It’s no surprise that Sherri Aikenhead describes her life as a series of chapters. The former journalist turned public servant turned published author undoubtedly has an adventurous spirit, having lived and worked in three provinces while nurturing a 36-year marriage and raising three sons. But when Sherri discusses the trajectory of her story, these seemingly significant life changes do not come across as drastic—each was a natural progression resulting from recognizing a beneficial opportunity, trusting her inner guidance and taking a leap. The results of this self-assurance speak for themselves—and it all started with King’s.
In 1981, Sherri already had an acceptance letter from one of the country’s best journalism programs. Still, when the invitation to attend the Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) program at King’s arrived, the Fall River native knew she would stay in Nova Scotia.
“One of the most exciting moments of my young life was getting accepted to King’s because it was so competitive, and you really had to be a good writer,’ she says. “It was probably, in hindsight, the best thing that ever happened (to) me.”
Sherri still lights up thinking about her time at the university—the Foundation Year Program introduced her to a whole world of literature and ideas she wouldn’t have explored otherwise, and she had the chance to work with faculty—including Stephen Kimber, now MFA Cohort Director, and the journalism school’s first director, former Globe and Mail columnist George Bain. Pioneers of the program, they became mentors throughout her career.
“They really took an interest in every single student whether you were going into radio or broadcast or print,” she said. “(That’s) the value of going to a smaller university—it helps you develop individually.”
Her first journalism gig: writing obituaries.
“I started writing (obituaries) at the Daily News, my local newspaper, and thought that it was wonderful that I could get a summer job doing that,” she laughs.
Oh, and she also met her husband, Steve Warburton, BJ’85. After graduation, they headed to Toronto because Sherri was offered a job at a little political magazine: Maclean’s. “I was a very young staff writer at a national magazine right out of King’s,” she recalls. At Maclean’s Sherri gained exposure to national court cases—specifically a high-profile murder trial in Ontario. It piqued her interest in true crime and laid the foundation for a much larger project later on.
After a few years at Maclean’s, Sherri and her husband were recruited by the Edmonton Journal, so they packed up and moved to Alberta, where she spent seven years covering politics.
Returning to Edmonton from a stint in Ottawa, Sherri—now a mother of two—began to reevaluate her ideal work/life balance and where she and Steve wanted to raise their family. “You reach that point in your life where you’re like, are you ever going to go home?”
Sherri accepted a job at the Daily News in Halifax as the editor of the lifestyle section and eventually became the paper’s managing editor before deciding to leave the journalism industry in 2005. “Seeing the writing on the wall,” Sherri and her husband shifted to government communications before the financial crisis, which saw mass layoffs and newsroom closures nationwide.
Working in the province’s Justice Department revived Sherri’s interest in true crime and eventually inspired her first book, released in April 2023. Mommy Don’t tells the story of Karissa Boudreau, a 12-year-old girl from Bridgewater, N.S., who was murdered by her mother in 2008. In the days following Karissa’s disappearance, Penny Boudreau appeared on the news, begging the public to help find her daughter, but she was eventually arrested and charged with Karissa’s death. Sherri was working in the courtroom the day Penny pleaded guilty.
“I did not know she was going to plead guilty,” she says. “When she admitted to strangling her own daughter, I was shocked like everyone else in that courtroom … I came back to our offices and said, ‘I’m going to write a book about this one day.”
Researching the book, Sherri estimates she conducted around 30 interviews with Karissa’s family, former classmates, community members and the undercover officer on the case. As a mother, she said, “It was emotional … the reporting and the research of meeting all those individuals was probably some of the toughest (work) I’ve ever done.”
Sherri says it feels like her life has come “full circle.” Her niece Jenna Bain graduated from King’s with a Bachelor of Science in 2022 and she returned to storytelling and working with her King’s mentor, Stephen Kimber, to bring her book into the world.
“Journalism has always served me well and been my guiding beacon,” she says. “I love hearing people’s stories and helping them tell them.”