Barbara Frum (née Rosberg) was an important radio and television broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). She was born in 1937 in Niagara Falls, New York and grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the eldest of three children. Frum attended the University of Toronto and received a BA in history in 1959. In 1957, she married Toronto dentist Murray Frum and they had two children, David and Linda, and adopted a third, Matthew, an Indigenous boy.
After graduating from university, Frum became involved in volunteer work in the community and freelanced for the Toronto Star. In 1971, Frum rose to prominence on CBC Radio as host of As It Happens, a program which uses telephone interviews to broadcast the experiences of witnesses to news events, and human-interest stories. Throughout her time working on the show, Frum was credited as a well-informed, tough but fair interviewer.
Frum continued to host As It Happens until 1981 when The Journal was created to follow The National on CBC TV. Frum and Mary Lou Finlay were its initial hosts. The Journal was a feature-based news show that looked deeper into the daily news than the typical reports on The National. Frum’s interviews were the highlight of the show and she soon became the show’s primary host. Some of Frum’s notable interviews on The Journal included conversations with Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela.
Perhaps Frum’s most controversial moment on The Journal came during coverage of the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989 when she refused to say that the incident was an attack on women and feminism. “Why do we diminish it by suggesting that it was an act against just one group?” she said.
During her career, Frum received four ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) Awards. She also won the National Press Club of Canada Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian journalism in 1975, and was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1979.
Frum lost her battle with chronic leukemia on March 26, 1992. She was initially diagnosed in 1974, but kept her illness quiet during her career. On the evening of her death, nearly the entire broadcasts of The National and The Journal were a tribute to her career and accomplishments. Following her passing, The National and The Journal were combined into one program. Frum’s memory was honoured by the CBC when it dedicated the Barbara Frum Atrium at the new CBC broadcast centre in Toronto in 1993. As well, a branch of the Toronto Public Library was renamed in her honour.
Frum’s daughter Linda is now a member of the Senate of Canada while her son David is a prominent political journalist and commentator in the U.S. David Frum served as a speechwriter for U.S. president George W. Bush.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: