Barbara Frum (1937-1992)

Barbara Frum

Year Born: 1937

Year Died: 1992

Frum, Barbara (1937-1992)

When on June 21st 1993, CBC President Gerard Veilleux dedicated the Atrium at the new CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto to Barbara Frum, it was a fitting acknowledgement of the exceptional body of work Barbara had contributed to broadcasting, and specifically to the CBC, in an all-too-short life.  She had died of leukemia in March 1992, at the age of 54.

Barbara Rosberg was born in Niagara Falls, New York, on September 8th 1937. Her father Harold was a Canadian businessman in Niagara Falls, Ontario; her mother Florence was an American, and wanted Barbara to be born in the States so that she could have a U.S. passport.   Barbara studied history at the University of Toronto, married Toronto dentist Murray Frum in 1957, and obtained her B.A. in 1959. For the next several years, Barbara concentrated on raising her three children, and it was not until the mid-1960s that she first ventured into journalism, when her work for charity prompted her to write a piece on the subject for the Toronto Star.

Further writing assignments followed, including columns and book reviews for Toronto newspapers. By 1968 her work had come to the attention of the CBC, who hired her as a host/panellist for the television series The Way It Is, the series that replaced This Hour Has Seven Days.  Her work earned her a Toronto Star citation as “Best New Interviewer”, but on being demoted from host to reporter, she promptly resigned. She then began contributing stories to the CBC Weekend radio series, which led to her being asked to join William Ronald as co-host of CBC’s already-successful daily 90-minute radio series, As It Happens.  The program dealt with current news stories in great depth, and through carrying out nightly live interviews by telephone and radio with politicians and personalities making news, Barbara quickly developed her own unique, forceful interviewing style, which was to make her a keystone of CBC’s broadcast journalism for many years.

During the subsequent eleven years, her radio work earned her many awards and accolades. In 1975, the National Press Club of Canada gave her their Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Journalism; in 1976, Canadian Press named her Woman of the Year in Literature Arts and Education, and in 1979 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In January 1982, CBC-TV made a dramatic move by shifting their nightly news program, The National, from the 11:00pm time period it had occupied for 30 years, to 10:00pm, where it was followed by a new half-hour interview-based program called The Journal.  As It Happens radio producer Mark Starowicz had moved over to television to create this new series, and it was no great surprise when he named Barbara Frum to co-host The Journal with Mary Lou Finlay (who, as it turned out, would one day herself host As It Happens).

CBC’s gamble paid off and the 10:00pm National/Journal combination proved an immediate success. Over the next ten years, Barbara would stay in the Journal anchor chair for over 2,500 programs, during which time her interview skills reached new heights, as she talked to politicians, heads of state, and men and women on the street with skill, compassion and, when necessary,  a rapier tongue.

Barbara Frum was diagnosed with leukemia as early as 1974, but kept it a secret from all but a few very close friends, and her death on March 26th 1992 therefore came as a great shock to the Canadian broadcasting community, and to the millions of viewers who had come to regard her as something of an icon.  Seven years after her death, a photo of Barbara Frum was chosen by the CBC as the foreground illustration on a 46-cent stamp issued in 1999 by Canada Post to honour the Corporation

During her brilliant but sadly shortened career, Barbara Frum earned four ACTRA Awards as Best Host/Interviewer.  When the CBC Atrium was named in her honour, the CBC also announced that they and the University of Toronto were creating the Barbara Frum Memorial Award In Canadian Scholarship, to be given each year to an Arts and Sciences graduate student undertaking study or research related to Canada.   A branch of the Toronto Public Library was also renamed after her “in celebration of her accomplishments as a distinguished broadcaster and journalist”.

Barbara had received Honorary Degrees from Brock University in 1987 and from Simon Fraser University in 1989. In 1992, an Honorary Degree was conferred on her posthumously by the University of Toronto, and in 1993 she was posthumously awarded the John Drainie Award by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, for Distinguished Contributions to Television Broadcasting,

Written by Pip Wedge – February, 2006