November 30, 2023

Bionpa

You are Your Only Limit

Shelagh Rogers saying goodbye to CBC after ‘thrilling’ 43-year broadcast career

10 min read

After 15 years hosting The Next Chapter — CBC Radio’s award-winning weekly magazine show on Canadian authors and literature — this current season will be the last for Shelagh Rogers: she’s retiring in the spring of 2023.

Rogers has been a broadcasting icon at the CBC with a standout career that has spanned more than four decades. With countless media interviews under her belt, her journalist instinct, heartfelt empathy and uncanny knack for understanding the human narrative has endeared Rogers to Canadian radio audiences.

“I started at CBC Radio when I was 24 years old. The last 43 years have been remarkable,” said Rogers during the May 13, 2023 episode of The Next Chapter

A promotional image of Shelagh Rogers from 2002. (Submitted by Shelagh Rogers)

Over the course of the show’s 15-year run, The Next Chapter has been devoted to Canadian books and authors and has featured a diverse, engaging mix of Canadian icons and rising stars on the literary scene.

“I am deeply grateful to the writers I’ve spoken with. I’m also very, very grateful … to [the listeners], for tuning in week after week. But if it’s not too cheesy to express it this way, it’s time for me to get on with my own next chapter. There are other stories I want to tell, and this is my choice,” said Rogers.

“Why leave now? I want to create a space for somebody new. I want to give the keys to somebody else and say, ‘This is yours now — just go for it. Go and use all your creativity, your sense of wonder, curiosity and compassion to tell the stories of this complicated, messy, beautiful country.’

“That’s why I’m leaving.”

Books and broadcasting

The late Peter Gzowski, left, with Shelagh Rogers.
The late Peter Gzowski, left, with Shelagh Rogers. (Submitted by Shelagh Rogers)

Rogers is a Canadian broadcast journalist currently based in British Columbia. She grew up in Ottawa — as the eldest child with three siblings — and credits her late mother for instilling in her a love of storytelling and literature. Rogers noted it was her mother who would regularly read to Rogers and her siblings at bedtime. 

“She always read to us. That was our bedtime treat. I realize now it was a way to get us into bed when we wanted to stay up! She read us stories, fairy tales and from children’s magazines such as Owl. In my head, I can still hear those stories — and her voice — reading to us,” said Rogers.

She also recalled when a beloved childhood dog died and it was a school librarian — “her name, true story, was Mrs. Book,” said Rogers — who introduced her to classic titles such as Old Yeller, The Incredible Journey and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be as a way of helping her cope with a difficult time. 

“The library became a refuge for me. It was just such a revelation to explore the library and then get into other worlds.”

Rogers attended Queen’s University as an art history major with dreams of working in a museum or art gallery. But it was sending in pitches to university campus radio station CFRC that launched her into a new world of broadcasting. She would host a country music program while still a student at Queen’s, at Kingston, Ont.-based radio station CKWS and later went on to produce a daily current affairs TV show and served as the station’s late-night weather presenter.

I owe a lot of who I am to Peter Gzowski. He was just such a great listener. He was my friend and my mentor and I will be eternally grateful to him.– Shelagh Rogers

After graduating from Queen’s University’s arts program in 1977 she could be heard on CBC Radio in Ottawa, where she hosted current affairs programs and jazz and classical music broadcasts. In 1982, she became host of the national classical concert program Mostly Music. It was a move to CBC Toronto in 1984 where Rogers became a frequent voice heard on national CBC Radio shows such as Morningside, The Max Ferguson Show and Basic Black. She served as the founding host of The Arts Tonight and was a frequent guest host of Morningside. In 1995, the program’s venerable host, Peter Gzowski, named Rogers the show’s permanent guest host.

Rogers credited the late Canadian radio legend for playing an instrumental part in helping her become the broadcaster she is today: “I owe a lot of who I am to Peter Gzowski. He was just such a great listener. He was my friend and my mentor and I will be eternally grateful to him.”

Rogers’s CBC Radio career would see her host shows such as This Morning and the flagship weekday morning show Sounds Like Canada, which was a mix of news, arts and culture interview segments. After leaving that show in 2008, she would move on to become the host-producer of The Next Chapter.

A ‘thrilling’ 15-year run

An image of two seated women against a black background.
Louise Penny, right, with Shelagh Rogers on-location in Calgary. (Johanna Hung)

The Next Chapter was originally pitched and envisioned as “Shelagh Rogers travels the country, conversing with authors and readers of all kinds.” The show’s magazine-style format created a platform where Canadian authors would have space to discuss books and literature with Rogers in a conversational and easy-going way.

“The one word I would use to describe my experience at CBC Radio and The Next Chapter would be ‘thrilling’,” said Rogers.

“I wanted The Next Chapter to be a place where we had new voices. I wanted it to be a place where listeners would tune in and hear writers that they’ve never, ever heard of, along with established writers. It has been the thrill of discovery and to invite the listener into that excitement — and I hope we’ve been able to do that,” said Rogers.

A undated photo of Shelagh Rogers, left, and Richard Wagamese.
An undated photo of Shelagh Rogers, left, and Richard Wagamese. (Submitted by Shelagh Rogers)

Over the years, the show has featured in studio and on-location interviews with a veritable who’s who of the Canadian literary scene — including Margaret Atwood, Dionne Brand, Richard Wagamese, Donna Morrissey, Lawrence Hill, Miriam Toews, Harold R. Johnson and many more — along with book columnists and Canadian musicians who drop by to discuss what they are reading.

“The biggest lesson, over my 15 years at The Next Chapter, has been to just ‘shut up and listen.’ This is critical in terms of just making people feel they have enough space to tell their story. I think listening honours people, and I hope that I’ve been able to do that,” said Rogers, who credited The Next Chapter‘s long-time senior producer and friend Jacqueline Kirk for helping create the show and establish the show’s trademark sound and mandate. 

“Kirk is a compassionate person. She’s also always on top of everything, every trend that’s happening and she’s just been such a joy to work with.”

The biggest lesson, over my 15 years at The Next Chapter, has been to just shut up and listen.– Shelagh Rogers

Rogers added: “Something that satisfied me a lot about being on The Next Chapter is seeing people grow over the last 15 years. I always get excited when I read a book and I want to tell somebody about it. I’ve just closed the cover — and I want to call someone up and say, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got to read this book.’ I wanted to convey that excitement on the show. And there have been so many books like that — from established authors who’ve been around for a long time — but people have also stayed tuned in to hear people they’ve never read or heard of before. “

The wave of rising Canadian literary names such as Catherine Hernandez, Waubgeshig Rice, Kim Fu, David Chariandy and more are examples of Canadian writers showing their potential, said Rogers, and added these are authors who are now in the conversation when it comes to winning literary prizes. “Just to have been there with some of those writers from the very beginning is something I’m really going to miss.”

While Rogers is leaving, The Next Chapter will continue. The summer edition of the show will be hosted by CBC Books producer and The Next Chapter contributor Ryan B. Patrick, and the search for a new permanent host will begin soon.

Speaking her truth

Shelagh Rogers was an honorary witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events.
Shelagh Rogers was an honorary witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events. (Shelagh Rogers)

During her lengthy broadcasting career she has garnered a host of awards and accolades for her journalism and humanitarian work, including honorary doctorates from Queen’s University, Carleton University, University of Manitoba and more. In 2000, she was awarded the John Drainie Award for making a significant contribution to broadcasting in Canada and received the New Brunswick Literacy Award for continuing the legacy of Peter Gzowski in 2002.

In addition to being known as a CBC Radio mainstay, Rogers has also been touted for her activism and advocacy work in championing various health, literary and social justice causes. In 2011, Rogers was inducted as an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, a role she has committed to for the rest of her life. Also that year, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada “for her contributions as a promoter of Canadian culture, and for her volunteer work in the fields of mental health and literacy.”

Rogers has been passionate about championing mental health and also candid about her own personal challenges with depression and anxiety. She was presented with The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health’s Transforming Lives Award in 2008; named a Champion of Mental Health in 2009; and in 2016, she was the inaugural recipient of the Margaret Trudeau Award for Mental Health Advocacy.

“People weren’t talking about it and I wasn’t afraid to talk about it. I knew that it was an illness and that it wasn’t a sort of failure of my moral code or character flaw. I understood that because I was getting to know who I was — so I wanted to get that dialogue going. That was really important to me,” said Rogers. 

Rogers co-edited the books Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Reconciliation and Residential School, Reconciliation and the Way Forward and Speaking My Truth: A Journey to Reconciliation. Rogers’ continuing passion for truth and reconciliation was one of the factors for becoming a chancellor of the University of Victoria in 2015, becoming the 11th person to hold the position in the school’s 52-year history. She served two terms between 2015 and 2021.

Meeting and interviewing a survivor of Alberni Residential School was an event that changed her life in better understanding the need to champion the rights for and recognition of Indigenous peoples, said Rogers. “I vowed that I would try to do something to help get Canada to understand our real story. I had to get out and try to bring people together to listen to those stories and to hear the experiences that survivors had from their own perspective,” she said.

“I want to live in a country that keeps its promises. It’s about fairness. I really believe in fairness and equity. I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother and she was involved in a lot of community volunteer work and activism. And she used to tell us, ‘If you’re feeling bad, go and do something good for somebody, even somebody you don’t know.’ I think she was right,” said Rogers.

Her next chapter

Shelagh Rogers interviews Patrick deWitt, author of critically acclaimed The Sisters Brothers and Undermajordomo Minor.
Shelagh Rogers interviews Canadian author Patrick deWitt. (Charlie Cheffins)

As Rogers prepares to sign off from The Next Chapter — and also CBC Radio — she is grateful for the experience and thankful for a lot of people she met, worked with and inspired along the way. The long list of thank yous includes her partner, Charlie Cheffins, the writers and authors she met and interviewed, her CBC colleagues and the listeners to the many hours of radio Rogers has hosted and produced.

“I’ve been just so touched by listener responses all these years. I want to say thank you to the listeners for being with me. Thank you for giving me the chance to grow. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce you to voices you may not otherwise have heard on the radio. I’ve had such joy in seeing writers, especially from diverse communities, enjoy phenomenal success and long may that continue,” said Rogers.

“I just love the fact that more and more voices are being heard. I will miss being a part of that wonderful current that is running through radio these days. I just love that so much.”

I want to say thank you to the listeners for being with me. Thank you for giving me the chance to grow.– Shelagh Rogers

Rogers also reflected on her many broadcasting colleagues over the years. “I want to thank every single producer I ever worked with because I learned something from every single one,” said Rogers.

“The last 43 years have been remarkable. Especially these last 15 with my beloved producer Jacqueline Kirk, who proposed the idea for The Next Chapter to CBC Radio management in the first place and they gave it the green light,” said Rogers. “We have a relationship that goes beyond time and beyond words.”

Throughout her storied career, Rogers has been committed to helping “change the world, one story at a time.” As for life after The Next Chapter, Rogers said she is both excited and ready for what comes next, and added she is already working on several projects and initiatives that will be announced at later dates. 

“Whatever I do next, it will be about amplifying the story of this country and the stories of people who live in this country,” said Rogers.

“So I am looking at my own next chapter, so to speak.” 

Rogers’ final episode as host of The Next Chapter will air on June 24, 2023. 

A look back at CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter in photos:

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