Extraordinary Canadians: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation, by Peter Mansbridge, with Mark Bulgutch

Extraordinary Canadians: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation by Peter Mansbridge, with Mark Bulgutch, offers stories about seventeen people who may not, for the most part, be household names country-wide, yet have made significant contributions to society. The subtitle “from the heart of our nation” has hidden significance. The stories are more than facts and figures; they also resonate with the passion and emotion, or “heart” if you will, of each of the individuals whose stories are included.

The people highlighted in the book come from different walks of life, and from a variety of provinces. Some were born in Canada, and some came here from elsewhere. Some were trailblazers in medical, engineering, or other fields. Others, as a result of their own life experiences, became advocates for health issues, housing, or other issues. There are politicians, a rabbi, and an environmentally-conscious entrepreneur. There is even the story of a member of Canada’s Joint Task Force 2, Canada’s version of the storied SEAL teams from south of the border. One of my favourite chapters was about Hope Swinimer, a Nova Scotia woman who became a wildlife rehabilitator and founded Hope for Wildlife.

“The ability to distil a wealth of information into the cogent facts, and then weave those facts into a story that reads logically and builds to a conclusion is a skill, and Mansbridge and Bulgutch have executed it well.”

The authors have endeavoured to tell each story, in first-person, in the voice of the person being profiled. In the book’s introduction, Mansbridge notes that the stories are based on a depth of research: “We interviewed each person at length, for hours at times, to capture their experiences in detail.” (p. xii) The ability to distil a wealth of information into the cogent facts, and then weave those facts into a story that reads logically and builds to a conclusion is a skill, and Mansbridge and Bulgutch have executed it well.

Among the individuals featured in the book is J. W. (Bill) Campbell, whose family moved to Prince Edward Island when he was six months old. Campbell notes that, for his family, “it was never easy making ends meet.” (p. 205) However, rather than this being a source of resentment, being poor as a child gave Campbell greater empathy for those who struggled financially. The story notes: “Looking back, I realize my early years gave me a firm understanding of how hard life could be, even for the hardest-working, best-intentioned people you could find.” (p. 206) This understanding motivated Campbell to drive co-op housing and micro-credit projects that benefitted many people.

Susan Rose from Newfoundland grew up gay in a time and place where it wasn’t socially acceptable. While her family embraced and supported her sexual orientation, some of her co-workers and supervisors were not so understanding. After working in the teaching field, Rose was approached by Planned Parenthood to talk to “teachers, high school students, and principals about how hard it was for gay students.” (p. 175). She stated, “I always found it interesting to arrive at a school where a guidance counsellor met us at the door with a smile and reassuring words, ‘Welcome, but we don’t have any queer kids in this community.’ How eloquently that spoke to the pain of invisibility.” (p. 175)

The story of Manitoban Robb Nash was one of the most compelling. While Nash and some of his friends were driving to his school’s Christmas social on a wintry night that featured freezing rain, their car hit a semi-trailer head-on. Nash, a passenger in the car, was severely injured. Among other remedies, doctors had to rebuild the left side of his skull, and there are three months of his life he can’t remember. After the accident, there were times he felt suicidal.

Nash’s life turned around when he decided to channel some of his feelings about the accident by starting a band. Subsequently, he was asked by a charitable organization to start performing at schools. At one school, the principal revealed that one of the students had recently committed suicide. The student had mentioned in her note that she was part of a suicide pact. The only issue was, that nobody knew the identity of the other student involved in the pact. On stage, Nash elected to share that he too had once felt suicidal. His candour led to the student coming forward and revealing their identity so that assistance and support could be offered. When he performed at other schools, Nash continued to share his story, providing a catalyst for students to come forward and seek help.

At a time when most of us have experienced the need to isolate ourselves more than usual as a result of COVID-19, it’s helpful to read stories that provide an emotional connection, as these ones do. Each of the people featured in the book is extraordinary in some way, and yet, they come across as being modest about their accomplishments.

Extraordinary Canadians shows that, despite all the negativity we might run across in the media or in our daily lives, there are people working quietly in the background to make things better. And from that, we can all take encouragement.

Peter Mansbridge is one of Canada’s most respected journalists. He is the former chief correspondent for CBC News; anchor of The National, CBC’s flagship nightly newscast where he worked for thirty years reporting on national and international news stories; and host of Mansbridge One on One. He has received over a dozen national awards for broadcast excellence, including a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. He is a distinguished fellow of the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto and the former two-term Chancellor of Mount Allison University. In 2008, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada—the country’s highest civilian honour—and in 2012 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He is the author of the instant #1 national bestseller Extraordinary Canadians and also the national bestseller Peter Mansbridge One on One: Favourite Conversations and the Stories Behind Them. He lives in Stratford, Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMansbridge, visit him at ThePeterMansbridge.com, or listen to his daily podcast, The Bridge, with Sirius XM Canada.

Mark Bulgutch is a journalist, educator, speaker, and the author of the instant #1 national bestseller Extraordinary Canadians and also That’s Why I’m a Journalist and That’s Why I’m a Doctor. He worked for CBC for forty years, eleven as the senior editor of The National and another ten as senior executive producer of all live news specials. He has taught at the Ryerson University School of Journalism for almost thirty-five years. A regular contributor of opinion columns to the Toronto Star, he has won fourteen Gemini awards, four RTNDA Awards, the Canadian Journalist Foundation Award of Excellence, and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Gold Ribbon Award. He lives in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @MarkBulgutch.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster (April 26 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1982134577
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1982134570

Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at http://lisatimpf.blogspot.com/.