“I constantly look back at memories and experiences and I would say that every single experience growing up, whether I was a young student in elementary school or university, shaped where I am today.”

Heather Butts

As the years roll by, students come and go, fresh faces join and graduates venture out into the world. Since Humber College was established in 1967 and the University of Guelph-Humber in 2002, the community has formed lifelong bonds with more than 300,000 graduates.

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “What’s everyone up to now?” Some may have changed careers, started a family or even moved to another country – life’s full of surprises.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the class of 2010 from the communication and media studies program at the UofGH. Among them is a graduate who not only made her way up in journalism but has become a familiar face on weekend evenings for many Canadians. We sat down with UofGH graduate and weekend anchor for CTV National News, Heather Butts, to hear her story.

Heather Butts, the journalist, is very much like Heather Butts, the person. She has always had a passion for speaking and engaging with others. Butts says she doesn’t only enjoy conversations and sharing people’s stories but also believes deeply in the importance of communication for learning and education. To her, communication is knowledge, and knowledge is incredibly important. 

In her everyday life, Butt’s role as a journalist reflects her natural self. Butts says when you see her anchoring the national news, you’re not seeing someone putting on an appearance – you’re seeing the real Heather. 

“I am who I am on the desk, I smile at the end of my show and I really hope that shows to people that it’s sincere,” Butts said.

Picture of Heather Butts and Sandie Rinaldo at the CTV National News desk.
Photo provided by Heather Butts.

With all this passion for communication, it sounds like journalism was always a natural fit for Butts. Surprisingly, she first didn’t imagine herself becoming a journalist.

Butts has always been involved in sports, even serving as captain for all her teams while growing up. She also had an amazing time performing and emceeing events from a young age, which established her as a leader in the classroom. With her strong involvement in sports and her confidence in being on stage, Butts initially thought she would perhaps be a gym teacher or even attend law school.

Her journalistic journey just truly began to unfold during her time at Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, where she grew up. It was there that she started doing more video production projects, including the creation of the “CCI Newscast.” As Butts took the role of sports anchor for their project, she then realized she could blend her love for athletics, passion for storytelling and ability to ask questions into a career. It was Butts’ mother who encouraged her to give journalism a try – advice that would set her on the path to becoming the journalist she is today.

At the UofGH, Butts landed her first job in journalism, with the Humber Hawks varsity operations department. While working as a Hawk, she actively covered one of the most traditional college athletics departments in the country, being frequently on the mic providing game recaps and reporting on the varsity department.

For many students, on-campus jobs are just a temporary opportunity to make some extra money, but for Butts, it was a life-changing experience. “I will be forever grateful,” she said with a nostalgic look in her eyes. This opportunity allowed her to test the waters and explore her identity as a journalist.

Butts particularly highlights Jim Bialek, the former manager of athletics/sports information director. As a young student journalist, she didn’t realize how much Bialek’s support would shape the career she has today. He not only gave her the opportunity to interview big names in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association but also taught her the importance and responsibility of journalists.

Working at the varsity operations department was an invaluable learning experience for Butts. She mentions it as a very positive and safe space for students to learn, try new things and test their capabilities.

“I owe much gratitude to Jim. Doing those athlete articles, bios and sports reports, showed us that while the athletes, coaches and games were important, so were we, the reporters. Jim was incredibly supportive and encouraging of all of the students who worked for him,” Butts said.

Pictures of Heather Butts during her time as a University of Guelph-Humber student.
Photos provided by Heather Butts.

While Bialek helped Butts get her foot in the door, broadcast professor Joy Crysdale provided guidance, support and words of wisdom that Butts will never forget. Crysdale advised her to get an internship in a small town, where she would gain unmatched experience. Butts applied to every small-town TV station she could find in Ontario and beyond, eventually landing an internship at Chex Television in Peterborough, now part of Corus Entertainment.

Butts is thankful for Crysdale’s advice. She said working at a bigger station has its advantages, but she believes going to small places allows more hands-on opportunities and chances to try new subjects. 

Butts started her internship in February 2010, and a month later, she was on the east coast, working in the media zone of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics. Helping to coordinate international media with international athletes in Whistler, she gained confidence and saw what it’s like to work in the real world.

After the internship, Butts’ career took many different directions. As a CTV national anchor today, people don’t see the challenges she faced to excel in the industry. Moving to six different places in just 10 years, including stops in Ontario, B.C. and Nova Scotia, Butts missed many family events and gathering with friends. But, if she could travel back to the past, she wouldn’t change anything. Change, she said, has been constant in her life, allowing her to have many incredible experiences.

“The experiences that will shape your life won’t always be positive, but you can learn from each and every single one of them. It can be tough to pass things up, but I always try to focus on what I do get in return,” Butts said.

Picture of Heather Butts covering the Pan American games.
Photo provided by Heather Butts.

Reflecting on Crysdale’s advice, Butts mentions that despite covering unique events like Hurricane Dorian or flying with the Snowbirds, reporting on local communities resonates with her the most.

Her time working up in Barrie with CTV was a memorable one. Butts covered tragic stories that no community should go through, but she also reported on fun and fascinating stories that were really important to a very tight-knit community. She is grateful for that experience, as it showed her the importance of journalism in smaller communities.

“I’ve flown helicopters, I’ve driven Zambonis, but my favourite aspect of journalism is going into a small community and interviewing people at their doorstep, they have the best stories to share. It keeps people from being isolated and also keeps people informed and educated,” Butts said.

Despite her impressive resume and prestigious position today, Butts’ career path hasn’t been easy or straightforward. She recalls several devastating occasions where she was told she was a good candidate but someone else was a better fit for the role. Regardless of many challenges, Butts remained patient and continued to work hard, always ready for the next opportunity.

She acknowledges that it’s hard to stay positive in those moments, and it’s easier said than done. But she believes if you spend too much time focusing on the closed door behind you, you’ll miss the open one ahead. As cliché as it sounds, she recognizes that everything happens for a reason.

Picture of Heather Butts covering a story.
Photo provided by Heather Butts.

To students navigating post-secondary life today, Butts emphasizes the major importance of trying new opportunities. Whether it’s volunteering or helping out in your community, she believes it’s crucial to challenge your understanding of yourself and others.

“I think the value that you’ll bring to your own life, but also to the community and the people around you will be immeasurable. Offering up time and our capabilities to different community groups is really important,” Butts said.

She also highlights the importance of asking yourself two words: “Why not?” This mindset helps push you to your limits. Even though Butts has held many different positions in the newsroom, she admits she was never great at setting long-term goals. After every achievement, she would ask herself “What’s next?” and continue to work hard.

The young teenager who used to drive past the CTV News headquarters in Scarborough and think, “It would be really neat to work there one day,” had that memory flood back to her mind on her first day walking into the building.

“I constantly look back at memories and experiences and I would say that every single experience growing up, whether I was a young student in elementary school or university, shaped where I am today,” Butts said.

Picture of Heather Butts at the CTV National News desk.
Photo provided by Heather Butts.

From working at the Humber Hawks varsity operations department to being the face of CTV News on weekends, Butts’ journey has been nothing short of challenging and demanding. However, she takes pride in every difficult situation and sees each experience as a pivotal moment in her life.

Butts is part of a community of over 300,000 unique graduates of Humber and the UofGH. Each one has a different story, but they are all united by the “Humber spirit.”

If you know or want to learn about other Humber and UofGH graduates, follow us on our socials @shareignite.

Feature image courtesy of Heather Butts.

Do you want to learn more about other graduates? Check out graduate Kelly Boutsalis’ story as an Indigenous storyteller!

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