Better know a Canadian functionary: the President of the CBC and its ancestors

logos of the CBC

Logos of the CBC.

The genesis of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was in 1923. The Canadian National Railways, which was then owned by the federal government, established a network of radio stations to entertain the passengers on its trains and the guests at its hotels. (The Canadian Pacific Railway had planned a similar network, but never got around to setting it up.) The Canadian National Railways Radio Network (CNRRN) was the brainchild of CNR President Sir Henry Worth Thornton, who placed it under the responsibility of W.D. Robb, Vice-President of Miscellaneous Services. Robb, in turn, appointed as the head of CNRRN a Director of Radio, the first real network executive in Canada, although he was more involved in technical matters than programming details. CNRRN had three Directors in its existence: W.H. Swift Jr. (1923-25), A.R. McEwan (1925-29), and Ernest Austin Weir (1929-32).

In 1929, the federal government held a Royal Commission into the state of broadcasting, chaired by Bank of Commerce president Sir John Aird, which recommended a BBC-style government-run network. In 1932, the government purchased the CNR’s radio assets and established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), which was both a network of stations and the national broadcasting regulator (a role the CBC would later continue to hold until 1958). The CRBC had only one Commissioner, former Saturday Night magazine editor Hector Willoughby Charlesworth (1932-36).

In 1936, the CRBC was reorganized and chartered as a Crown Corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Prior to 1945, the head of the CBC was titled Chairman of the Board of Governors; after 1945, the title was President.

The heads of the CBC have been:

Leonard Brockington CMG, 1936-39.
Louis-Simon-René Morin, 1940-44.
Howard B. Chase, 1944-45.
Arnold Davidson Dunton CC, 1945-58.
J. Alphonse Ouimet CC, 1958-67.
George Forrester Davidson CC, 1968-72.
Laurent A. Picard CC, 1972-75.
Albert Wesley Johnson CC, 1975-82.
The Hon. Pierre Juneau PC OC, 1982-89.
William T. Armstrong, 1989.
Gérard Veilleux OC, 1989-94.
Anthony S. Manera, 1994-95.
The Hon. Henry Perrin Beatty PC, 1995-99.
Robert Rabinovitch, 1999-2007.
Hubert T. Lacroix, 2008-now.

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3 comments

  1. Cynthia Reyes

    Thank you for this, Jeremy. I live in the old farmhouse where Ernest Austin Weir lived (and perhaps where his book was written). I’m trying to learn more about him. Do you have any information? I’m a former CBC journalist myself.

    • jeremyturcotte

      I don’t know much about any of the CNRRN directors – didn’t even know Weir wrote a book – but I do know that he left record in the National Archives, CAIN No. 262320; the provincial archives of Alberta, accession numbers PR1967.62 and PR1967.63; and the B.C. archives, reference code CA BCA I/A/W43.

      • Cynthia Reyes

        Thanks for replying, Jeremy. I appreciate it.
        The Struggle for National Broadcasting in Canada by
        Ernest Austin Weir was published in 1955 and then in 1965 by McClelland and Stewart.
        It became the definitive book, for decades, about the early years of national broadcasting in Canada.
        I’m a former CBC exec myself and I realized from the dates that Austin wrote the book while he lived in what is now my family’s farmhouse.

        Your blog is both interesting and informative. Thank you.

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