Clarkson, Adrienne

Clarkson, Adrienne
▪ 2000

      “Allow me a moment of personal reflection. The Poy family, arriving here as refugees in 1942 ... did not arrive as part of a regular immigration procedure. There was no such thing for a Chinese family at that time in Canadian history. ... I learned to be Canadian through a series of teachers, who treated me only as bright—and not bright yellow.”

      So stated Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson during her installation ceremony on Oct. 7, 1999, as Canada's first immigrant and second woman governor-general. Her appointment to the largely ceremonial position by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien climaxed a career in broadcasting, journalism, the arts, and public service.

      Born in Hong Kong in 1939, Clarkson fled the British colony with her family in 1942, after the Japanese occupied the island. The family settled in Ottawa, where Clarkson attended public schools. She then gained an Honours B.A. in English literature and language at the University of Toronto's Trinity College and an M.A. in English literature at the University of Toronto. From 1962 to 1964 she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

      Clarkson returned to Canada and from 1965 to 1982 was a host, writer, and producer of several programs on CBC Television, including Take Thirty, Adrienne at Large, and The Fifth Estate. During this time she also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines in Canada and was the author of two novels. From 1982 to 1987 she served as the first agent-general for Ontario in Paris, promoting the business and cultural interests of Ontario in France. Clarkson was president and publisher of McClelland & Stewart in 1987–88, and from 1988 until her appointment as governor-general, she served as chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Que., executive producer and host of the CBC Television program Something Special, and president of the Executive Board of IMZ, an international audiovisual association of music, dance, and cultural programmers based in Vienna. Her many awards include Officer of the Order of Canada and honorary doctorates from four Canadian universities.

      Clarkson's appointment generated some controversy. The National Post echoed many conservatives by stating, “Ms. Clarkson emerged as a spokesperson for cultural and economic nationalism and for the left in general.” For her part, Clarkson commented that, even in this ceremonial office, “standing apart from the everyday political fray does not mean not having ideas.”

David R. Calhoun

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Universalium. 2010.

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