Isabel Bassett (1939-)

Year Born: 
1939

Pioneer

Bassett, Isabel (1939- )

  A teacher - yes – but to become a principal for the largest educational system in Canada could not conceivably have been among the dreams of the woman born Isabel Macdonald in Halifax, Nova Scotia on August 23, 1939. Yet – 60 years later –she was appointed by the Government of the Province of Ontario as Chair and Chief Executive Officer of TV Ontario.

After graduating from teachers’ college and with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queens University and a Master of Arts degree from York University, Isabel began teaching French and English at Humberside Collegiate in Toronto. In 1965, she decided to tackle journalism and took a job as a reporter with the Toronto Telegram newspaper - an experience that led to her joining Toronto’s first privately-owned television broadcasting station – CFTO-TV – and the beginning of a new career that included performing, writing and production.   

It was during this period that Isabel spent seven years as a host/reporter for CFTO’s “Hourlong” and went on to earn a number of awards for documentaries on social and political issues, among them the Canadian Mental Health Association’s National Media Award for “Beyond the Blues”, a document on depression;  her work was also recognized at Canadian and international film and television  festivals for her documentaries Nightmare In The Neighbourhood, Teen Gang, No Place To Hide and Children Take Care, which later received international distribution. 

In 1970 Isabel became the wife of John Bassett, the President of Baton Broadcasting Inc., but continued with her broadcasting career both at CFTO and later at CTV, where she worked as a reporter on W5.

Taking leave from television for politics, on June 17, 1995 Isabel was elected to represent the Toronto riding of St. Andrew-St. Patrick in the Ontario Legislature. In 1997, she was appointed as the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. 

In 1999, in what would be recognized as the crowning achievement in her professional career, Isabel Bassett was appointed  Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of the Ontario Educational Authority - better-known as TV Ontario – with which she served until September 29, 2005. 

During Ms. Bassett’s tenure, the focus of TV Ontario was changed back to its original purpose which was to support the educational system in Ontario. As one example of the change, she cited the application of this principle to its most popular program, saying that “another initiative helped to bring about a partnership with the Fine Arts Department at York University. Now all films shown on ‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ are chosen in collaboration by a group of fine arts staff and students”.

On June 30th 2016, it was announced that the Governor-General announced that Isobel Bassett had been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada, "For her community engagement and commitment to the advancement of women and public service, notably in educational broadcasting."

Written by J. Lyman Potts - June, 2007

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