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Adrienne Clarkson: A Chinese-Canadian Governor General

The Story

Today is the swearing-in ceremony for Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's new Governor General. In her speech -- shown in this 1999 clip from The National -- she makes several references to her immigrant heritage. She speaks of her family arriving in Canada as refugees in 1942 after the fall of Hong Kong. She also praises her teachers in the Canadian school system "who treated me only as bright, not bright yellow." 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 7, 1999
Reporter: Jason Moscovitz
Speaker: Adrienne Clarkson
Duration: 1:36

Did You know?

• Adrienne Clarkson was born in Hong Kong in 1939. She and her family came to Canada as refugees in 1942. Her early education occurred in the Ottawa public school system, and she received her BA and MA in English literature at the University of Toronto.

• From the 1960s until the 1990s, Clarkson was a CBC journalist and a celebrated television personality. Her credits include Take 30, Adrienne at Large, The Fifth Estate and Adrienne Clarkson Presents.

• Clarkson married Toronto professor Stephen Clarkson in 1963. They divorced in 1975. She later married her long-time partner, writer and philosopher John Ralston Saul, in 1999.
• Clarkson became Canada's Governor General in 1999. She is Canada's first Chinese-Canadian Governor General.

• After Clarkson referred to her Chinese heritage in her inaugural speech, several prominent Chinese-Canadians criticized her for it. They saw it as a phoney gesture. The Globe and Mail's Jan Wong wrote in 1999: "The Governor General's newfound Chinese identity is jarring... This is a woman, after all, who kept her first husband's non-Chinese surname, even as she airbrushed him from her Who's Who entry 20 years ago... She's never identified herself with the Chinese community or done anything for it."

• Clarkson's sister-in-law, Vivienne Poy, also made history by becoming the first Chinese-Canadian senator in 1998.

• Poy has been extremely active in Chinese-Canadian causes throughout her career. In December 2001, Poy introduced a motion in the Senate to declare May Asian Heritage Month. It's now celebrated in Canada each May. And in 2003, she earned a PhD at the University of Toronto, specializing in the history of Chinese immigration to Canada. She frequently gives talks concerning Chinese-Canadian heritage.


Their Excellencies: Canada's Governors General Since 1952 more