Gzowski, Peter: Maclean's 1995 Honor Roll
The setting seems far too tame for the country retreat of a man who routinely invokes the majesty of the Canadian landscape. But in an unassuming cottage tucked onto a crowded street by the shore of Lake Simcoe, one hour northeast of Toronto, Peter Gzowski watches a morning snowfall feather his backyard - the manicured fairway of a resort golf course that he first played as a gangly 12-year-old. A decade ago, Gzowski bought this house just down the road from his grandparents' former cottage and the graveyard where Stephen Leacock lies. "This is where I'm grounded," says the host of the CBC's Morningside. "I feel I'm a part of this community - not the guy on the radio."
Still, at 61, Gzowski finds it increasingly difficult to shuck the celebrity baggage of the guy on the radio whose halting smoky tones are hailed as one of the invisible threads binding a fractious country into a sense of belonging. Midway through this, the 14th season of a show he likes to call "a sort of village bulletin board for the nation," he has found himself awash in honors, notably a Governor General's Award for the performing arts. He worries that the hoopla could separate him from his listeners, with whom he has forged an intimacy unrivalled in broadcasting. But he could not hide his delight last June over an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto, which he had twice dropped out of four decades earlier. "It took me 43 years to get a degree," he chuckles.
For Gzowski, that moment was gilded by the grins of his five grown children in the audience - a sense of family he rarely knew as an only child whose parents divorced in his infancy. Growing up shy in Galt, Ont., he hung out after school at the public library where his mother worked, forming a bond with books that marks his show still. "I knew who Dorothy Parker was before I knew about Syl Apps," he recalls.
Years later, that same infectious curiosity lured him into newspapering. In journalism, Gzowski's star soared. In the 1960s, he threw himself into covering Quebec's Quiet Revolution. And in 1971, his first trip to the Arctic began a romance with the North and native culture that he was the first to bring to mainstream audiences.
That fall, he wove his affection for those regional textures into an experimental radio tapestry called This Country in the Morning, the precursor of his current show. For the past 10 summers, he books off to host the nationwide golf tournaments that have raised more than $4 million for Canadian literacy. But during the rest of the year, the alarm goes off at exactly 3:13 a.m., summoning him to the research and chatty scripts that make his job appear deceptively easy. Each year, he hints that the current season may be his last.
Two summers ago, on his 60th birthday, he arrived at his cottage to find a handcrafted box, kept closed with a twig from the tree above Leacock's grave, and containing letters of wit and tribute from friends. Among them was one from critic Robert Fulford that saluted the nagging self-doubt that propels Gzowski to brace for each morning's show as if it were his first. "There are many reasons why Peter is as good as he is," Fulford wrote, "but one reason stands above all the others: he has the courage to be scared." Gzowski smiles between drags on his omnipresent cigarette. "Fulford," he says, "is a pretty smart man."
Maclean's December 18, 1995