Meet Shelley Ambrose

Shelley Ambrose_681


The voice on the other end of the line is distinctive. Decisive. No nonsense.


“Bizarrely, I do not have a moment in my life where I thought that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do or get what I wanted to get because I’m a woman. But it is true that at a lot of meetings I attend, sometimes I’m the only woman in the room. So I’m not saying the world has evened out.”


The voice belongs to Shelley Ambrose, head of The Walrus Foundation and publisher of The Walrus magazine, a job she’s held for nine years.


“Until I became the executive director of The Walrus Foundation, I hated public speaking, I hated being behind the microphone. I do a lot of it now because I have to; I’m the voice and the face of the Foundation. I learned to get over it.” Does she enjoy being out front and centre? “I wouldn’t go that far. My job is hard.”


Enormous challenges

“When I got here the magazine was close to bankrupt. Its survival was hourly. It’s an unusual animal, The Walrus. There’s a lot of conflict, a lot of disruption in the media world. In 2007, we went from $1.5 million in advertising annually to $400,000 overnight. There have been huge, huge, huge things we’ve had to deal with.”


Huge is not something that frightens Ambrose. Earlier in her career, she was responsible “for every aspect” of CBC Radio and Television coverage of the Queen’s visit to Canada in 2002. That included handling the Royal Highnesses, their entourage, 800 guests, security, protocol, and more. In 2006, she was one of the organizers, in both Toronto and New York, of then-President Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday celebrations, raising a cool $23 million for the Clinton Foundation.


Work ethic

She’s also worked closely with Canadian media stars past and present, such as Peter Gzowski, Pamela Wallin and Peter Mansbridge. She was a producer on CBC Radio’s Morningside, in its heyday, with Gzowski as host. She was also his assistant, compiling several editions of the Morningside Papers—collections of letters and essays that listeners sent to the program—and organizing 120 golf tournaments across the country to raise money for literacy.


She cites Gzowski and Wallin—“still a dear friend”—as the hardest-working people she’s ever met. She comes across as a pretty hard worker herself. “I am. I’m work-oriented.”


Women and leadership

“It’s not a mystery that when you work a lot, you probably end up leading something.  The women who end up running stuff generally have to make some choices. I’m not saying that’s fair or unfair. I’m saying that’s reality.” She uses herself as an example. “I’ve never taken a maternity leave. I’ve never gone on vacation for longer than two weeks.” Then adds, “I’m not saying there shouldn’t be mat leave and people shouldn’t take it. It’s a reality that these things impact your work life. They just do. Those are really difficult conversations.”


“Decisions are made by people who show up. I don’t think there’s any secret sauce to women in leadership. It may be a sad message, but you have to work really hard. You can’t legislate that into being.”


There’s another conversation that’s central to Ambrose’s existence. “I care about Canada. I care about great Canadian institutions whether they’re cultural or environmental. In 2016, we have 31 Walrus Talks booked across the country. I’m in every province and all three territories every year. That connection with the people and the regions is very real.


“The thread of my entire career is the Canadian conversation.”



Shelley Ambrose’s reading recommendation

“There are books that I read over and over again, like Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. I probably read that book once a year. He’s a Western writer, from the Prairies, an American with some roots in Saskatchewan. He won the Pulitzer Prize for a different book, which I also like, but I prefer Crossing to Safety. It’s a story about friendship, about a younger couple and an older couple. ‘Crossing to safety’ refers to being dead. What will you take with you? Anyway, read it!”


The book recommended here may be purchased at :






Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner