Jan Tennant (1937-)

Jan Tennant
Jan Tennant (photo: CBC)
Jan Tennant
Jan Tennant on radio early 1971
Jan Tennant
Graham Frisbee and Jan skip for the CBC (CBC photo)

Year Born: 1937

Tennant, Jan (1937- )

While the viewing public today is accustomed to and comfortable with women as newsreaders in both national and local television, it was not until the Easter weekend in 1974 that viewers first saw a woman reading The National on CBC. That woman was Jan Tennant, whose considerable talents and competence were quickly recognized, and who helped to launch a new era in the Canadian television news business, one where women were finally recognized as being authoritative and highly credible.

Jan was born in Toronto on January 5th 1937. She attended Runnymede Public School and then Humberside Collegiate, and after graduating from the University of Toronto in 1958 with a degree in Physical and Health Education, she taught at Queen Elizabeth Junior High in Port Credit, Ontario from January to June 1960. After living briefly in Switzerland, 1961-62, she returned to Canada and attended the Ontario College of Education 1962-63, where she gained her Type A Certificate in Physical and Health Education, and Type B in English and French. In 1963 she began teaching PE and English at Castle Frank High School in Toronto, but resigned in 1965 on being refused a transfer to an academic high school, for which she felt her training had made her better suited.In 1966, after an on-camera audition in April and some abortive discussions with CBC Toronto news head Bill Cunningham about a job as a reporter, Jan was hired in October by producer Ross McLean to work as receptionist on his CBC-TV supper hour current affairs show TBA. In August 1967, she became a script assistant, working on such series as The Day It Is, and The Way It Is, and in the summer of 1969 she joined The Nature of Things as script assistant. In 1968 her PE skills earned her a demo spot on CBC-TV’s Canadian Physical Fitness Test – after which she swore she’d never skip again.

Having re-auditioned unsuccessfully for announce work every time summer relief jobs became available, she was eventually offered and accepted a staff announce position in December 1970. She began in radio news, and within a few months moved to TV News. Jan’s first regular assignment was as host of a 15-minute Sunday afternoon series, News Profile, which ran from September 1972 to May 1974. Jan became the announcer for the popular CBC-TV series Reach for the Top in 1971, and in 1973 she took over from Alex Trebek as host of the series for the next eight years.

It was at Easter 1974, when regular announcer George Finstad and his back-up George McLean were away at a golf tournament, that then CBC-TV news head Mike Daigneault asked Jan to read the National News. This she did, and made history as the first woman to do so on the public network. She continued to substitute as a newsreader for several years, filling in on The National, the Mid-day News and local news, doing narrations for The Nature of Things, and presenting classical music programs on CBC-FM. She also read the weekend late-night news for many years.

In 1974-75, Jan co-hosted with Clark Wallace a CBC Schools and Youth department series targeted at high school students and titled Fit Stop, an appropriate assignment for someone with her Phys Ed background…

From 1975 to 1979, Jan worked on the David Suzuki series Science Magazine, on which she and fellow announcer Cy Strange shared the film narration assignments. In 1977-78, Jan was one of the hosts of a CBC-TV afternoon series for older children, After Four (not to be confused with a series of the same name that played on CTV in the mid-sixties).

Jan began presenting the CBC Saturday evening television news in 1978, and held the anchor chair there for four and a half years.

In March 1982, Jan left the CBC and accepted an offer to go to Global to work on the private network’s nightly news. There she read the supper hour news with Peter Trueman for two years, before Peter moved to Ottawa and they then each did half an hour each night. Jan also did the 11pm half-hour newscast, and occasionally News at Noon.

Jan stayed at Global for five years, before leaving in 1987. She returned to CBC Radio on contract, and for two years hosted Listen To The Music, a nightly ninety-minute program of classical music that ran 6:30 – 8:00pm. In July 1989, Jan moved to West Vancouver, returning briefly to Toronto later that year to play herself in a CBC-TV movie, Pray For Me, Paul Henderson, about a high school team competing on Reach For The Top.

For producer Carol Hanley she hosted and recorded voice-overs for The Time of Your Life, a series that played on Global from 1991 to 1996, and later on the W Network and Vision TV. While at Global, Jan had done some narration for independent documentaries, including Footholds (1984) and Handle on Health (1987), and over the next several years she was in demand for more voice-over work on documentary films, including Return of the Swift Fox and For Richer, For Poorer (1988), and a Nurse’s Opinion (1991).

Much later, in 1998, she narrated Burns Bog – A Road Runs Through It, an NFB film about a precious ecosystem, home to nearly 200 species of mammals and birds, just south of Vancouver. This was her final professional job, for Jan Tennant finally retired from broadcasting in 1998.

Along with her career as a broadcaster, Jan made time to make valuable contributions to the community, through volunteer work at various times for the Canadian Cancer Society, World Vision and the National Youth Orchestra.

Writing about Women in the Newsroom in the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 1991, newsman Peter Trueman said of Jan that she was: “…….easily the most professional anchor I ever worked with, and one of the nicest people….”.

Sources include:

Ryerson Review of Journalism

Written by Pip Wedge