Adrienne Clarkson, Travel, and the Middle-Brown Media in Canada

Eva-Marie Kröller, Professor
Department of English
University of British Columbia

As the first Chinese-Canadian woman to occupy the position of Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson attracted special attention from the start of her appointment. However, both the extravagant praise for her performance and the equally excessive criticism of her alleged shortcomings drew extensively on reports in the media that accompanied her previous work, over several decades, as a journalist, editor, and diplomat. Clarkson’s lavish travels in the company of representatives from the arts, sciences and commerce were a special target, but in an NFB video produced while she was still in office (An Idea of Canada, 2003) and in memoir published after the conclusion of her term as Governor General (Heart Matters, 2006), Clarkson cites these along with the lessons learnt during her past travels to China in pursuit of her heritage as proof of a successfully fulfilled mandate. Her book Canada’s House: Rideau Hall and the Invention of a Canadian Home (2004) dwells on a building as indicated by the title, but Clarkson describes Rideau Hall as the focal point of international mobility. This paper will look at women and the office of Governor General in Canada, including the “châtelaines” (Governor Generals’ spouses), concentrating on middle-brow sources and paying special attention to the motif of travel. The paper will then investigate these themes in the reception of Adrienne Clarkson in the media. The purpose is to study the coverage of the various roles she has played in her professional life as a flashpoint of Canadian attitudes toward ambitious professional women generally, and high-aiming ethnic women specifically.

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