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  • Writer's pictureMatt Cundill

Wendy Mesley: Freedom 65

Updated: May 31, 2023

If you're a Canadian audience member who's tuned in to a CBC News broadcast anytime in the last 20 or so years, this week's guest should look very familiar. We're joined by Wendy Mesley, the longtime Sunday host of CBC's The National, among several other shows in CBC's repertoire.

In this episode, you will hear about Wendy's early years as a reporter at CFCF in Montreal, her time in radio in Toronto, and her years at the CBC.


Wendy officially retired from the CBC in July 2021, but she hasn't been sitting idly by since then. She's currently hosting a wildly successful podcast, Women of Ill Repute, with her good friend and fellow CBC alum Maureen Holloway. In its first week, the show hit #1 on Apple Podcasts in Canada in the Performing Arts and Arts categories. If you haven't yet, you can give it a listen here.

Of course, Wendy shares lots of details about the podcast and how it's come together over the past few months, but we also talk about her time in radio and TV news- specifically the way the landscape of journalism has changed in the 40 years she's been doing it. And for those of you familiar with Wendy, yes, we do touch on a certain controversy you might have heard about when she left the CBC.


For more of Wendy, check out Women Of Ill Repute on the Soundoff Podcast Network, give her a follow on Twitter, or check out her weekly newsletter on Substack.

 

Transcript:

Tara Sands (Voiceover) 00:00:01

The Sound Off podcast: The Podcast About Broadcast with Matt Cundill... starts now.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:00:11

Wendy Mesley. If you are Canadian, and have consumed TV news or the CBC in any part of the last four decades, you likely know this name. Reporter, anchor, host of various news programs, Wendy was a regular TV fixture. What's coming next? A podcast called Women of Ill Repute, where she teamed up with Maureen Holloway, formerly of 98.1 CHFI. They interview awesome people like Jann Arden, Mary Walsh, Allison Dore and Sass Jordan. Last spring, they came to me with a podcast idea, and this has been one of the more rewarding projects I've been a part of in 2022. So in this interview, I covered what I could, and yes, I asked her about getting fired so publicly, amongst other fun things. Wendy Mesley joins me from her newly constructed podcast studio. Wendy, where shall we begin?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:01:01

Well, I was born in July in 1957. Not that interesting. We should probably jump forward a few years. Where do you want to start?


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:01:09

I do want to start there, actually, because it was in Montreal, right?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:01:12

Well, actually, yes, I was born in Montreal, but my parents were together very briefly, and my dad used to work for the Montreal Star. And so two kids from Toronto, my parents, were together for a whole year. And then my mum realized that he liked me a lot more than he liked her that way. So we went back to Toronto when I was just a few months old. So she basically, because of the Napoleonic Code and all that, she had to leave everything behind, including all of the gifts from her parents. They belonged to the man. And she basically threw me in the back of the Volkswagen and drove back to Toronto, at which point she had to find a way of living and paying for herself because she was on her own and there was no family help. And anyway, she ended up rising to the top of her field as a physio, which is kind of cool, and I tagged along and she was great. She was not the easiest person to get along with, but we loved each other and supported each other. So we moved a lot until my grandparents died, my grandmother died and moved in with my grandfather, who was also a character, and went to Lawrence Park Collegiate in North Toronto. And then I don't think I've been back since.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:02:17

I'm always fascinated with next generation broadcasters, or in this case, journalists. And your dad did work in that field.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:02:24

Yeah. It's kind of weird because he was primarily a sailor, and that is my obsession, which is windsurfing and sailing and surfing of all kinds. But I wasn't raised with him. But I don't know, maybe there's something in the genes somewhere. But yeah, I think he was more of a- in the last few years, he was much more of a sailor. He was involved in politics too. I think he worked with, I can't remember the name of the NDP premier of BC 1000 years ago, but he worked for him. And he used to send me magic mushrooms that were growing on the front of the building of the legislature. It was 40 years ago, so let bygones be bygones.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:02:57

And you wrote about your mum calling her the original woman of ill repute.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:03:02

Yeah, well, I mean, she never wanted to be called a single mom. She was a divorced mum and it took her seven years to get a divorce from my father because she wanted custody and he fought her for it. And I don't think he ever really wanted to raise me because he didn't appear again until I was an adult. So it took her many, many years to raise me on her own. She was what would now be called a single mom. She had a job, she had a life, and she basically taught me to fight for stuff, and to believe in stuff, and to do whatever the hell I wanted. And people would say because she was a single mom and there was no dad around, which in those days was really rare, especially in white Toronto, which is where I kind of grew up. Back in the old days, there weren't any single moms. And so people would say, you're from a broken home. Oh, you're from- and I go, I'm sorry, but your dad is never home. Your dad's a drunk, your dad's whatever. Your parents don't love each other. My mom loves me and so I don't feel like I'm from a broken home. And she never, like, filled me with hatred towards him. It was just always she never really talked about him. It was just it didn't work out. We loved each other, but it didn't work out. And I got you, change the topic. So and then we'd move on.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:04:12

Who'd you take to your grad?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:04:14

Oh, Randy. It was Randy and Wendy. Hey, it was North Toronto in the 70s. Randy was my date. We went steady for the last two years of high school, and he was into journalism. And I got a job in grade 13. I had to make a decision whether to go to Jane's house and hang out with her cool family or to apply for a job at Chum Radio in grade 13, which existed in those days. And I remember standing on the corner, do I go to Jane's house or do I go apply for this job? Because I was working in a kitchen, basically slopping plates, and I thought, you know what, it'd be kind of cool. And I had grown up listening to Barbara From and I kind of wanted to be Barbara From, so I thought, Well, I'll go to Chum, and that'll be the start. So I went there and got my first job in radio at Chum, answering phones and Mark Daly, I don't know if you remember him, but Mark Daly, he was such a lovely guy. And he told me about how- I think he was a draft dodger because he'd come from the States. And it was that time, well, by then it was the mid 70s, but he'd come up earlier and he had been the manager for the Spinners, I think he told me. Anyway, he would come into the booth where I was answering the phones, which was basically rigged because you would just say, oh, gee, the song that you just asked for is the one that we're going to be playing in five minutes, but we'll pretend that it's because you asked for it. Anyway, he would come into the booth and do a 1 minute newscast and I thought, wow, 1 minute, because I'd grown up listening to CBC and Barbara From. And everything was always very serious. 1 minute, that's like nothing. And I remember him saying to me, so, Wendy, when you listen to the news, do you listen to how they do it or do you listen to the content? And I knew that the answer for Mark was how. But for me, it was always the content. And that still today is my problem, is I'm way more interested in the content than in the how. But that job led me to getting Randy a job at Chin Radio because there was a technical producer there who said, oh, they're looking for someone at Chin Radio, which was great back in the mid 70s, Serbs and the Croats would be back to back and they had been killing each other 20 years earlier. And at that point they were trying to be nice to each other. So I got a job working there, basically for free, but it was a great experience. And Randy got a job too, working midnight.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:06:25

And you're a graduate of what is now Toronto Metropolitan University.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:06:29

Oh. And then I went to Ryerson. Well, yeah, I'm not really a graduate because I left with 31 out of 32 credits. I failed advanced reporting in my third year, because I was working full time at Chum and Chin and CFRB and CKFM and everywhere in Toronto Radio. And I felt like I was learning a lot more. And I thought, well, this school gig, it's not really any harder than high school was, so I can do this. And then a teacher basically gave me 49% in advanced reporting. But then I went on to Montreal and Quebec City and Ottawa and whatever and became quasi-Canadian famous. And Ryerson kept, as it was called then, kept asking me back to speech as this esteemed, venerable journalist. And I was like- and kept announcing me as a graduate of Ryerson. And I could say, Nope, not a graduate, not a graduate. Not ever going to lie about that. And so then they said, well, why don't you contest, you know, that course that you failed and it'll cost you $50. And I was, yeah, okay, whatever. So I can test it. And I got the degree and my mum was happy and she always wanted me to get a degree, so I finally got the degree, as fake as it may be.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:07:29

So tell me about the jump from Toronto Radio to CFCF in Montreal.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:07:33

Yeah, so it was at Ryerson and in those days they would hire- well, they still do, except that I think you have to have like five more degrees. But they used to come to Ryerson and Trina McQueen, who should have been president of CBC, should have run the whole thing, but she was a woman, so that never happened in those days. But Trina McQueen came from CBC, which she was at, she later went on to CTV and Tim Kotcheff came from CTV and they both offered me jobs. So the CBC job was in Regina, it was a summer job as an intern, where you would be a paid intern. The CBC job was in Regina and the CTV job was in Montreal, and it was 1979 and it was just before the first referendum. And I thought, I love CBC, but Regina, Montreal, I mean, I felt like being a foreign correspondent and they said, well, do you speak French? And I'm like, un petit peut, la pleune de batante, in other words, no, but what do they know? They didn't speak French, so I lied and I thought, it's bilingual, it's Pierre Trudeau, I'll be fine. But it was pretty French, so I learned eventually.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:08:39

But you know French now, I mean, you get offers to go on French podcasts now and your French is good enough to participate.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:08:46

Yeah, but when I first moved there, I was working for CFCF, which is a CTV affiliate in Montreal. And I covered, which is a joke, I covered the first referendum a little bit, but I remember being out in the streets as people who had voted yes were like, smashing windows and stuff because they barely lost the first referendum. And I was like, Lavalum de madame. Lavalum de madame. Please don't realize that I'm English, I'll just walk along with you. And then I fell in love with a Jewish guy and worked in a restaurant. I worked until six, and then I worked at CFCF, and then I worked in this restaurant until eleven at night, and then we would go out and get hammered as one does when they're in their twenties. And yeah, so I basically faked it for the first couple of years and then decided that I really wanted to go to CBC. And then everybody at CBC du Canada in Montreal speaks French. And so I started trying to learn a bit more and learned a bit more and learned a bit more, and a long story, but I ended up learning and I dated a Francophone until I realized that I could understand what he was saying. And then it was next, and then the job came open at the Quebec legislature in Quebec City and nobody wanted to go except me. So I was like, please hire me. This would be amazing. And Rene Levesque was premier and I got to go and cover him. And a few months of being there, being completely surrounded by French, by the end, I spent a few years there. I was there three or four years. By the end, I was almost assimilated.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:10:14

But I have to think back to that era, starting at the referendum and going right through to 1984, and things did change a lot. But I have a feeling we have to go to Quebec City to get the story, that's almost every night occurrence. There was a lot of news coming out of Quebec City in that period because there was a constitution that got signed and patriated in that era. Quebec wasn't going to be a participant. There was the night of the Long Night. Seriously, there's a lot of Canadian history that was centered in Quebec City and you're front and center in Montreal for the referendum, but then in Quebec City for the next number of years as well.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:10:46

Yeah, it was a fascinating time because people trusted journalists then and they used to watch The National, which I ended up working for out of Quebec City. And then I moved to Ottawa, and it was during the time of the whole Night Long Eyes and then the constitution and then Meech Lake, and I sort of became Miss Meech when I moved to Ottawa. I covered a lot of constitutional stuff and it was fascinating, but it was also really different being a girl from Toronto, even though I was born in Montreal, I was grown up in Toronto and gone to school in Toronto and didn't speak French in Toronto. But I also didn't have any of the issues or any of the baggage that Anglos growing up in Montreal would have had, because there were massive issues of people growing up as Anglophones and losing their rights and a revolution basically happening around them, referendums happening. And to me, it was just like, you're a bunch of foreigners to me, so you Anglophones are the same as the Francophones. I didn't have to pick a side because I was from Toronto and it was just it was all fascinating to me. But yeah, it was it was a heady, wonderful time to be. And I loved covering Levesque because he was a journalist, and it was the days where there wasn't the same kind of bile as there is now between journalists and politicians. Some of it is merited, I suppose, but yeah, he was real and he would actually listen to your question and answer it. That never happened again.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:12:07

Also, I'm thinking back to the restructuring of the news in that era when The National moved to 10:00 and really sort of reshaped the way Canadians consume their news. We got a steady dose of Nolton Nash for 22 minutes, along with the reporters such as yourself, followed by Barbara From and the Journal, which was a bit of a staple for many, many years in Canadian lives. And if you happen to stick around until 11:00, you could flip over and see Lloyd.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:12:34

Yeah, well, you don't mention the most horrible thing that happened in all of that was there was a very brief experiment to run The National at 09:00, like, who's going to watch the- yeah. So we went from having over a million viewers to having like twelve and being a bit facetious, but yeah, the beginning of the slippery slope started then. It was horrible. And I was married briefly to the anchor. He wasn't when I started dating him, but by the end of it, Peter Mansbridge was the new sort of Nolton Nash, and they would not consider me they told me that they would not consider me for the Barbara From job, and I'd always wanted to be Barbara From. They got rid of The Journal and then The National became longer and it was a very heady time. And then I got remarried and I'm still married to Liam. We've been together for 27, 28 years, and we have a daughter and I wanted to have a life. I had a chance to go to the States. I was offered a couple of jobs, one in particular, which was quite tempting, which is great for increasing your salary at home. I have an offer from the States. Will you give me that show?


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:13:37

So I did hear about- Peter was offered a job to go to CBS for the morning show. I know that. I don't know why I know that, but what were you offered?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:13:46

Oh, it was a big deal at the time. Yeah. The main thing was with ABC, it was for a show called Turning Point. I don't know whether it ever existed, but I remember sitting in the office and it was the day of Waco, the Waco shootout, and there was an uprising, so I was supposed to meet Roone Arledge. You remember him, of course.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:14:06

Yes.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:14:07

So I was supposed to meet him to confirm the job offer for this show where I'd be a correspondent. And it didn't happen because of Waco, but I remember sitting in his office and there was this huge poster up there with all of the famous people, all of the anchors and show hosts and everything and thinking I'd probably be, like a quarter of an inch big in this picture at the bottom if I came here. Whereas in Canada, I get my full face. So do I really want to start all over again? Because when I worked in Ottawa, we work basically from nine in the morning until nine at night, six days a week, and that's when there wasn't a big constitutional or a big leadership thing happening. So do I really want to start over? So I decided no, I didn't. Anyway. And I left Canada.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:14:51

When I'm thinking back to that era of ABC, and they're talking about a show called Turning Point, I'm also thinking, but don't they already have 20/20?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:15:00

I just worked on TV. I never really watched it. But yes, there's all kinds of- there's 60 Minutes, there's Dateline, there's all kinds of shows, but I don't think Turning Point lasted very long.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:15:12

There was also a Canadian at the helm there, Peter Jennings.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:15:15

Yeah, and then he died. He died of cancer, I think. I never met him. I met the guy who then went to- who was filling in for him because it was during the holidays and he was in the newsroom, and then he went to Fox and now he went back to MSNBC to do a streaming show and that didn't work out. And, yeah, it was all very heady. And they put me up in a hotel in New York, right on Central Park, and I was so impressed because it had the lights that came on under the bedside tables when you went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it was like, wow, luxury. This is like, amazing.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:15:51

You did a lot of shows at the CBC. You did a stint on Marketplace and a few others. Are there any that sort of stand out as being memorable or ones that you like a little more than others?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:16:01

Well, the ones that I liked are probably not the memorable ones, because I always liked stories about how the system wasn't working. So my favorite story was about the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is like terrible pictures. But I actually went to Lyon, which is where their headquarters are, and got the head of it to basically acknowledge that money is what makes the wheels turn there in terms of- it's supposed to be- It's the body that advises the World Health Organization of what does and does not cause cancer. And he says, oh, yes, the influence of money on our decisions is malignant. I thought, oh, that's a quote, because you're the body that's telling people what does and doesn't cause cancer. So anyway, I thought that was a great story and it did well enough, but there's no pictures to talk about what may or may not cause cancer. And so the one that was probably more memorable for viewers was we used to chase down a lot of bad guys, so we get lots of research and ambush them if required. And my favorite was there was a guy, let's just call him a crooked contractor, and we hid out. He wouldn't agree to do any of our interviews. So we basically, in the middle of winter, hid in a van outside of the house where he was expected to go and do a job. And we waited for him to arrive. And it was like hours and hours. And you're, like, dressed in your full winter gear and boots, and you've got the cameras ready and the microphones ready, and you're all ready to leap out. And then finally he arrives. And I chased him down and I said, how dare you give those people all that money? And I'm like, wait, how dare you take all that money from people? So of course, we only ran the one that made sense, but it was a little ridiculous. Yeah, Marketplace was a great place to work, and the people that I worked with were wonderful, and we grew the audience from very small to pretty substantial after a few years of- a couple years of being there. So it was a wonderful experience, but it wasn't really my kind of journalism. I like better stories that were- didn't have great pictures and didn't have moments of jumping out of vans.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:17:59

That's gotcha journalism, right?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:18:01

Yeah, some of it was really important, and I didn't want to do the stories about the nonstick lipstick and the puppy farms and all the stories that have been told a hundred times, because my goal in journalism is always to talk about things that people don't know, or to make people think about things. The show that I loved, that I first did after I got the offer from ABC, they said, oh, well, yeah, maybe you could do the show that we've been talking about for a year instead of going to ABC. And then it was called Undercurrents. And so for five years, I did a show called Undercurrents, which was sort of bringing an investigative lens to marketing and media and technology, and some of it's great and some of it's not so great. It was fun.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:18:43

So that's one I would record.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:18:45

Undercurrents? Yeah, oh, it was great. It was actually quite successful, but it didn't have anybody in the upper suites who basically wore it and saw a great career out of it, because we scared away advertisers and we were sometimes mean to other journalists. And I actually once interviewed my boss and said, how could you take an ad that would do that when it's not true? It wasn't approved in the upper channels of CBC.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:19:08

How do you look at how the news landscape has evolved in this country? We have Global and CTV, who will often talk about the economics of news and journalism. I'm not even sure we have enough reporters in the Ukraine right now. I can't even name if there are any, or if they're freelance, or if they're actually from CBC or CTV. Are we doing a good enough job to report the news in Canada?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:19:32

No, we're not doing- Mainstream media is in serious trouble. The newspapers are in trouble, the CBC, the CTV, Global, everybody is in trouble. And I think we're all feeling that. And I'm lucky to be the age that I am. I mean, I'd rather be 30. I'm lucky that when I was 30, and even when I was in my twenties. It was sort of the prime time of people wanting to get their information. And I'm not anti social media, I mean, that's where I get most of my information these days is by going online and trying to follow smart people that I trust. But it's expensive to send people to Ukraine or to send people anywhere.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:20:12

I mean, you sitting out in a truck, waiting for somebody, with cameras rolling. That sounds expensive.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:20:19

Not compared to sending someone to Ukraine with a bodyguard and a translator and a hotel. And also it's Ukraine, so it's part of the battle for Europe. So we're all paying attention, but there are so many stories that we don't cover. There are people, hundreds, thousands of people dying, starving to death, drought, there's so many issues that we're not covering and the only reason we do cover Ukraine is because of the importance that it seemed to have in terms of the battle for Europe and our military stance and all of the Ukrainians who live in Canada. So there's not nearly enough money to cover the stories that deserve to be covered, and I don't think we're covering them the way that we used to.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:20:56

When I hear people get in the face of journalists because you have a camera, or because you've shown up with a logoed vehicle, whether it's CBC, CTV or anything like that, and they say, well, you're just a part of the mainstream media, what are they saying?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:21:11

Oh yeah, it drives me crazy. I think that people should be able to criticize the media and I think that's good. I don't think it's nearly as bad, anywhere near as bad, in Canada as it is in the United States where this whole fake news, you can watch Fox television and there's like no basis in fact. So I think that you should be able to argue your point of view on whatever, but it needs to be based in fact. And that's at CBC, at the Globe & Mail, at CTV, they have people who actually have standards, and I think that that matters. But is that where people are getting their information these days? I think that obviously systems, institutions, not just the media, primarily not the media, have really let people down. And there's reasons that people are upset and can't afford to properly feed their kids and clothe their kids. I mean, there's reasons for that. But I do wish that there was more trust in media and I think there is more trust in media in Canada than there is in the States. I mean, we saw the reaction to the Lisa LaFlamme situation where she- I've written about how I don't think it was about the hair. I mean, not that that helped, and not that it's not an issue that when women get older that they become less valuable faster than men. But I think the real reason that she got out was because she was fighting for journalism. And she was standing up to people in suits who were saying, no, no, no, we're going to cut this, we're going to cut that, because that's what's required. And I'm in charge. You're not in charge. So I think it was a power struggle.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:22:40

In just a second. Getting fired, getting cancer, getting a podcast, and Wendy's reaction to all of it. By the way, the Women of Ill Repute are one of Canada's most listened to podcasts. And if your brand is interested in partnering with them for some podcast ads, you can reach Wendy and Maureen directly through their website womenofillrepute.com. There's more. There's always more, including a transcript of this episode if you'd like to read the rest of the show, at soundoffpodcast.com.


Mary Anne Ivison (Voiceover) 00:23:14

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Tara Sands (Voiceover) 00:23:14

The Sound Off podcast with Matt Cundill.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:23:27

What was your favorite election?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:23:30

Well, the big one. There were two, I suppose. One was just before- it was '84. So I was still in Quebec City and Brian Mulroney was coming along. And that was such a great story. All of the buses were at the brewery mission to load up the people to get them to vote. And I think that was my favorite. And so years later, when I was at CBC, we called the series The Old Man. I met a guy, Jean-Yves Laursilles, who was known as the Poodle when I was in Quebec City and a child, and he basically came forward and said it was all fake. I was paid to do this, I was paid to do that, and I was paid by the PQ to set up a party to run against them to make sure that they'd win in the next election. And he had saved all kinds of mementos to tell this story, and I'm sure that most of them were true, but it was also many, many, many years later. But I just thought it was somebody willing to tell the truth about what had happened in 1984. So that was a long time ago. The 1988 election, when I was in Ottawa, was fascinating. Like, now I look at the elections, there's no point in even going. Like, I was on the plane with Mulroney and with the other parties, but primarily with Mulroney, and it was kind of a big deal. And you would be able to actually talk to people who were in the crowd, or you'd be able to talk to protesters, or you'd be able to go into town and talk to people. And now you can't do that anymore. There's one pool for everybody, and everybody gets the same footage, and you get 25 seconds where you can shoot your stand up, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever, and that's it. So you don't have any access to anything that they don't want you to have access to. So I'm not sure that as an election reporter that it's much fun or very real anymore.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:25:15

Can you talk about- the day you found out you had breast cancer. What were your first few steps?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:25:22

Well, I kind of went into reporter mode, and maybe I became a reporter because it's my mode, but I felt a lump, and it was smallish and hard, and I thought, this is not normal. So I went for a mammogram that showed that there were all these weird caressifications and showed that there was something that could be a tumor. And so the lady at the hospital who did the mammogram basically said, it doesn't look good. And I said, well, why don't we not wait? Why don't we just do the biopsy? So I talked myself into talk to her into giving me a biopsy toute-suite, and got the results toute-suite. And so I knew pretty quickly that it was new in my heart without it being official that it was cancer. And I remember calling my husband, because it started off as just an appointment, and he was at work, and I was at work and squeezing in a doctor's appointment. And I remember calling him and him saying, oh, no, it's going to be fine, honey. And I said no. Liam. Like, really. I think I have cancer, and I need you to go, oh, shit, it's cancer, rather than saying, everything's going to be fine. And he was like, okay. And sure enough, it was. And yeah, it was all rather shocking, but I fairly quickly learned that I was- because there really are two camps. You can be in between for a while, but there are two camps. There are those expected to live, and there are those expected to die. And I knew that I was expected to live, and that makes a huge difference. So we had a six year old at the time, and it was weird because her two teachers- so she'd been in kindergarten where her teacher had had cancer, and then she was now in grade one where her teacher was on leave because she was being treated for cancer. Next door, where there was a cancer nurse. On the other side was somebody whose mother had died of cancer. And across the street there was somebody else who had some history of working in cancer. So it was kind of like cancer's around. I'm not going to die. Everything's going to be great. Cancer's everywhere. She was like, oh, okay, so cancer schmancer, like, it's everywhere. So we tried to keep it as that, even though I lost my hair and I went through treatment, and there was always sort of the lingering idea of, well, maybe things could go wrong. Maybe I could die. But we never really dealt with that. I pushed into denial pretty early, and it worked so hard.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:27:42

And now you've got a podcast with Maureen Holloway, who also has breast cancer, and I don't want to use that to dovetail into it. But the two of you have become friends, really, through a shared experience that wasn't exactly shared together at the same time.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:27:55

Yeah, I'm not sure that our friendship is based on that, because it's just one of so many similarities. I was an anchor on the National Fridays and Sundays and filling in for Peter a lot and doing other stuff, panels and interviews and stuff, which was great. And one of the things was the Sunday panel, and John Moore was a panelist and he's the CFRB morning guy and very opinionated and funny. So he was great. And at some point I said, you know, we should have dinner. And he was like, oh, dinner, yeah. And I'm going to invite Maureen Holloway because you guys would really hit it off. And we had the six of us had dinner. And it was like, by the end of dinner, it was just like, holy shit. We both started at CKFM. I mean, I started at Chum, but my first real job was as a traffic reporter at CKFM. Well, maybe it was at Chin, but one of my very first jobs was the same as hers. We both went to Ryerson. We both had breast cancer. We both have kids that are almost the same age. And we've had kind of these parallel careers. We're different. Like, she's a comedian and I used to be a serious journalist, so she's trying to teach me how to be funny. And we've started this podcast together. We've become very, very close. And the cancer thing, like, she saw me at Princess Margaret Hospital, the big Toronto Cancer Hospital, a few months after because she got cancer a couple of months after me, because I got mine, of course, in breast cancer month. Being very trendy.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:29:16

Which is October.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:29:18

October, yeah. So, yeah. Pretty- Yeah. So anyway, we didn't meet during that, which is too bad because it's really nice to be able to talk to other people who are living the same crisis as you are.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:29:30

How's the podcast experience so far? How do you look at it? You're 15 episodes in. I've already completely disclosed that I produced the show, but what's the experience been like through the first 15, 16 episodes?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:29:41

It's turned out to be both more wonderful and more horrifying than I thought in terms of the- and I'm sure Maureen would say the same. We've learned a lot, much of it, thanks to you, Matt. But it's a lot of work because up until recently, we did all of the chase. We did all of the research, we read all of the books. Maureen records everything, sends it off to you. We do a newsletter on SubStack, which is a lot of work. We write the show notes that go on the website, and we've hired people. So now we have someone who is helping us with the chase. We've hired somebody to help do our website, we found a photographer. So it's a lot of work, especially now as we're going weekly and we're not making any money.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:29:41

Yet.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:29:41

So we're massively successful and we have a hugely influential audience, but it's just been the work has been overwhelming. So now our next focus is on, well, how do we actually pay for this so that we can continue to grow, I hope. But it's been a wonderful experience because a lot of these people- I don't know, like, Mary Walsh was one of- the comedian, was one of the first people that we did, and I was always somehow a little bit intimidated by her and found her a little scary. And then, even while admiring her. And we interviewed her, and she's just so warm. I mean, she fights, she fights like the devil. But just so many people, we haven't invited any people I would call assholes on to the show. They're all women who have fought for stuff. So it's been like a real mix of people that we don't know, people that we do know, and to have these really meaningful conversations and, like, a lot of chuckles. A lot of chuckles, which is what Maureen brings to the table more than anything, is let's get people to be real and laugh. So it's lovely.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:31:25

So in the very first episode of the podcast, you talk about your departure from the CBC.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:31:30

Oh, here we go.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:31:33

I don't know that you can get through an interview without having to touch on it a little bit.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:31:37

No, it was extremely painful, and it was years ago, but it's important.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:31:42

It feels weird, and it felt weird at first because of, I guess, how it was reported. In some publications it said you had retired, and so it felt off. And then what happened at Radio Canada in Quebec really makes it super weird in that what they did on the air had no repercussions, practically, except for an apology, and what you did in a meeting is the end of your time at the CBC.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:32:08

Yeah. So I obviously have spent a lot of time thinking about this, just so people know. Basically what happened was it was during COVID and I was at home, and I was on a phone call, and George Floyd had just been murdered by the police in the States. It was a huge issue. And so we wanted, obviously, to talk about that. So we were doing a panel, and somebody who was going to be on our panel, she ultimately wasn't because of what happened, somebody who was going to be on our panel had written about how she was called the n word all the time. I was outraged. I just thought that this is crazy that a reporter in Canada can be called that. And so we were kicking around the idea of how we were going to handle the panel and what was going to be the focus and so on and it was a long conversation. And at one point, I actually, instead of saying N word, I used the whole word because I was outraged and I should have, but didn't, realize that people want that word banished because it hurts them. I never meant to hurt anybody. And as soon as I realized that I had hurt people by using the whole word, I apologized on the phone call. I apologized publicly afterwards. And at first CBC was like, maybe we can get through this. And I thought, well, I've been here for 40 friggin' years. Surely an apology and a punishment and whatever, surely we can work this out. But I was also very expensive, older, and the CBC was going through a number of accusations by its own staff of systemic racism itself and wanted to cleanse the palate. And basically, I think they used me, they used me as a, well, here, we're going to throw her to the wolves, so therefore we're clean, which I didn't think that was fair. And then it came out that the whole Radio Canada thing, that it came out that two years earlier we were doing a piece on Bill 21, which is the law in Quebec that prohibits people in Hijabs to be teachers or any position of authority if you work for the government. And I thought that this was wrong. And I had worked in Quebec and the N word was commonly thrown around there. And so I wanted in a group of our producers, there were five or six of us, I wanted to talk about that word and how it's used in Quebec and how there are different views in Quebec. And I talked about how a book by Pierre Valiere, who is a FLQ- he's long dead, but he was a leftist socialist writer who tried to compare how, you know, Quebecers, Francophone Quebecers were the real underdogs. And so he used, in the English translation and in French, he used the whole word in the title. And so I used the whole word in the discussion of this. But I was basically trying to argue that there is a different approach to racism, shall we call it, in Quebec, and a different approach to using that word in Quebec. So anyway, so that came out again. And then CBC was like, whoa, so you shouldn't have used it then, you used it again a year and a half later, when this woman said that she was called this word and you used the whole word. And so what are we going to do now? And so they basically threw me under the bus. And then the whole N word thing became a huge issue in Quebec at the Universite D'Ottawa, and with hosts at CBC, journalists at CBC using the word they thought in supportive ways, but in ways that were not seen as supportive by many others. And it became an issue. And so I don't think that the word should be thrown around. I do think it should be used carefully and I do think that I have learned even more through my experience that there is no proper- I don't think there is a proper context for using it. If it hurts people, just don't use it. So I'm fine with that. CBC and Radio Canada came down with somewhat different positions on that. I could argue against both of them pretty easily, but I don't want to be positioned as somebody who thinks that Radio Canada has it all right and CBC has it all wrong.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:35:56

I like that answer. I want to talk a little bit about making that transition post-CBC into podcast, because it almost feels like you can wash off a number of the rules that you have when you get behind the microphone. And listen, Maureen has been doing the sort of comedy side of behind the microphone for so many years and then the two of you team up. I mean, it must have felt weird getting behind the microphone with her and recording content.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:36:23

Well, we've had a number of arguments between friends. We always end up getting closer, I think because we are kind of joined at the hip in so many ways. But yeah, it is weird. Like we've joked that our podcast opening line is a comedian and a journalist walk into a bar. Hahaha. But then what? Like we try and find interviews where people can talk, which on social media, a lot of producers that I worked with, they would say, oh yeah, no, I booked so and so and they're great. And then they'd come in and they'd be like, uhhhnyeahnuhhh, and you couldn't understand anything they said, they speak so slowly. They were terrible because they talked to them online. They hadn't actually spoke to them as people. So on the podcast, we need to make sure first that people are okay having conversations, not just doing interviews where you have a three sentence answer, and that they're able to laugh at themselves or laugh at what is going on around them and to have a sense of humor. So I am learning a lot from Maureen about how to approach reality with a sense of humor and I think she's learning a lot from me on how to talk to people about stuff that matters in a way that is not the way that she would approach it. So I think if it were two journalists having a podcast, it would probably be boring. If it were two comedians having a podcast, it would be something else with a limited audience. But I think with the two of us sort of bouncing off of each other, learning from each other, approaching things in different ways, I think it's actually really good. She says about her own podcast.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:37:48

It's not just a podcast, though, that you've jumped into. Because I know people are thinking, oh, good, here's a promotion for another podcast that I have to listen to. And I only have time to listen to about five or six of them a week, and then I'm really sort of out of audio space. But what I really love is your writing and your weekly contributions that you put out through SubStack. I mean, listen, you've been writing for a long time. I've seen some of the stuff you've penned in newspapers. I've seen some of the other stuff you've written. But now you've got your own thing on SubStack where we can stay in contact with you and we don't have to listen. We can just read.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:38:18

Yeah. Which has also been an interesting experiment because I really like to write. I think I'm a very good storyteller. I'm not a classic writer for television. Like, Linda McIntyre wrote books and wrote scripts all the time and won awards for writing stuff for the Fifth Estate. I never won any awards for writing, because I think I connect with people in a different way. But I love writing and I love storytelling and on SubStack we've been able to do that. So telling all kinds of stories because- I don't know whether it's because I'm no longer at CBC or whether because I'm now in my 60s, that I just- I'm not ashamed of anything anymore. I'm not wearing a lot of trauma anymore. I think that we are who we are and we need to like, there are good people and bad people and I'm hoping that only good people will come on our panel. That's all whom we're inviting. But obviously that's discretionary to me and Maureen. That's what we think are good people. But yeah, I've loved writing for SubStack and I tell all kinds of all kinds of secrets there, and I think both of us do there and on the podcast, because I'm not really a big keeper of secrets anymore.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:39:28

I do have one question about windsurfing I want to ask.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:39:31

Which is not very "in," apparently, anymore. Like, I think John Kerry may have lost his leadership battle for president in the States because he was a wind surfer, but it's like way beyond that. Nobody windsurfs except old folks, they're all into like, foiling and winging and kiting and everything. But I'm still windsurfing because I'm ancient.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:39:48

I learned in 1984 in France how to windsurf and I really loved it. But I mean, the sport's a bit of a pain in the ass because you got to put the board on top of the car and then you got to drive the board with the sail, and the sail is big, and then you've got this wishbone thing which may not exist anymore. And maybe the whole technology has changed.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:40:04

Yeah, the technology has changed. It's now down to a board, a foil, and then you blow up your wing and you throw it on your back. You throw it in the back of the van and off you go. The only problem is the foil is like, to me, what looks like a razor blade that comes out the bottom of- it's 3ft long that comes out the bottom of your board. And then there's a T on the bottom and you rise up out of the water and you go like smoke. And you hardly need any wind to get you going. And it's great until you get whiplash, which is what I got, learning how to do that. And other people get stabbed by the foil. But I mean, wind surfing is dangerous too, so I've decided to stick with what I know until I can't.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:40:42

I got blown out to sea many years ago, and the rescue involved a helicopter and a bunch of other things. Yeah, that was very exciting. But it wasn't easy. So is the sport now easier where it's not going to be as hard on your triceps and it's not as hard on the body anymore?


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:40:57

No, it's really hard. And the better that you get and the faster that you go, the more dangerous that it gets. And so now going out in eight or ten knots is like playing mini golf. I have no interest. It's only when it's in 20 or 30 knots that I'm really interested. So this is why I'm going to Lavantana in Mexico, Baja Mexico, in a couple of days. I'm an addict to speed and all of that. And I'm good for a layperson, but I'm terrible among my peers who are really good.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:41:24

That's awesome. Wendy, I think I got it all. Thank you very much for being on this podcast.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:41:29

So this is it? There's no other nasty questions? Well, there wasn't really any nasty ones.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:41:33

I'll tell you what, we can talk- let's talk ill of some people. Let's talk ill. We can start with John Moore, but we can also move over to Mark Kelly.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:41:41

Mark Kelly? Oh, no. He's a sweetheart. And so is John Moore.


Matt Cundil (Host) 00:41:44

Wendy, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.


Wendy Mesley (Guest) 00:41:46

Yeah, lovely to talk to you. And thank you for all your help with our podcast, because we were babes in the woods.


Tara Sands (Voiceover) 00:41:46

The podcast is written and hosted by Matt Cundill. Produced by Evan Surminski. Social media by Courtney Krebsbach. Another great creation from the Soundoff Media Company. There's always more at soundoffpodcast.com.


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