Mary Jane Michelle Tisseyre (née Ahern), OC, television host, journalist and translator (born 13 December 1918 in Montréal, QC; died 21 December 2014 in Montréal). The first woman to present a "Grand Journal" newscast for CBC French services (Radio-Canada), she also hosted the very first talk show in Canada. After 30 years as a journalist and television host, she embraced a new career as a translator at Les Éditions Pierre Tisseyre. In 1975, she received the Governor General’s Literary Award for the translation of Winter by Morley Callaghan. She was also an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Early Life and Education
Born to a wealthy family, Michelle Tisseyre was the daughter of John Gerald Ahern (1894–1978), lawyer and bâtonnier of the province of Québec (president of the Québec Bar). Her mother, Jeanne Marcil, was the daughter of Charles Marcil (1860–1937), a journalist, member of the federal parliament for Bonaventure for more than 30 years (1900–37) and president of the House of Commons (1909–11).
She studied at the Couvent du Sacré-Cœur de Sault-aux Récollets and at Institut pédagogique de la Congrégation Notre-Dame. In 1937, she interrupted her studies in history and philosophy at McGill University to marry Charles de Brabant, whom she divorced in 1946. On 17 January 1947 she married Pierre Tisseyre (1905–95), a Belgian writer and journalist who arrived in Canada in 1945.
Journalist and Broadcaster
The fluently bilingual Michelle Tisseyre began working at Radio-Canada (CBC) in 1941. She was the first woman to present a radio newscast for CBC French services. In 1944, she distinguished herself as the first journalist to obtain an interview with Manuel Avila Camacho, president of Mexico. She then spent two years (from 1944 to 1946) working for the Service international de Radio-Canada (CBC International Service), where she specialized in interviews and reporting. She co-hosted, with René Lévesque and René Garneau, La voix du Canada, a show broadcast to Canadian troops overseas and in French-speaking countries around the world. In 1947, shortly after her second wedding, she quit CBC and worked as a freelance journalist.
In 1953, she hosted the CBC television show Rendez-vous avec Michelle, the first-ever talk show in Canada. The show was broadcast for nine years. From 1955 to 1960, she was also the host of the variety show Music-Hall, where she welcomed some of the most famous artists of the era such as Édith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, Félix Leclerc and Jean-Pierre Ferland. This show was so popular than its ratings were higher than those of the legendary Ed Sullivan Show that was broadcast at the same time.
From 1962 to 1970, she co-hosted the CBC’s very first public affairs broadcast, Aujourd’hui, with Wilfrid Lemoyne. With more than one million viewers, this television program was a particularly important platform for proponents of the Quiet Revolution who came to discuss some of the reforms that would shape Québec society.
The versatile Tisseyre also wrote for La revue populaire and La revue moderne. For 10 years she wrote a weekly column on arts and letters in Photo-Journal. In 1965, she was editorial manager of the L’Encyclopédie de la femme canadienne (Encyclopedia of Canadian Women), a publication sold widely in Québec supermarkets.
In 1948, Henri Deyglun offered her a starring role in the radio play Les Dames de notre temps. From 1949 to 1970, her mastery of both languages allowed her to take different roles in Montréal theatres. She played Armande in Les femmes savantes" (1949), Elmire in Tartuffe by Molière (1952) and Noëlle in La facture by Françoise Dorin (1970).
Second Career as a Translator
In 1970, she decided to work as a translator with her husband at Les Éditions Pierre Tisseyre (see French-Language Book Publishing). She founded and edited La Collection des deux Solitudes — a series of French-language editions of works by English Canadians to which she contributed iconic translations of writers such as Morley Callaghan, Margaret Laurence, W. O. Mitchell and Robertson Davies. Recognition for her achievements in this new career came in 1975, when she won the Governor General’s Literary Award for her translation of three novels, including Callaghan’s Winter (tr. L’hiver).
Following her husband’s death in 1995, she decided to return to McGill University to complete her B.A. She graduated in 2006 at the age of 88.
Michelle Tisseyre’s contribution to the promotion of French language and culture in Canada and abroad was recognized by the Médaille d’or de la Renaissance française (1997) from the French government. In 1998, she published Michelle Tisseyre: mémoires intimes.
This pioneering woman journalist was also the mother of five children. Her son Charles Tisseyre is a well-known television host for the Radio-Canada science program Découverte, and her only daughter, also named Michelle Tisseyre, is a novelist and translator.
Trophée Frigon — Best Television Host (1959)
Miss Radio-Télévision — Most Popular Artist (1959)
Governor General’s Literary Award — Translation (1975)
Member of the Order of Canada (1976)
Médaille d’or de la Renaissance française (1997)
Officer of the Order of Canada (2001)
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)