Charlotte Gray

Charlotte Gray, historian, biographer (born 3 January 1948 in Sheffield, United Kingdom). Charlotte Gray is the author of a dozen best-selling Canadian history books and an adjunct research professor in the department of history at Carleton University. She is a recipient of the Pierre Berton Award for distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history.

Charlotte Gray

Career, Education and Family

Gray was born in Sheffield and immigrated to Canada in 1979 at the age of 31, becoming a Canadian citizen in 1982. She received her BA in Modern History from Oxford University in 1969 and a diploma in social administration from the London School of Economics in 1970.

Gray began her career as a newspaper columnist and magazine editor in England. In 1968, she received the Catherine Pakenham Award for most promising journalist in the UK under 30. She then worked as a book reviewer, political commentator and magazine columnist in Canada, writing for Maclean’s and Chatelaine magazines before becoming a full-time historian and author. She was the Ottawa Editor of Saturday Night from 1984 to 1993 and a columnist for the Canadian Medical Association Journal from 1982 to 1996. She continues to provide historical and political commentary for media outlets such as CBC Radio and has been a judge for Canadian literary prizes.

Gray lives in Ottawa with her husband George Anderson, a retired deputy minister who has headed a nongovernmental organization and worked as an international consultant. They have three sons.

Canadian History and Biography

When Gray arrived in Canada in 1979, she observed that the country seemed to be suffering a crisis of national identity. She wrote in 2015, “I discovered in my new homeland an almost palpable sense of the country’s fragility” as the Parti Quebecois was planning to hold an imminent referendum about the future of Quebec’s relationship with the rest of Canada. (See Quebec Referendum 1980.) She also noticed that there were comparatively few popular histories of Canada, so she eventually decided to write the kind of books she was interested in reading about Canadian history.

In her approach to writing about Canadian history, Gray focuses on the lives of individual historical figures within the context of their times. In The Promise of Canada (2016), which discusses ideas of Canadian nationhood, Gray wrote, “I come at the question [of Canadian identity] not as a political scientist, historian, or journalist, but as a biographer who believes that the ideas and actions of individuals can shape larger social changes, and those changes, in turn, mould national identity.”


Gray’s early biographies focused on historically significant Canadian women who were well known in their own time but had become comparatively obscure by the late 20th century: Isabel Mackenzie King, the daughter of 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie and mother of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King; sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill, the authors of Roughing It in the Bush and The Backwoods of Canada, respectively; and Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake, author of ”The Song My Paddle Sings.” Gray also contributed a biography of author and suffragist Nellie McClung to the Extraordinary Canadians series.

In a presentation at the 2015 Canada’s History forum, Gray stated that by writing about “ordinary women, women who helped their families break sod on the prairies. The wives and mothers on the home front during wars … we are at last building the social history of Canada that covers women’s activities as well as men’s.” Gray’s book Reluctant Genius examined the lives of both Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel, who supported him in his work.

Gray has also written books about how people from a variety of backgrounds have experienced major events in Canadian history. They include Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike (see also Klondike Gold Rush) and The Promise of Canada, which discussed nine individuals who shaped Canadian identity, none of whom were prime ministers or governors general. Gray’s recent books The Massey Murder and Murdered Midas have explored social change in Canadian history through the lens of true crime stories that captured the popular imagination.

Gray’s books have received numerous awards. Mrs. King was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction while Sisters in the Wilderness was named by theLiterary Review of Canadain 2016 as one of the 25 most important books of the past 25 years. Reluctant Genius was a Winner of the Donald Creighton Award for Ontario History while Gold Diggers was a Globe and Mail top 100 Book of the Year and was adapted for documentaries on PBS and The Discovery Channel.

John A. Macdonald

In 2021, Gray was one of more than 200 historians, educators, policy analysts, business leaders and public intellectuals who signed a joint statement by the Friends of Canadian History and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in defence of the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald, whom Gray advocated for on the 2004 CBC series, The Greatest Canadian. Gray wrote a 2019 essay for Canada’s History magazine titled “We Need to Widen Our Views: Understanding Canadian History Requires both Context and a Sense of Proportion” in response to the removal of John A. Macdonald’s statue from the grounds outside Victoria City Hall. Gray stated, “Don’t eliminate him from view. Instead, amplify the information provided on the plaques and inscriptions that accompany his monuments. Yes, Macdonald was implicated in the cruel treatment of Indigenous peoples, and it is important to recognize that. But that’s only one aspect of a substantial legacy.”

Honours and Academic Appointments

Gray has received honorary doctorates from five Canadian universities: Mount St. Vincent University (1995), University of Ottawa (2005), Queen’s University (2006), York University (2007) and Carleton University (2011). She became a member of The Order of Canada in 2007. In 2003, Gray received the Pierre Berton Award for Distinguished Achievement in Popularizing Canadian History. In 2021, Gray became a Library and Archives Canada Scholar. She has been an Adjunct Research Professor in the Department of History at Carleton University since 2005.


Gray advocates for the accessibility of primary sources concerning Canadian history as well as the publication of well-researched literary nonfiction that brings Canadian history to a wide general readership. In 2015, Gray spoke out against cutbacks to Libraries and Archives Canada, stating in a Global News interview, “we’re allowing the destruction of information. What’s happened in the last 10 to 15 years has really sort of broken my heart in terms of being somebody who loves history. We’ve seen so little attempt to actually enjoy our history. In fact, we’ve seen deliberate attempts to reduce our access to it.” She advocates for digitizing historical documents and making them accessible to the public.

In June 2023, Gray donated her archive to the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at McMaster University Library. She stated, “Deeply researched non-fiction is a shrinking part of the production of publishing houses in Canada. I would love if the donation of my archive jogged a few consciousnesses about the need for accessible histories in this country.”


  • Mrs. King: The Life and Times of Isabel Mackenzie King (1997)
  • Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill (1999)
  • Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake (2002)
  • Canada: A Portrait in Letters (2003)
  • A Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder (2004)
  • Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell (2006)
  • Nellie McClung (2008)
  • Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike (2010)
  • The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Nation (2013)
  • The Promise of Canada: People and Ideas That Have Shaped Our Country (2016)
  • Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise (2019)
  • Passionate Mothers, Powerful Sons: The Lives of Jennie Jerome Churchill and Sara Delano Roosevelt (2023).