Monday, October 19, 2009


An Easy Guide To Memories

I just visited my past. And Harvey Currell's book Byways and Bylines also gave me some ideas for weekend jaunts. which he did for many Torontonians for 49 years.
Of course I'm prejudiced, having worked and yarned with Harvey since 1958 when I was a kid reporter and he was the Suburban Editor of the Toronto Telegram who didn't think I had done that great a job transcribing a story from one of his staffers.
Let me give you a snapshot of Harvey that I wrote in 2003 when he and I were still columnist colleagues on the Toronto Sun. You can find it now on the back cover of his book.
I wrote: "If you poke around the province's back roads and dusty parts, you've likely been turning every Wednesday, since The Sun rose like a phoenix from the Tely's ashes, to the Country Trips column by a great Ontarian, Harvey Currell, the explorer and story-teller.
"This month marks the 45th anniversary of his column since they began in The Telegram in 1958. Fans know that if you read Harvey you get to the pretty nooks before the crowds.
"He's a true scout, anxious to see what's over the next hill, happy to report back. He started as a Tely office boy in 1939 but a century before he would have signed on as a cabin boy to sail the Seven Seas and sing about their mysteries.
"His first column revealed Rattlesnake Point before it became the conservation area outside Milton. He hiked the Bruce Trail with Robert Bateman before it was the Bruce Trail and Bateman was a world-famous wildlife artist. And he wrote about unknown petroglyphs near Stoney Lake that are now the heart of a park that draws visitors from around the world...
Harvey has the kind of easy writing style that flows from the keyboard if you've been writing your facts and thoughts for eight decades. (He's 87 and sold his first story at 8.)
Lean prose, the kind you develop when as a teenager trying to make the city staff you rode streetcars daily from service clubs to courts to council meetings to Legions, tirelessly gathering a few paras from each for next day's paper.
Harvey doesn't dwell on the changes in newspaper coverage but it really hit home for me. After all, 25 years later I was the Tely's Suburban Editor, his post for many years. Some reporters mentioned in this book still worked for me. But the Tely no longer had the space or inclination to cover all the meetings that big newspapers routinely did up to the 1960s. Smaller newspapers may still cover most community events but a service club today couldn't expect a big city reporter to show up for lunch unless they have a rare and major speaker. (When I started, this is how we ate for free.)
I enjoyed Harvey's book because for 13 years our work history intertwined. And it was during the death knell of one of the country's best newspapers, a real innovator in one of North America's toughest news towns. Yet younger journalists will appreciate his description of his apprenticeship in the journalism school of the streets. Then there's his description of army life in World War Two. And finally, 32 updated trip columns.
They're the icing on the cake for readers who really don't care about Harvey's life in newspapers or the army. Anyone who wants to go on one of those valuable family traditions, the weekend afternoon drive, will get enough ideas from this book to justify the humble $20 cost. In fact, I suspect some readers would have wanted more on trips and less on his journalism.
Harvey had a second career after his "life-time" job at the Tely ended. He became a thoughtful PR "flack" for the Etobicoke school board. And I imagine that older teachers and politicians in the west-end will be interested in his view of the school brass of the giant borough who were not exactly shy individuals.
You can buy Harvey's book at the excellent west-end store, The Bookmark, 2964 Bloor St. W. (416 233-2191) or you can phone Harvey at 416 621 2451. He may actually be there. He hasn't written the trips column for several years but he does spend a lot of time at his beloved Lake Josephine, which is still a retreat so private there's no electricity. Which suits him just fine.

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