Peter Gzowski: An Electric Life


133 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55022-166-3
DDC 791.44'092






Reviewed by David Kimmel

David Kimmel is a Ph.D. candidate in history at York University.


About a million people hear the same avuncular voice every day. This is
no small achievement, but does it mean that Gzowski is Canada’s
long-lost father figure? No: the nation is not a family, so the idea of
a single national voice of authority is ludicrous; yet the author uses
this metaphor to explain his subject’s popularity. His thesis:
Gzowski’s background—his small-town upbringing (largely
mythologized), his ancestry (he’s related to two nation builders), his
career-long struggle over Canada’s love-hate relationship with
American culture—and that sonorous voice have made him a Canadian
hero. Adria admires the man both for his accomplishments as a media
personality (Gzowski describes himself as “a writer who’s now
working on radio”) and because he “has made a deliberate attempt to
contribute to the cause of Canadian unity and to notions of the Canadian
identity.” Gzowski’s life-to-date is well worth a short book, and
this biography successfully completes the task.

The book is not without problems, however. For example, Adria’s use
of certain communications theory terminology (cool medium, hot medium
... which is which?) and neo-McLuhanisms (“Television is shtick; radio
aspires to dialogue”) might hinder the general reader’s enjoyment.
Furthermore, there is something in his thesis that doesn’t quite wash.
Gzowski’s small-town origin, he argues, influenced
“Morningside’’’s worldview and explains the show’s impact on
Canadian society. Galt, Ont., was a place where “community
cohesiveness was nurtured through to recognition on social roles.”
Perhaps. But such “Victorian” values hardly reflect today’s
“Morningside” or the CBC’s general mission.

Adria is a good writer, and he tells the story with sufficient analysis
to make the book worthwhile. He makes no apology for the fact that there
are still things we don’t know about Gzowski, but the occasional
unknown does not weaken the general argument. The book is well
illustrated, includes a chronology, and a list of works consulted, and,
aside from the odd typesetting error, is a handsome package.


Adria, Marco., “Peter Gzowski: An Electric Life,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,