Joan Donaldson (1946-2006)

Joan Donaldson

Year Born: 1946

Year Died: 2006

Donaldson, Joan (1946-2006)

Born in Toronto on April 23rd 1946, Joan Donaldson was educated at North Toronto Collegiate.  Eschewing the opportunity of a university education, Joan was keen to get into the workforce, and took a job in 1964 as switchboard operator at CHUM-FM radio in Toronto, later moving a short distance across town to work for CKEY.  Her contact with on-air personnel over this period gave her a taste for news reporting, and in 1967 she joined the CBC as an editor in national radio news, and later moved on to work as senior editor on the series The World at Six and Sunday Morning magazine, during which time her work included coverage of the 1970 October Crisis in Montreal.

In 1971, Joan moved into CBC Television, and to Winnipeg, having been appointed producer of the early evening news program 24 Hours.  There she worked for executive producer Bill Morgan. Two years later she returned to the network’s Toronto production centre as a producer on Newsmagazine and various specials.  It was not long before Joan was lured away by CTV, where for five years she worked as a field producer on its W5 series, a job which took her to Vietnam and many other world hotspots.

On leaving CTV after several years, Joan made her talents and expertise available to up-and-coming young broadcasters as a professor teaching broadcast journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic. “She was a great combination of mush and steel,” broadcaster Wendy Mesley (then a Ryerson third-year student in 1979) told the Globe and Mail.  “She was one of those profs that would go drinking with you – but then you would hand in a crappy piece of writing, and she was not your friend. She would give you hell.”    Joan also taught in the University of Western Ontario’s Journalism Program for Native People.

In 1984, Joan returned to the CBC as Co-ordinator of Regional Programming for TV News and Current Affairs. Three years later, her former Winnipeg colleague Bill Morgan, now Head of News and Current Affairs at CBC-TV in Toronto, asked Joan to work with him on plans for the introduction of a brand-new 24-hour all-news channel.  Joan led the team that appeared before the CRTC to apply for the channel, and after some heavy political infighting, the CBC won the licence over a competing bid from Allarcom Ltd.

CBC Newsworld was launched in the summer of 1989, with Joan Donaldson as its founding head, and was immediately respected for the high journalistic standards that Joan demanded of everyone who worked for her, and which were quickly evident in the content of this new service.  Yet she was not to live to carry through all her plans and objectives for the fledgling channel. 

Just over a year later, Joan’s multiple talents were lost to the Canadian broadcasting industry through a tragic accident, when Joan was knocked down by a bicycle courier in Montreal on October 18th 1990, and sustained brain injuries which put her in a coma. She lived for over fifteen years until her death on September 7th 2006, but though she regained some of her faculties, she was never able to work again.

In a statement to CBC employees announcing Joan’s death, editor in chief of CBC news Tony Burman said of her work on Newsworld:  “There couldn’t have been a better person for the job, as Joan had developed a reputation for always having her finger on the pulse of Canada, delivering newsworthy stories from all over the country.”

In 1999, CBC Newsworld announced the establishing of the Joan Donaldson Scholarship, to be awarded each year to eight promising journalism students.


Globe and Mail

Written by Pip Wedge – October, 2006