothy would complete her education at the University of Alberta where she gained a bachelor of science in agriculture. While there, she acted in the dramatic club and impressed Dr. Robert Wallace, the president of the university.
He then invited her to direct the CKUA radio station, which she did for 12 years as a program director, script writer and on-air hostess.
During that time, she also created a show called Building of Canada, which was picked up by CBC Radio and broadcast nationally.
In 1938, she became a producer for CBC in Winnipeg.
She passed away in 1962 in Victoria, after she had retired from the CBC.

Ellen Lowe Armstrong

Born in 1910, and married to Clarence Armstrong, a farmer from Alberta, Ellen Armstrong began to notice that the rural concerns of farmers in the area were not being addressed on national radio. She decided she wanted to do something about that.
She began to broadcast a weekly news program she taped and that was broadcast out of seven Alberta radio stations. Speaking on farming, it did not take long for her program to start broadcasting on radio stations across the country.
The CBC soon heard her and brought her on as a director from 1958 to 1965, and it was during this time she managed to also get her radio show on CBC television, under the title of This Business of Farming.
Over the course of her life, she worked at various Farmers Unions, as well as helping with the Mental Health Association, women’s clubs and on the topic of child welfare.
She also set up family courts in Alberta, and a school of social work was established by her that helped to get divorce laws revised, old age pensions improved and more rural health units.

Gustaf Kristjanson

Born in the Wynyard area, Gustaf Kristjanson arrived in the Bradwell, Saskatchewan area in 1940 after he had completed his university studies. He would leave Bradwell one year later and take a position as a teacher in Harris, Saskatchewan where he met and married Norah Bradshaw.
In 1942, he joined up with the Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve and served his service in the English Channel over the course of the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant.
When he arrived home he began working for CBC in Toronto for four years, and he would spend a total of 11 years at CBC’s studio in Winnipeg, where he worked as a radio drama producer.
Following his stint as a radio producer, he decided to go back to being a teacher, which he did for the next several decades. He would become an associate professor at the University of Manitoba eventually, and would remain as one until 1983 when he decided to retire.
Still loving the role of radio in Canada, he spent many years of his retirement performing roles on radio and television dramas for CBC.


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