Mansbridge arrived in Canada in 1954 by way of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when his father received a contract with the Canadian government. Raised in Ottawa, Mansbridge attended Glebe Collegiate, but dropped out during grade 12. He then served two years in the Canadian Navy before being honourably discharged.
Early Career as Broadcaster and Journalist
In 1968, Mansbridge worked for the regional airline Transair in Churchill, Manitoba, where his duties included announcing arrivals and departures over the airport's PA system. Local CBC Radio producer Gaston Charpentier was so impressed with Mansbridge’s commanding, but calm baritone, that he offered him a job as a disc jockey. Without any prior experience as a journalist, Mansbridge went on to create, produce and host CBC Churchill's first local radio newscast. Mansbridge used his authoritative voice and conversational style to host popular interviews. His reports on Northern affairs also aired regularly on CBC national newscasts.
From Churchill, Mansbridge joined CBC Radio and TV in Winnipeg. By 1975, he was a Saskatchewan correspondent for CBC’s flagship nightly news program, The National. In 1976, Mansbridge moved to Ottawa to become a parliamentary news reporter for CBC TV, a position he held until 1980. An early career highlight came in 1979 when he travelled to Southeast Asia, spoke with some of the thousands of “boat people” refugees escaping Vietnam and reported on their journeys. By 1981, he hosted weekend editions of The National,and filled in as a Washington and London correspondent.
Anchor of The National
In 1987, Harold Stringer, president of CBS News in the United States, offered Mansbridge a lucrative contract to co-host the morning program CBS This Morning. However, Mansbridge’s mentor Knowlton Nash convinced him to stay by proposing to step down as chief correspondent of CBC News and lead anchor of The National. Mansbridge accepted and officially assumed those titles on 2 May 1988. When it was revealed how Mansbridge had rejected the CBS offer in favour of Canadian broadcasting, the Canadian public regarded both him and Nash as national heroes.
As anchor of The National, Mansbridge reported on numerous historical events of major significance, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Oka crisis in 1990, the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, the 1995 Québec Referendum, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the war in Afghanistan and many others.
Mansbridge covered every Canadian federal election between 1972 and 2015, including as an anchor between 1984 and 2015. He conducted more than 15,000 interviews throughout his career, including many with world leaders such as various Canadian prime ministers, US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and the Aga Khan. He also hosted eight Olympic opening ceremonies for the CBC between 1988 and 2016.
Mansbridge was often praised for his ability to remain cool during a crisis. His coverage of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 earned respect for his composure and lack of speculation while reporting for 16 consecutive hours. The National Post called him “a marvel on the fly” for controlling the situation. Similarly, peers praised his coverage of the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting for its fact-based concision. Described by Mother Jones as “unflappable” and praised by the Globe and Mail for Mansbridge’s calmness, objectivity and clarity, The National was often cited as the kind of coverage to which other networks, particularly American ones, should aspire.
Mansbridge retired from The National after anchoring the program’s special Canada Day coverage on 1 July 2017 — the country’s 150th birthday.
Between 2003 and 2005, Mansbridge wrote weekly columns for Maclean's magazine. From 1999 to 2016, he hosted Mansbridge One on One, a weekly interview program on CBC Newsworld. A collection of transcripts and recollections of these encounters, Peter Mansbridge One on One: Favourite Conversations and the Stories Behind Them, was published under the Vintage Canada imprint by Penguin Random House in 2010. In 2009, Mansbridge became chancellor of Mount Allison University. In 2016, he voiced the character Peter Moosebridge, a news anchor moose, in Disney’s animated film Zootopia. A Disney representative said Mansbridge was chosen for the role because he is “the Canadian Walter Cronkite.”
Personal Life and Legacy
Mansbridge has two daughters from his first marriage, which ended in 1975. After a long relationship with Progressive Conservative advisor Nancy Jamieson, he was married to CBC colleague Wendy Mesley from 1988 to 1992 before wedding actor Cynthia Dale in 1998. He and Dale have one son.
Despite being a powerful media figure, Mansbridge has consistently shied away from the media spotlight. He has carefully guarded his image, knowing that he is closely linked to the branding of CBC as a whole. Mansbridge once said in an interview: “I am a journalist, that's the way I want to be seen, not as a TV celebrity.”
Awards and Honours
- Best Performance by a Host, Interviewer or Anchor (Sunday Report) (1988)
- Best Performance by a Host, Interviewer or Anchor (China in Crisis) (1989)
- Best Overall Broadcast Journalist (Gordon Sinclair Award) (The National) (1990)
- Best Overall Broadcast Journalist (Gordon Sinclair Award) (The National/CBC News "Death of Diana/Ice Storm/Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky”) (1998)
- Best Host, Anchor or Interviewer in a News or Information Program or Series (Election Night 1997/The National) (1998)
- Best News Anchor (The National) (1999)
- Best News Anchor (CBC News: The National: P.E.T./Town Hall/Election) (2001)
- Best News Anchor (CBC News: The National) (2002)
- Best News Anchor (CBC News: The National) (2003)
- Best News Anchor (CBC News: The National) (2004)
- Best Host or Interviewer in a News Information Program or Series (CBC News: The National - Canada Votes - Your Turn With The Leaders) (2006)
- Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Lakehead University (1989)
- Honorary Bachelor of Applied Communications (Journalism), Mount Royal University (1996)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D), Mount Allison University (1999)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D), University of Manitoba (2001)
- Honorary Doctor of Journalism, Ryerson University (2005)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D), University of Western Ontario (2008)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D), University of Windsor (2010)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D), York University (2011)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D), Carleton University (2014)
- Best News Anchor (CBC News: The National), New York Festivals (2001)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2008)
- Best Newscast (CBC News: The National), New York Festivals (2011)
- Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)
- Best News Anchor (CBC News: The National), Canadian Screen Awards (2013)
- Best News Special (CBC News: The National - Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Captured), Canadian Screen Awards (2014)
- Canadian News Hall of Fame (2015)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Radio Television Digital News Association (2016)