Peter Mansbridge was Canada’s voice when sports met culture, politics

Retired CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge. (Chris Young/CP)

In times of crisis, on election nights, when answers are required and explanations needed, the television anchor has been there, not just to recite the news, but as a voice of authority, of moral indignation, of reassurance.

Think Walter Cronkite, albeit in a very different world. A whole lot has changed in the past couple of decades, the rise of all-news networks, the larger fragmentation of the information industry, the digital technological revolution, and of late, attacks on the institution of journalism itself.

All eyes no longer turn to a single source before turning in for the night, hoping to better understand what’s going on in the world. But those who did that job, and still do that job, can still become iconic.

Peter Mansbridge played that role for the public broadcaster from 1988 until his retirement in 2017, helming its prime-time newscast, The National. Before that, he reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And before that… well, legend has it that he was discovered by a radio program director while making passenger announcements as an agent for Transair at the airport in Churchill, Man.

He is also a passionate sports fan, as well as the father of a sports-loving son and a season’s ticket holder to both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors. Sports, culture and politics only occasionally intersect, though in a country as diverse and geographically-vast as ours, some of the rare moments of clarity when it came to understanding who we are as a nation and what makes us tick have revolved around a hockey game, an Olympics, or most recently, a National Basketball Association championship.

Mansbridge had the best seat in the house for so much of that. And — this may be the most Canadian part of all — he also got to step aside, slide to a different time slot or a different channel, or be pre-empted altogether every spring when the Stanley Cup playoffs took precedence above all else.

Mansbridge is now comfortably retired, emerging only occasionally to play the eminence grise, as he did on the night of the federal election last fall. But he continues to live and die with his Leafs, and to hope that his Raptors can find a way to repeat the miracle of 2019.

In the latest episode of Open Invitation with Stephen Brunt, Sportsnet’s award-winning journalist sits down with Peter Mansbridge, who anchored CBC’s The National for nearly 30 years, to discuss the relationship between sports, culture and politics.

1:23 – Life after the National
3:53 – The ever changing media landscape
6:59 – Sports imitating life in Canada
11:53 – The disparity between Leafs & Raptors crowds
15:53 – Hockey’s place in Canada’s shifting culture
16:58 – How Canada’s united by sport
20:00 – How the players have shifted the power

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