TORONTO — Peter Mansbridge was at the Toronto Raptors’ NBA Championship celebration in Nathan Phillips Square in June 2019 when gunfire broke out near the crowd of about one million people.
The retired CBC News anchor and chief correspondent didn’t hear the shots and didn’t immediately realize what was happening, as he stood in the media area watching people run from the scene.
But thanks to the deft onstage actions of Raptors’ play-by-play announcer Matt Devlin, who calmly told fans to remain strong and stick together during what he said was an emergency, the situation didn’t escalate into panic.
“His decision not to use the word ‘gun’ or ‘shots’ or anything like that could have made a difference between what happened, which was basically everything under control, to a disaster,” said Mansbridge, who retired from the anchor desk in July 2017 after nearly three decades with CBC’s flagship news program “The National.”
“It’s not like he had a lot of time to make up his mind what to say. I’ve been in situations where crowds have run rampant, out of control, because of something like that happening — and it’s not anywhere you want to be. And part of the reason it didn’t happen there was the way he handled it.”
Devlin, who was hailed as a hero in the incident that left four people with serious but not life-threatening injuries, is among those profiled in Mansbridge’s new book, “Extraordinary Canadians: Stories from the Heart of Our Nation.”
Mansbridge and co-author Mark Bulgutch wrote a wide range of inspiring stories from the perspective of 17 Canadians who aren’t necessarily well-known but have made a difference in their own ways across the country.
“I found in my career of having interviewed almost 20,000 people, probably in 50 years, that the most interesting people are those I didn’t know and I didn’t know of,” Mansbridge said in a recent interview from his home in Stratford, Ont.
Mansbridge said publisher Simon & Schuster Canada approached him with the book idea in summer 2019. He was busy travelling while making two documentaries for the CBC, so he suggested he pen it with Bulgutch, a former CBC producer.
The two authors wanted the book to reflect the diversity and identity of Canada today.
Mansbridge said the publisher suggested they write each story in the voice of the person they were profiling, which they were initially concerned about but later found to be “an enjoyable, new way of telling stories.”
They interviewed each person at length to capture their experiences in detail.
“We have a lot of pretty amazing people out there who do things not just for their own good, but for all of our own goods,” Mansbridge said.
“But also, at the same time, they tell us a little bit about our country and where we still need to go make it an even better country…. These people represent so much of that work that’s going on, and they do it in many cases on their own. None of these people were looking for publicity.”
The book begins with the story of Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitxsan First Nation and the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
The British Columbia-raised Blackstock is half First Nations (her mom was non-Indigenous, her dad was Gitxsan) and she shares her experiences of feeling caught between two worlds.
Health-care workers in the book include Prince George, B.C.-based Nadine Caron, who’s said to be the first Indigenous female general surgeon in Canada, and Moses Li, a Vancouver nurse who talks about working in places of conflict, and during COVID-19.
There are also many uplifting immigration stories, including that of Iranian-born Gina Cody, who became the first woman at Montreal’s Concordia University to earn a PhD in building engineering.
The Canadian Armed Forces are represented in several stories, including that of a Warrant Officer in the highly secret operations branch Joint Task Force 2.
Mansbridge also wrote the 2010 book “Peter Mansbridge One on One: Favourite Conversations and the Stories Behind Them.”
But he’s never written a memoir — something that might change.
“I’ve been asked quite a few times to that and I’ve always resisted,” Mansbridge said.
“Of late I’m thinking of actually doing it. But I love stories and moments, and so if I’m going to do one, it’ll be that. It’ll be a book of moments, or anecdotes that talk about specific moments.”