This week marks two significant dates regarding iconic Canadian broadcasters.
The first occurred on Sunday, Nov. 8, when Alex Trebek died at the age of 80. Born in Sudbury, Ont. in 1940 to a Ukrainian father and Franco-Ontarian mother, Trebek started his broadcasting career at the CBC in 1963, hosting Music Hop, the Canadian answer to American Bandstand.
Trebek became known and beloved to the rest of the world when he began hosting the quiz show Jeopardy! in 1984. It’s a gig he maintained until his final days, declining to retire even during his very public two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
Trebek was always warm and affable on the air. He could be funny and even acerbic, often making jokes at contestants’ expense, but it clearly always came from a place of love. He spoke often about his appreciation for the kindness of his fans.
As recently as last week, a contestant expressed that when he immigrated to America, he learned to speak English with perfect diction by watching Trebek on Jeopardy!. Trebek was clearly moved by his words. It’s not for nothing that the most controversial thing the guy ever did was shave his mustache.
But this week also holds another significant date. Nov. 11 marks one year since Don Cherry was fired as the host of Hockey Night in Canada after going on a racist and xenophobic rant about immigrants to Canada.
It was far from the first such outburst from Cherry, who made a name for himself tarnishing the sport’s reputation through his bigotry, far-right political views, support for the United States’ brutal and illegal war in Iraq and his cheerleading for violence on and off the ice.
Cherry was, and remains, the anti-Trebek. Where Trebek was warm and accepting, Cherry is cold and belligerent. Jeopardy! viewers often saw Trebek apologizing to contestants after commercial breaks for errors made in previous segments. To this day, Cherry stands by the racist remarks that resulted in his firing.
These two men represent two aspects of Canada’s self-image. Trebek reflects Canada’s marketing material. Polite, comedic, an embodiment of the fictional liberal utopia that Americans imagine lies north of their border. Cherry is an unofficial Ford brother, an anti-immigrant, far-right cheerleader. He’s the human embodiment of a mob of angry white lobster fishermen burning down Indigenous fisheries out of racism and greed.
These days, the country often looks more like Cherry’s Canada. I’d much rather be a Trebekkie.
Published in Volume 75, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 12, 2020)