Thursday, December 23, 2021


 Every Christmas this card of thanks arrives, even as the numbers of cards I get dwindle because of e-mail, COVID and the circle of friends,  family and former colleagues shrinks because of the relentless calendar.

M. Luong it says in neat letters, and I wonder again if this is how Manh learned to print in engineering school back in South Vietnam before he fled with his family as Canada welcomed the boat people in 1979.

It is not merely a Christmas card but a magic carpet ride to a time that Canada and Sun readers should celebrate because we put aside the bickering of life to reach across the seas to rescue tens of thousands in a jungle ruined by war.

Luong is 80 now, his wife is 75, and the daughter who talks for them from their Scarborough home and drives 10 minutes each week to do their shopping was only nine when I found them along with her brother in an old military camp in Hong Kong that had been abandoned by the army.

The 43 boat people that I found on a crowded island far out from Malaysia in the South China Sea and in Hong Kong are scattered through the country that was one of the world's leaders in response to their plight. Contacts with each other have faded with years, and also with the Edmonton and Toronto Sun readers who contributed $300,000 to my columns to support them for a year

I took the Luong children and seven other kids to Bowmore Rd. school and the principal pooh-poohed the fact that they had not even a scrap of credentials and said he and the teachers would cope. It was not necessary for me to arm myself with the presence of the school board's vice chairman, Mary Fraser.

The school introduced them to the magical stories of Christmas. When I arrived to their battered home to tell them of Santa, there already was a tree.

It didn't all go in storybook fashion. The city inspectors said I had jammed too many people into the home. I phoned Art Eggleton, my friend who was the mayor, to yell at him, but nothing happened. Then Sun publisher Doug Creighton, with kindness that matched his smarts, said the readers had sent in enough money, and if they hadn't, the business office could scrounge. So I rented another house.

I purposely kept a very loose vigil on their doings. They had left behind death so columnists should give them some slack, even though there were squabbles to be fought when bureaucracy overflowed.

So now the cards is my only memento of the country being nice, along with the staff of the Edmonton and Toronto Sun. Our good will was fuelled by our readers and their dollars.

There was one wonderful moment years ago when a lovely lady now cared for by the Edmonton Sun asked me to her wedding. I met her on the island of Pulau Bidong, reached by a UN-chartered fishing boat that had to run the gauntlet of Malaysian gun boats. She had been a very sick 16-year-old propped up in the corner of a hut made from branches and used plastic wrapping paper. I plodded through questions while the humid heat over 100F made me dizzy. Sun photographer Norm Betts, so tough he.usually chewed nails instead of gum, said he had to leave so he could rest on the beach and not faint. I promised the father I would take them to Canada but they had to let her lie down.

I was too busy to go to her wedding, damn it. But I have the gracious memory to go along with that card from M. Luong which comes each December even as my mail bag shrinks.

Monday, December 20, 2021


I didn't expect to live this long. Now that I have, I wouldn't mind staying on the good side of the grass a bit longer. So I resent all the jerk anti-vaxxers who threaten that by poisoning the world around them,  and more importantly me.

We fine drivers for tarrying on our streets.  Try walking down the street nude or screaming inside a theatre, that is if you're lucky enough to get inside ones, and judges and magistrates and police don't hesitate to discipline you. 

Murder someone or smash them in the face and the fist of the authorities will mash you into a prison cell. So why then do we allow people to spread serious injury and even death by spurning inoculations and masks and reasonable behaviour? Why then do we let them hide behind shields of free speech and media freedom when their lies and distortions endanger the majority of us who have enough sense to accept the wonders of modern medicine?

So I would make anti-vaxxers pariahs and deny them service and punish them financially and legally unless the adults refusing to protect themselves against the virus show gilt-edged proof that they really would be harmed by being vaccinated.  I am told by doctors that most of their excuses are phonier than a three dollar bill.

Why am I so unforgiving about these stupid and dangerous people? Because I might as well wear a T-shirt with bull's eyes painted front and back when it comes to being a covid target. I am 85, a diabetic with a heart that likes to skip even when the music isn't catchy, and I have other problems which I would explain if you have an hour or two. I was twice in two hospitals for two months in the last decade. I only have a nice life these days because of medical geniuses like Bernie Gosevitz, Heather Ross and Diane Donat (and I apologize to other specialists for not mentioning them.)

I thought when I wrote a blog titled When Quarantines Were A Cough Away on March 28, 2020, that the virus grip on us was going to go away. I'm not going to dwell on what I said on which will come as a relief to my family, friends and readers who say I am always repeating myself.

It is true that there has been a thread of support for accepting needles and medicines and other health salvations woven through the 6,000 columns and editorials with which I charmed or lambasted Sun readers. And then there was all those blogs after they finally brought me down.  I even did it in the boardrooms when as a hospital board director I had a motion passed that if a staffer didn't get regular flu shots they couldn't work during an epidemic. I recall CBC commentaries where I campaigned against paramedics who didn't take such sensible precautions, even though I am a huge fan of paramedics.

It is not easy to get the bookings and the shots when you are older and use a cane and your computer skills are as bad as your eyesight. If it wasn't for two large and computer-literate sons, Mark and Brett, Mary and I would have found it a daunting marathon. I just got the booster shot by going to a cavernous room at Cloverdale Mall left behind by Target. Mary and I both used wheelchairs and Mark and Brett to run the maze like laboratory mice. Difficult to park even though we have a disabled parking permit. Had to line up behind younger people and kids despite being 85 and 86. Thought that if they had spent less time posting dozens of No Photographs signs they would have had more time to improve the process. And finally the needle from a young male nurse who was nice and efficient.

To summarize my three innoculations (and I confess needles don't bother me after 12 years of giving them to myself as a type 2 diabetic) there was no pain and no problems afterwards and if you clump together all the time consumed it took less time than the average funeral service.

Not that I limp into many funerals these days. And I fear not being able to do so in the future as viruses  have become the Heinz 57 fear of life.

Friday, December 17, 2021


 Mayor Mel used to speak with one eye on the audience and the other on the pen of reporters. After I realized he would say just about anything to get attention, whether he knew what he was talking about or not, I started calling him Supermouth in columns and in radio and TV commentary.

He hated it. But then his skin was as thin as his tongue was quick. Yet as a salesman of himself and whatever he was pushing at the time, he would take any media licking and just keep on ticking like a demented Timex.

Yet there were times over the 30 years I watched his antics and fact free outbursts when we would be alone in some quiet corner outside a banquet or formal occasion and we would chat pleasantly and I would listen to insightful and humble comments and feel again that inside that bombast there was a shy, smart gentleman who had woven a facade around him to drive to fame and fortune.

His few close friends like Paul Godfrey used to talk about how quiet and thoughtful he was in private but few outside of them and his family ever saw it. 

I've had a close relationship with more than a dozen mayors and Metro chairmen in five decades of journalism. They didn't just leave their names behind in tens of thousands of faded newspaper clippings but on expressways, buildings, pools, arenas and other municipal bricabrac. Famous without being notorious! But Mayor Mel stands separate from them all when it comes to scandal and stunts that would have caused ordinary leaders to implode their popularity and suffer ignominious defeat and exile to the forgotten.

He died at 88 with much of the bad stuff left out of the obits. His accomplishments were listed as his North York and then the amagalmated city exploded. But they all really were overshadowed by him just surviving all those years at the top of the game. Some times when you search for feats by leaders, you  should settle for just a few goofs in the countless day-to-day decisions that any mayor or president has to make that involve more than just a buck.   

Mayor Mel should have been captured in a book like the famous "Power Broker" one that brought down Robert Moses after he dominated the Big Apple for decades. Yet no realistic book or movie on him would ever be believed because he was larger than life when he wasn't tripping over his tongue.

I have years of close encounters with our complicated municipal history. I saw my first city council meeting in 1957, back in the days when City Hall was a major beat in newsrooms and reporters and pols spent more time together than with our partners. When I got married, city council gave me a movie camera, Phil Givens, who brought the Archer to the Square, came to the wedding, and Ken Ostrander who left his name behind on the jewelry chain advised on the rings.

We have had flamboyant mayors like Lampy (I have his collection of lapel pins.) We have had enduring leaders like Nathan Phillips who served longer than any other mayor (as detailed in the book I wrote for him. ) There was a major goalie, Donald Summerville, who died in a charity hockey game (we went to the Downtown Y together and also to so many Leaf games that I felt guilty and wrote speeches as payment.) There was the civil servant, Dennis Flynn, who worked up to the dais and had been a war hero, shot while parachuting into battle. There was David Crombie, as charming as he was clever. and Art Eggleton, decent and dependable. A grand collection of interesting people!

There were also municipal leaders who sued me and got me drunk and one that became my publisher boss. I gave them advice they followed and advice they hated and even ideas that became policy like eliminating fees for children to swim and skate. There were ones who couldn't stand me, which was understandable for a daily columnist,  and one, Leslie Saunders, once the world's top Orangeman when it was a powerful force, delivered a lengthy diatribe against me in a Metro council meeting because I attacked him when my father had been a friend and the family doctor. 

When I write about the passing of leading politicians, I recall the advice from one of the best of those municipal leaders, Godfrey, when he became my Sun boss. After I used to write the editorial, I would send a copy to the publisher who 99.99% of the time would never respond. Now this could be interpreted as trust, but I also suspected it meant that if I wrote something that was considered really stupid or got us into trouble like the time city council stopped city ads in the Sun, Godfrey could say he hadn't read it first. I had written about William Allen after he died and said that the former Metro chairman had a reputation for being "too clever by half" earning him the justified nickname of Wily Willy. Godfrey sent the draft back and said for heaven's sakes couldn't we just stick to being nice after a major politician dies because it's rather late then to recommend changes.

So I will not go on at length about Mel's faults and colourful history, about how Marilyn, his wife and the love-of-his-life, was convicted of shoplifting, and then there was her phoney kidnapping, and then there was his mistress and two illegitimate children, and the time he called out the army in a panic to handle a snow storm, and the time he kind of favoured a motorcycle gang.....but I will now stop because under him there was the rebuilding and growth of the city into the largest and most important in the country, which is more important than some of the strange stuff he said about Africa etc.

Mayor Mel became a success as a furniture salesman and made famous the Bad Boy nickname he gave himself for his retail empire. He came from very little to become a millionaire. There are some who might  compare him to a political huckster named Donald Trump who also played strange games with his hair, but Mayor Mel was sharp enough not to go broke. I recall Tony O'Donohue, who was once almost mayor, approaching him at a council meeting and asking if he could get a deal on some appliances. Tony was quite impressed with what he got until the salesman confessed that Mayor Mel actually made more money than usual on the deal because Mel hadn't had to pay him a commission.

I'm not sure because of the erosion of the killer news cycle that Supermouth today would last as long as he did. But he endured and became the first Supermayor when the suburbs merged with a central city which looked down on the 'burbs. So he must be honoured for all those years of mind-numbing meetings when he was a key participant. Just not sitting on the sidelines and yapping is what people do when they really care about life.

 It was Teddy Roosevelt who pointed this out at the Sorbonne decades before this malaise in our politics where most of us dislike and distrust our politicians but just sit in the corner and sulk instead. "It is not the critic who counts: nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit goes to the man who is actually in the arena who strives mightily..." 

Mayor Mel got into politics because his letter of complaint to the CNE was never answered. He hated being ignored and never grew to like the Ex even though it is the country's largest fair. He stayed in politics for 30 years and always said he was speaking for the little guy who too often was ignored. And the majority loved Bad Boy for it even when he was shooting off at the mouth. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021


 This picture shows a rare daytime appearance by an Editor filling in for the legend because I found it easier to hide in darkness to evade close scrutiny by tots who still might believe.  So it is that I was departing my home years ago watched only by my wife and one of my four grandsons, John Henry Francis. 
I love everything about Christmas so you won't find me saying humbug about any tradition from Silent Night to Saint Nicholas. And I've filled in for Santa from Cuba to Gwilliambury dressed in assorted costumes - even one in blue to mock Tories who said they were the source of all good things.
My love of the season is rooted in my first memories of life when I rushed after school to a tiny house in Chesley to listen to a brief broadcast from a magical toy land which resided on the fifth floor of something called Eaton's in the city where my two sisters and I lived efore we were orphaned as kids. Life in the town near Owen Sound wasn't great but that daily broadcast and the fact that my Dutch grandparents allowed a few festive trappings such as Christmas stockings eased what I remember as mainly a frozen ordeal.
It was my size that determined that I was seen as a likely Santa repacement when I survived into a newspaper job and a family. I had started small but ended up over six feet and flirting with 300 pounds. It helped when from time to time I also had a beard, which was useful when brats tugged away at the artificial one. Over the years I developed a reasonable ho, ho, ho and the forbearance not to be too upset when the child started leaking. 
I also learned it was best to operate briefly and at night to avoid older kids shouting out triumphantly that it is just Uncle John. There I was trudging in daylight in the snow outside my sister's farmhouse when one of the kids shouted out who I was because I hadn't bothered to change out of distinctive snow boots.
It went smoothly only about half the time no matter how careful I was. One terrible Christmas Eve I slipped out the side door so that my boys wouldn't see me in costume and found myself in the middle of an accident scene where a hit-and-run driver who was never caught had left a friend on his way to carols in a coma that finally ended in death.
When friends asked me to introduce their wisp of a daughter to the legend, I arranged to run through their dark backyard while ho ho hoing and ringing. Their older son wanted to see better so he switched on the floodlights. It startled me and I ran into a tree branch. I may have been quite ample and padded but it poked me in one eye, which turned ho ho ho's into yelps.
Unfortunately, it was only my first call that night . After sort of a recovery, I headed for another suburban street and was walking along it tolling a wreath of sleigh bells and shouting greetings when a cruiser stopped beside me and a young constable asked what I was doing.
I told him where to go in a lexicon of curses.The young girl in the home I was about to walk by shouted in dismay inside the picture window that the "cops were busting Santa Claus.'' Her father,  dean of social work at U of T but also the son of a beat cop in Edmonton, observed quietly that there really seemed to be no problem because it was obvious that a shouting angry Santa was taking care of things.
I wrote about it in the Sun. The first call came from the Toronto police chief who said he wasn't sure that he believed my column because surely he didn't have men that stupid on his force that they would stop a Santa on Christmas Eve walking down the middle of a street.
The Sun, being a newspaper that appreciated the finer things about urban life like a grand celebration of the season, used me routinely as Santa on public and private occasions, like handing out the Christmas bonus. Afterwards, a picture would dutifully appear of me and the smart alec cutline would always have some put down line that I really wasn't that cuddly.
Once the promotion gee whizzers decided to splash by buying sacks of candy canes and arranging for a carol sing at the CNE carillon. They found someone to play the carillon and hired ponies and a tiny stage coach for my grand entrance since there weren't any rental reindeer around.
I didn't fit with the canvas sacks of canes in the coach so I arrived on top. I jumped off with a theatrical flourish, which was a mistake,  because one of the big ornamental balls on the coach roof caught me in a very intimate part. It turned my hollering and ringing into something resembling screams. 
As I limped through hundreds of people trying to smile rather than grimace, ace Sun photographer Norm Betts snatched up a little boy and thrust him into my arms. "They're holding Page One so let's get a quick shot and I can get the hell out of here," he said. I shoved the boy back. He was my youngest son Mark, who wasn't sure what was going on but sensed he was being rejected by someone that was supposed to be nice. But I didn't want any office hassle about getting my son on Page One and a young newspaper really doesn't build circulation that way either.
So I grabbed another boy, Betts took the picture which ran on Page One, we convinced Mark that Santa really wasn't that bad, and the Downings handed out sugar canes for weeks to anyone who came near us.  (There was a strange echo years later when a man phoned asking for a favour because his son had appeared on Page One with Santa.)
I played Santa at press gallery parties at City Hall and Queen's Park and even in the underground garage of the Sun when it graced King St. And I tried to play it straight because if you slipped beyond the ordinary script kids got suspicious. I recall hoisting a child on my lap at the Sun and figuring out from the circle of parents that surely this was a Blizzard from the reaction of Christina and David Blizzard, two stalwarts from the early days. Except the child returned to them and said that surely Santa also worked at the Sun because "he knew my name."
The Santa gifts for the politicians were gags which were a little cruel so I wasn't supposed to write about them when we ran pictures later. I did get dragooned to wear that Tory blue Santa suit at the Legislature, where Conservatives reigned, rather than the Liberal red popularized in Coke ads. But I do recall giving the Lieutenant Governor a rubber dollar bill because under the Conservatives you really had to make your money stretch. And I gave hunting knives to the Premier and Opposition leader to protect themselves against their backbenchers.
Later over drinks when I had ditched the suit, a pipsqueak Tory MPP confided to a group of us that he was looking for Downing to kick his balls off because of the awful jokes about his party. "I'm from the north and we know how to handle jerks," he said. I said that I was Downing and I had been an editor in the Yukon and knew how to handle people who couldn't take a joke. He then saw that I was about twice his size and left.
I retired as a Santa imitation after I got a little tired of the routine and wanted to enjoy parties without having to change in some closet.
 I recall one party thrown by Sun founder Doug Creighton for a retiring police chief when on my trip home I was stopped at the usual fishing hole by a spot check. I interrupted the constable in his explanation of RIDE spot checks by saying I was the godfather of RIDE because I had passed the original motion at the Metro Citizens Safety Council to buy the signs for the experiment which had started life as Reduce Impaired Driving In Etobicoke before it became Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere.
The constable listened impatiently and said that I had passed the breathalyzer so I could stop boring him with my claim that I had started RIDE. The next day, a police commission member phoned to say that the breathalyzer must have been defective.
In the early days of  RIDE, two other couples rented a limousine with Mary and me so that we didn't have to worry about driving home from a Herbie fundraiser. On the way, we were pulled over at a spot check at the edge of Etobicoke and a rather obnoxious constable started yammering about RIDE and breathalyzers. I argued, pointing out that we were passengers in a limousine so we didn't have to worry about breathalizers. When Riki Turofsky, the opera singer, joined in rather theatrically, the cop snapped out lines about it being up to him to determine who blew into what. There were deliberate double entendre elements of "blow jobs" in what he said. So I wrote about it.
This embarrassed the police chief so much that he quietly ordered an investigation. I got a call days later from a senior officer ordered by the chief to report to me that they could find no constable who would admit to being anywhere near Etobicoke that night. I said to drop it and forget about punishment because I was sure that the guilty constable was so worried he would never get mouthy again.
A rare blotch on my annual grand adventures. I look back with smiles about playing Santa and all those Christmas parties and concerts and singing carols in a Baptist choir. Everything used to turn out fine when dusted with the nostalgia of the season. 
 I remember thinking I had to indoctrinate the boat people in these joys after I was the official sponsor on behalf of federal immigration and Sun readers for the 43 Vietnamese we brought here in 1979. But their school and a church beat me to it. Before I even got talking about the season they had been given a Christmas tree for the humble living room I rented for them.
None of the refugees were Christian and they didn't known English and they depended on me for food and aid but it didn't really matter because the city was nicer than war and even the commercials talked about peace on earth good will to all. 
Then the city inspector said I had stuffed too many people into one house. So I phoned the mayor and yelled at him but nothing happened. Publisher Doug Creighton came to my rescue and said there was enough money from readers for me to rent other houses. Largest gift I ever gave as Santa and I wasn't even wearing the suit.



Friday, December 10, 2021


If our world hadn't been stampeded into stupid decisions where a few activists with a feeble grasp on real facts determine what is "appropriate" for the rest of us, it would be a source of great campus merriment that the name of Ryerson University is going to be changed by silly process.

Once again academic bureaucracy has run amuck, listening to the shrill and not the sensible. The country has been seduced by the horrible tales of residential school abuses for the vulnerable Indigenous pupils and the far less legitimate land grabs and environmental claims by First Nations. And the title for the university has become victim to the extremists hungry for a lazy victory.

 Ryerson has been around in various forms since 1948 when it was born in the fallout of the war. Over the decades it has educated nearly 200,000 and has nearly 50,000 students. It is 10th in the country in size and growing, if it can survive the inane leadership of the current administrators and student leaders. 

So if you have any sense and are contemplating changing a name honoured by 70 years of use by hundreds of thousands of alumni, students and staff, you ask what they think of the abandonment of the name of a great educator and churchman. Of course you would if you really wanted to know. But they really don't.

Compared to Egerton Ryerson's record as a missionary and friend in what was then called Indian tribes and his creation of a free school system along with a university, museum, art school etc........, those making the decision today to trash his name are pygmies (which is cultural appropriation, I suppose, but everything you say now is wrong according to some group.)

Yet they have cooked the books, just to make sure. I have been asked, along with the hordes in the giant Ryerson family, for a new name for a major university. Just to make sure there is a change, the name of Ryerson is not included as a choice.

Now I do have credentials when it comes to choosing a name. After all, I am a graduate, with a diploma and a degree, and I did write a history of the university, and I did teach there, and I did serve as student president, campus editor and member of the board of governors and various advisory committees, presidential search committees and task forces. I helped word the first historic plaques and I did interview all the pioneers of staff, students, premiers, principals and presidents of the first three decades.

By golly, there was even a time when they asked me to run the journalism department or whatever they call it now. Fortunately for Ryerson, and me, I liked being Editor of the Toronto Sun.

Once upon a time, Egerton Ryerson was so revered that even poor students contributed a few coins when they raised a statue to him. The notables of the city and provinc flocked to the unveiling and the prime minister advised the sculptor on the face. Now the statue has been trashed and no one has done anything about doing the same to the vandals who ripped down one of the more famous statues in the city.

One cause is politicians who cater to the shouters and the ignorant in their costly seduction of voters. This has all unfolded under Indigenous war banners which supposedly make it OK to claim that many white immigrants have been an evil despoiler of a peaceful heaven of a country and that past mistreatment of the latest Indigenous peoples justify special consideration when it comes to treatment and taxation.

Just about any stunt is pretended to be legal when it comes to blockades, spoiling what society used to treasure and PR preening. Our various boards like the one running the CNE have been conned into starting their meetings by saying it is all taking place on the traditional lands of various Indigenous groups, which ignores that half of Exhibition Place is landfill and indeed the city has at least eight square miles of landfill, including half the Island which was subject to Indigenous claim even though it was under water a century ago.

So they are trying to rename a university and change the name of major streets because of the real or imagined sins of white leaders but ignore that history is dotted with atrocities by every race. You don't have to search hard in Canada's history to find examples, which have been ignored when it suits their purpose. So no one suggests renaming Brantford because Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader,  had 40 slaves and was involved in massacres. And there are other examples from when settlers feared the savages. 

Where do you stop and start when it comes to paging through history? Archaeology, the magazine of the respected Archaeological Institute of America, in the last issue reminded readers that people were living in North America "up to 23,000 years ago." Why the petroglyphs north east of Peterborough are a mere thousand years old, which certainly beats a lot of First Nations claims. and it has been made a world heritage site. Tracing tribes from several hundred years ago to those that were here thousand of years ago becomes rather difficult, especially when it was common to try to kill their neighbours. Just try to ask the Hurons.

So there are hidden agendas when it comes to lifting the carpet of the past. to trumpet about real or imagined grievances. Which means rigorous scholarship is needed when the claims are to historic rights and wrongs to justify special deals. Just who really was first when the proof abounds in cave painting and glyphs that migration was an endless trek from country to country to island to continent for countless centuries.

My father came from England in 1879 and my mother from Holland in 1905. Isn't that long enough for me to think that I am the equal to any Canadian when it comes to how I am treated by the rest of the country? I was the official sponsor of 43 Vietnamese boat people who came here in 1979. Isn't that long enough or are they always supposed to put Indigenous claims first. 

But back to the latest giant of history to be sacrificed on the altar of the few lazy activists looking for publicity rather than facts. The issue, they say, is that Egerton Ryerson created the infamous residential schools where children were ripped from their parents to be educated as proper cogs in a white society. A strange charge to make against a provincial educator who was dead before the federal residential schools really got going. But then the educator was also a church leader who believed that everyone was entitled to all the benefits of being saved again as a good Christian. All people were equal before his God. And of course he was terribly wrong when he talked approvingly of residential schools because just look at those evil institutions like Upper Canada College and Eton and Harrow.

It doesn't help with the shrill that Christian missionaries are out of favour these days. So my mother and my aunt as Toronto Bible College grads bringing medical help to our poor or to Africans just were manifestations of misguided white supremacists. And you know that awful Egerton Ryerson started as a missionary living with the natives on the Credit. And his closest friend was Indigenous. He's suspect because he was one of those stern Methodists who believed in the Golden Rule. Besides, what kind of a name is Egerton anyway. 

Once upon a time, academia wrote approvingly that how fitting it was that Howard Kerr thought as the first principal that Ryerson was a great name for his makeshift school.  After all, Ryerson believed in practical education and observation and struction on how to do real work. He even built his own skiff. What kind of a role model is that in an age where students have to be taught carefully to avoid any controversy that might lead them to thinking that it is all right not to think that the majority or the woke proponents are always right.

Ryerson is a great name for a school, that is if it still intends to educate women and men to cope with life in the real world and not just accept that there really is only one way to look at anything.

Monday, December 6, 2021


The cliche goes that behind every great man stands a great woman. A variation was that some times there was a surprised woman. It certainly wasn't true here.
Too many of us have forgotten in the nostalgia about the Toronto Sun celebrating its 50 years of battles in a tough newspaper town that the wonderful charming brilliance of its founder Doug Creighton was rooted in the smiling support of a wife who was often the smartest in the room. 
Marilyn moved easily through the decades, from the 1950s and 1960s when the lanky police reporter was liable to show up at any hour with a bum or the Leaf captain to the heady years of PMs and movie stars courting the attention of a husband who rode his great personality to power.
Too often obituaries when an old friend dies are filled with personal anecdotes rather than how remarkable they were. I recall a funeral at Beth Tzedec when my neighbour said as yet another speaker droned on about their past that what he really wanted to hear was stories about the guy in the casket. Since he was Phil Roth, the billionaire developer, and the dearly departed was Phil Givens, who had come to my wedding before he was MP, MPP and mayor, I never try to forget to remember the accomplishments along with the anecdotes. And there were certainly many of those with 40 years of friendship between the Creighton and Downing families before the music died. 
After all, Marilyn had a life filled with peaks that would startle a biographer and she rode its crests with the calm shrewdness of the VON nurse she had been before the three sons and the glamour. 
Their marriage had humble roots and the early good stuff for their many parties came from a leading pawnbroker that was one of Doug's myriad contacts such as the police chief calling to chat and give him scoops that made the Star wince and had him climb the editorial ladder to the top positions.
We remember the chief calling to tell Doug to stick around for a good story and then he went out and shot himself.
Marilyn climbed each rung with him after the early years had prepared her for just about anything, which happened on a regular basis. The bungalow in central Etobicoke saw such strange sights as a hungover reporter wading though the snow in his long underwear to get the house number so the cab could take him to an early shift.
Doug let Marilyn explain that to the neighbours. As he did when Toby, the rambunctious family dog, grabbed a roast off the barbecue of a cottage neighbour who just happened to be a Supreme Court justice.
Things like that happened regularly to the Creightons because things like that happened routinely at the Telegram. Damon Runyonesque reporters populated the newsroom. It was like a set for Guys and Dolls but mixed in with the bizarre like a dusty diving suit sitting in a closet were reporters who had been the first into Hitler's bunker or had discovered the great Chubb impact crater in Quebec or watched Oswald get shot.
And then Doug took over in a blaze of setting sun which helped us birth the Sun with 62 survivors. But the 1,200 we left behind when the Tely died left their mark.
Some of our Tely stunts would shock the woke editors of today who think that this 24-hour news cycle is the cream of modern journalism. And Doug was the ringmaster in a style that later built the Sun.
I remember interviewing a Mafia snitch who cooked me lunch while he explained why they used a funeral home in Niagara Falls because they could bury victims under the deceased in big coffins. Then that "family" decided to sue Maclean's because they could probably make more money than the Tely would pay. Then Doug sent a reporter to dig up a backyard in Phoenix because we were told of a likely Mafia burial (but not Hoffa) And we plotted all this as Marilyn served up sandwiches as if we were discussing a soap opera.
It has been 60 years of marriage for Mary and me. Now too often we have to pause for golden memories of fast friends who have gone before. Marilyn could be tough with a keen view of all around her. But she had a gracious appreciation of the important things in life, like family and friends. It enriched us all.  
And she set an example. Doug had several months of silent fury with me because I dared to go to Moscow when Mary was having a minor operation. You just didn't do that with your bride. It was Marilyn who helped sooth the peace, as she so often did in the hurly burly,  the chaos of news in the big city.


Sunday, August 22, 2021


He was so competent as Ontario's second longest serving premier that it didn't show under the supposed blandness that Bill Davis was a decent man. As I look back over the 11 premiers that I wrote about and talked about for 50 years, he is the guy who made the most impact on my province.

Boy did he ever do a lot. Although his faithful assistant, Clare Westcott, now in the faded twilight of a great career, told me that the boss had phoned and said that he saw from Downing that Clare had accomplished all these wonderful changes and he wondered just what the hell he had been doing all these years as a minister and premier.

In my beginning, there had been the Laird of Lindsay, Leslie Frost, who ruled as the friendly uncle from the small towns. He knew everyone, or so he said. One press gallery function he joined a circle of reporters and went around squeezing shoulders and asking about the health of their families. After the first circuit, he was massaging this man for the second time and asked how his father was. "Still dead," was the reply.

Frost's brother, a university professor, was a determined adviser and decided that Ryerson Institute of Technology was getting too big for its britches and should be cut back. As I detailed in my book Ryerson University - A Unicorn Among Horses, only brilliant stratagems saw Ryerson surviving until it was rescued by Davis and Westcott who made it into a university, that is if it is still a university and not destroyed by the present administration and jerk protesters who don't know their history.

 Frost was followed by John Robarts who acted like chairman of the board while screwing madly  anyone who looked at him twice. He was smart enough to let Davis be a good education minister while he himself concentrated on love nests. My relationship could be summed up by my trip to London after he won his convention. His wife, attired mainly in a half slip, drove me from their front door while shouting. Instead of a profile on the new premier, the Telegram ran my story about the teddy bear that they had brought home to their tot of a daughter.

I was a constant critic of anything that Davis & Co. & Westcott had to do with transit and roads. Their problem was they looked too far into the future of transportation while they got education just right. They created George Brown out of a trade school along with a network of community colleges. They saved and promoted Ryerson. Basically their administration was pleasant and decent.

I remember a trip to Italy with a plane load of Conservatives with Italian roots led by Davis and Roy McMurtry, who became a tough AG. Not everything went smoothly but boy did we survive.

There was a sunbaked hilltop cemetery for Canadian war dead in Sicily where the wreath didn't arrive. The humble caretaker's wife fashioned one out of twigs and tinfoil. Just after the premier put it in place, the real wreath arrived. A group of us persuaded the premier to stay with the makeshift one and that we would handle any reporter who dared to criticize that. At the bottom of the hill we had a rest stop where I kept assuring a nervous Davis, as we used wine to wash some grapes, that there would really be no problems. And there weren't.

Just getting a column back in those days was often a communications nightmare. And so it was before we left the island. It was 4 a.m. when I learned that there would be no chance for the tellex to work that day but  Westcott said he had got the premier's faithful secretary on the phone. So I dictated my column to her, leaving out snide comments, and she sent it to the Sun by cab. Everyone seemed a little baffled by the process but it worked.

Then I got a chance to return the favour. Our first day in Rome was mainly a tour for pictures with Canadian Tories. So the Globe reporter, an unpopular man who thought as a foreign correspondent he was superior to mere legislative reporters, didn't go. Everything stopped at the famous Trevi Fountain because a pompous little policeman was guarding it against the movie crews who always wanted to film there. A special rare licence had to be purchased, and we didn't have one. He arrested Bill and Kathy Davis. I figured out from his histrionics what he was doing and started poking my pen into his swollen chest and called for support from reporter Eric Dowd who took some time to figure out what I was up to and then joined with enthusiasm. "Get the hell out of here," I said to the former Crown attorney, and the premier skedalled to our bus parked on a side street while I continued to divert the cop.

We returned to the hotel high with enthusiasm at our escape since we had left no one behind as hostage. But that was not the end. David Allen of the Star and Al Dickie of CP and the rest of the crew featured me in front page coverage as the saviour of an international incident to get back at the Globe guy. It baffed many a newsroom.

There were many glitches to overcome on our grand tour, but then there always are on these trips. We looked forward to a quiet Sunday and a grand seafood luncheon at Pescara. The local VIPs were out in force, their uniformed chauffeurs standing beside the limousines outside the hotel. Inside, the press corps had discovered that one Canadian flag pin was good for one bottle of wine from any waiter. So we were all quite refreshed when Davis said that the reason we were there was because his trusted key adviser came from there. So we all toasted his "adviser," Nick Lorito, and didn't tell anyone he was actually the premier's driver.

Then the next glitch popped. Turned out we were double booked. We were actually supposed to be up in the local hills where Johnny Lombardi was from, and Johnny was so important in the Ontario Italian community that he was called the mayor of little Italy. So off we went for the second ceremonial luncheon that noon. The mountains of food were trotted out and Bill and Kathy Davis blanched. So did everyone else. I was looking for a quiet nook when a waiter trotted up with a message from the Ontario "president." The message was "send up Downing." So I joined the head table and struggled manfully and finally consumed enough food so the premier was not embarrassed.

Perhaps I got along so well with Premier Davis because of the special relationship between Brampton and Weston where I went to high school. In the 1950s and 1960s, the two could have been twin communities. So I knew all the gossip. When the premier and I killed time in the lobby of the famous Excelsior Hotel in Rome, we talked about an Ontario legend, Perkins Bull, and how the Davis and Bull families intertwined. Bull was a genius in many areas, from law to agriculture. The premier talked about how as a young Crown, he was gavelled into silence by Bull in a courtroom who told him to go and talk to his father about his argument and come back with a better one. In the political arena that Davis dominated, everyone seemed to know everyone, and knew that, for example, that Bull had had a young researcher, and lover, True Davidson, who became East York mayor, and that his grandson (who I went to high school with) became the Team Canada doctor.

Once upon a time, premiers lasted longer.  A decade was not uncommon. Now surviving for a couple of terms is a miracle. Is it the pressure of the endless news cycle? It is difficult to compare the quality of the leadership since nostalgia is the whitewash of  history and when the woke activists charge into battle facts are left behind with common sense. Yet by most measures William Grenville Davis was as reassuring when he governed as the wreaths of smoke from his trusty pipe. But then, like too many things these days, pipes are out of fashion. And so are our politicians who don't just talk a great game. 


Saturday, July 24, 2021


One galling and obvious fact about the stupid jerk activists who are renaming and demolishing our history, whether they be publicity hungry demonstrators or politicians, is they don't know diddley squat about the history.

So we have this nonsense about Egerton Ryerson and Henry Dundas. Ryerson's statue and name is attacked by the ignorant when only a few minutes of research would show he was a friend and helped what were then called Indians. And Dundas hated slavery and was hardly a supporter of what he called  odious.

Both also were master strategist when dealing with the realities of the day. Not for them the stampeding of public opinion by absolute BS.

The other day, a thoughtful friend of mine, who used to be a neighbour, wrote a letter to the Globe which ignored it. Paul Corey says they didn't even tell me "my very short effort was too long."

Now Corey is not one of the cowards with concealed faces and dubious motives who seek refuge in hysteria and lies. He is a retired professor from the Dalla Lama School of Public Health at U of T and his PhD is from Johns Hopkins University in the racially torn city of Baltimore.

Now Paul and his wife, who also has a PhD and was a researcher at Sick Kids, know all about the problems of being young and poor and living where race was really an issue.

His letter to the Globe follows, one of the media outlets in Toronto that could have done a much better job of revealing how silly and shallow Toronto council was. Not all reporters and editors have to be as craven as the CBC when it covers such crap

Paul wrote: In 1776 Scottish lawyer Henry Dundas won a case to prevent Joseph Knight from selling his black slave. Dundas stated, "Human nature, my Lords, spurns at the thought of slavery among any part of our species.The Court declared that there  could be no slaves on SCOTTISH soil.   

In 1789 abolitionist William Wilberforce wished his ENGLISH colleagues understood the ugliness of slavery. Try reading his essay without crying. His motion to abolish slavery in the House of Commons in 1791 lost by the vote 163 to 88. He lost again in 1794 and 1795. 

(Then) Dundas was on the team. In 1796 Dundas suggested the word “gradual” be added to the motion which won 230 to 85. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed.                                                 Slavery began thousands of years ago ending in Scotland in 1776, 1793 in Ontario, 1833 in England and 1865 in the United States.                                                                                                                   Will those toppling Dundas be charged? Because I grew up in a poor part of the wonderful city of St. Catharine I hope that the estimated five-million dollar cost for eradicating the name Dundas would instead be used to give food and clothing to Toronto’s poor and  books for the rioters. "                               





Friday, May 21, 2021



It started with a tiger walking by the table. It ended with me as a frazzled kid editor.

Doug Creighton of the lamented Telegram sent me to Montreal to supervise our coverage of the opening of Expo '67 which was a marathon of fighting for access for our photographers and dealing with the bureaucracy of a world fair entering the technological age. At one point, we had to appeal to the Prime minister to get a camera position at the opening ceremony that had been given to TIME. Oh yes, throw in the Maple Leaf-Canadien Stanley Cup confrontation as the Leafs entered their winter and fell from the giant tree of hockey greatness.

Without deadlines for a Sunday edition to bother the crew, I intended on the Saturday as a rum drinker to sample all the concoctions at the opening of the Jamaican pavilion. And so there I was with a spread of  tasty specials in front of me, and with a respected and great conversationalist in Robert Fulford to share my musings on life.

Then Fulford got on the table which knocked over a few glasses. Why, I asked? Some jerk has brought a tiger in, he yelled. And the tiger slunk by me as rather obvious proof.

I never did find out the reason for the tiger but happily for Fulford and the drinks the jerk left with the tiger and the hubbub grew again in the atmosphere of a freeload.

It seemed like a good idea after all that rum to go for lunch at Schwartz's, which along with Bens dominated the famous deli world of Montreal years ago. And then, after a fine feed, to go to the Forum for the second game of the Stanley Cup because my press club friend, Windy O'Neill, had two tickets.

Windy had played briefly for the Leafs in the 1940s as a scrappy undersized defenceman and had famously been fired when he told the legendary dictator, Conn Smythe, that he intended to go to law school in his spare time. Smythe said none of his players were going to study law, so Windy quit and became a lawyer.

Windy had two tickets but it turned out they weren't together. Those were the kind of things that happened to him. So I sat in one corner on the north side and Windy sat on the other.

Towards the end of the first period, Bob Pulford got into a fight with Terry Harper. Since I had played with Pulford on a championship high school football team, I stood up and urged "Pully" on. The entire north end booed and threw stuff at me. I continued until the man behind tapped me on the shoulder and said that he was Randy Ellis and he was the father of Leaf player Ron Ellis and he was with Ron's pregnant wife and I was starting a riot.

So I sat down, and was watched suspiciously for the rest of the game. The Leafs won 3-0 in this battle of the goaltenders with old pro Johnny Bower emerging to some surprise as a replacement for the great Terry Sawchuk. The Leafs were the oldest team to ever win the Cup. 

At this point, I felt so good with this win over the traditional rival that I decided to drop in on my family, which was a shock to Mary and my two young sons when I emerged in Etobicoke after a jaunt down 401 from the Forum.

Back I drove early Monday and decided to look for my overcoat which had vanished on Saturday. There it was still hanging inside the front door at Schwartz's

At this point, the coverage of Expo '67 took second place behind another chore that Creighton had given  me, the wrangling of the Tely photographers, a talented collection of unique individuals who collectively decided that assistant city editors like me were to be tolerated but not respected.

Which led to the next Cup game and the complaints of management ( part owners of the Leafs) that we always lacked dressing room shots after the game. Which led me to insist to a photographer for the next game that he had to get dressing room shots. So he dutifully left with just a few minutes left in the game to get through the crowd to the dressing room. Trouble is, the Leafs scored and then won the game and he was trapped in the corridors of Maple Leaf Gardens and the Tely had no pictures of the goals.

I thought I would be disciplined as well as the photographer in the explosion that followed. I am not using his name because I found out later over the years that still waters do really run deep because this quiet man seemed to have two families at the same time and also a child with one of our colleagues.

It was the days that colour newspaper pictures were a big deal that took extra processing time. So Creighton and Andy MacFarlane decided to recover from not having those goal pictures by running a rare colour picture on the front page from the next Cup game. And the same photographer was dispatched to Montreal because of his superior equipment. 

I waited outside the Forum and he rushed out at the end of the game and threw me several rolls of film. I drove to the airport to catch the last plane to Toronto. The gate was closed when I arrived but I managed to argue past the staff and hammered the door of the plane until a startled stewardess opened it. I managed to persuade her, along with some cash, to take the film to Toronto. I phoned the Night Desk and explained how and where to meet the plane. The pickup was successful, thank heavens.

The phone rang early in the apartment that the Tely had rented in downtown Montreal for our Expo bureau. I answered expecting a pleasant well done from the brass. Instead they yelled. Seems the lighting at the Forum was one f-stop higher on one side than the other because the big TV lights were only on one side. So all our pictures had double images because the photographer was shooting at the wrong aperture.

I don't know who came up with the gimmick caption but the Telegram proudly ran a colour picture on Page One anyway. And we told much of the country, because the Tely in its glory days was the second largest newspaper in the country, that the action in the Leaf-Canadien game was so fast that the camera couldn't catch the players in single sharp images.

That was almost 20,000 days ago and film is obsolete and Schwartz's and Bens are gone and most the players are dead. But not my memories. But what ever did happen to that tiger?

Saturday, April 10, 2021



In a world gagged by woke activists where leaders mouth crafted lies instead of telling it the way it really is, the Duke of Edinburg should have been treasured instead of viewed with alarm when occasionally his candour slipped into the questionable.

Like many veteran Canadian journalists I had plenty of opportunities to watch the Royals because of their many visits. Prince Philip had verbal flashes that delighted me although the CBC would have turned them into a crusade of condemnation if its very correct staff had known.

I recall many years ago his love of horses pushing him to a comment that would have had his enemies in the English media drooling. He had been a good polo player and long-time president of the International Equestrian Federation, so naturally I asked about the equestrian events at the Mexico Olympics.

He said he worried about the horses in the high altitude because he was unsure the damn #$@*#* Mexicans cared enough about them. (I heard a similar sentiment later from a prominent Canadian in a box at the Royal Winter Fair who had loaned a horse to the Mexican jumping team which then pretended it had died when it hadn't.)

I never wrote about the Prince savaging Latin colleagues because off-the-record is a rule you never break if you don't want to be frozen into a useless observer.

Once the Duke was visiting the Toronto Press Club, which was a big deal considering his antipathy for the media, and the executive lined up to greet him. He asked what I did and I said I was the membership secretary. "Terrible job," he said. Not really, I replied, why would he say that?

"Don't people want to get their friends in and pressure you? I wanted to join this club in London. They had a ceremony where members voted on whether you could join by each taking a ball and then sticking their hands through a cloth sleeve into a big wooden box. If they didn't want you, they stuck the ball into a ledge up on one side. How would you like to be married to the Queen of England and have two bastards stick a ball there and black ball you."

Prince Philip had a pleasant aloof air in the inspection tours and walk-abouts, an attitude of confident approachability. I recall staying with a Toronto group with some clout in a guest house in Beijing that the Chinese reserved for important visitors. I was poking around and found a staff member who spoke English and boasted about how the Queen and Duke had stayed there. She raved about how great they had been, especially the Prince.

Remember the nice story that Allan Dickie wrote for CP about how the Royal couple had made everyone so relaxed at a luncheon in Yellowknife that as the meal ended, a big motherly waitress tapped the Duke on the shoulder and said "keep your fork, Duke, there's pie.)

Of course the graceful Queen is the mistress of comfort. I once blundered as a kid reporter into a little group of welcoming dignitaries beside the royal yacht Britannia. She spotted my press credentials and smoothly passed by with a smile.

At the start of Royal tours, there is often a session where media brass are invited to chat with the Royals a day before their staffs are set loose upon them. So there we are in the Ontario Room of the Royal York Hotel, the various editors and publishers herded into little groups. The Queen and Duke split up and circulated. I surveyed my group and worried it would be awkward because everyone would be too awed to chat with the Queen. So when she joined us, I started talking about how long a day it had been for her because she had flown just that day. She said she always kept her watch on London time as one way to combat jet lag.

She was there for the Queen's Plate and since she is famous for her knowledge of racing and blood lines. we talked about her presentation there. "Did she bet," I asked? She said she gave wagers to a lady-in-waiting. I said there was a long shot in the Plate that some had written was an interesting gamble. She nodded, smiled again, and went on to the next group.

The horse ran last  ...  dead last.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021



A mouthy minority of activists in love with indigenous posturing has been blathering for several years about renaming Ryerson University and demolishing the statue on Gould of the great educator after which it was named. 

We know that those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it but in this case those trying to scrub the past have  no clue as to what went on.

They say Egerton Ryerson was responsible for the odious residential schools that were a blight on native families as callous bureaucrats snatched away their kids. But there are problems blaming Ryerson as the major figure in the dismal operation of indigenous residential schools since he was the creator and boss of the ONTARIO school system until 1876 and died in 1882 just as the FEDS began them.

If the no-nothings actually cared about facts rather than a fictional nonsensical cause they would have had to search verbal mountains for proof. After all Ryerson was a prodigious writer. An endless flow of words in letters, reports, sermons, speeches and even a lengthy biography poured out and as a proud stubborn Methodist there was no mistaking his meaning. But in a real life of real facts critics would find nothing but respect and even love for the Mississaugas as he worked around the Credit as a missionary.

In his monumental report and speeches of the mid-1840s that built the school system of Upper Canada and then the entire country as it was born, Ryerson did recommend residential schools for what everyone called Indians because he felt they needed lessons in agriculture instead of relying on hunting and fishing. 

Yet his main thrust was for free education for all, not just schools for the more prosperous families, and for Normal schools for budding teachers, the first public museum, textbook publisher, and art gallery. His role when some chiefs and officials wanted to start two indigenous schools was as the expert adviser to produce a curriculum to help if Indians were to settle and not roam. Those schools failed because the government didn't help enough but were better than what the feds later forced without Ryerson's tolerance for minorities and other religions.

When the first assaults on the Ryerson name began because supposedly he had been integral to the shameful residential schools, I was perplexed. Where in heck did that come from? A great PROVINCIAL educator was blamed for a FEDERAL operation that festered AFTER he died.

I also worried about what I might have missed when I ransacked the archives of the university, city and province for my book Ryerson University - A Unicorn Among Horses. I read a wealth of his writings, even the original letters he sent home from his many inspection trips to England and Europe. I read yellowed newspaper clippings about his death as a "great" Canadian, and how there had been a subscription where the government and pupils from as far away as the New England States had contributed $8,000 for his statue. (Even politicians gave their dollar.) 

Almost nothing in all that about residential schools.

I read his entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia and books of admiration by historians, one of whom wrote Ryerson's first head, H.H. Kerr, to say that he could not imagine a more suitable name for a university than Ryerson's.  Nothing about indigenous residential schools.

So when I wrote about him and how what he left behind grew into a university, I mentioned residential schools in only one sentence. 

Not that I hated the idea of residential schools, not when I grew up reading about legendary Eton and Harrow. Then there was the Ontario equivalents like prestigious Upper Canada College, and the fictional ones like Hogwarts. After I was orphaned, I was almost shipped off to Ridley.

In all my experiences at Ryerson, I never heard a peep that the international giant was a racist who considered the indigenous to be inferior. I have a certificate, diploma and degree from Ryerson. I was student president and editor of the campus newspaper. I lectured there, and served on board of governors committees and task forces doing everything from searching for a new president and journalism chair, revising the Ryerson act, overhauling the photography courses, advising the journalism department and writing the history plaques.

Never a word against the great Canadian!

This anti-name campaign resembles a stunt by drunken freshmen in an academic pub to replace the historic name on a school that was supposed to be different. Of course the university now wallows in correctness, with education pushed to one side, if there is time left over from flagellation, and the symbol of a statue almost 10 feet high on a granite base of similar size, one of the better and more meaningful statues of the city, is to be cast aside into a swamp of indifference and ignorance.

Two Ryerson profs, Ron Stagg and Patrick Dutil, in a fine piece in the National Post on April 6, detail the indigenous history of the church leader. How the tribe so honoured him they made him a chief,  and how he had as a lifelong friend a chief known in English as Peter Jones. He even made a secret appeal to Queen Victoria when the Mississaugas had land confiscated by bureaucrats.  (Such was the power and clout of Ryerson that he started a college named after Victoria which of course became part of U of T, the best university in the country according to my three sons and me who all went there.)

The Ryerson academics concluded their Post article, which is filled with facts, unlike those making silly accusations, with this appeal. I would urge that Ryerson grads listen because it is time they rebel at the waves of nonsense coming out of the university and the committees considering the name dump.

They finished: "Torontonians today must recognize that Egerton Ryerson has been falsely accused and restore their pride in celebrating one of the best minds of their past."

The critics should at the very least be sentenced to scrubbing his statue with toothbrushes, as we once did with frosh. But that might hurt their feelings, and heavens we never ever should do that, especially in the modern classroom as universities wilt from actually teaching.


Friday, April 2, 2021



We didn't want to mar the final edition of  The Toronto Telegram. After all the glories, innovations and goofs of the newspaper since it began in 1876, we wanted it to enter history as error free as possible in journalism.

So the disintegrating Tely family nitpicked and agonized through the night on October 30, 1971, while nursing headaches of doubts and hopes. It had been a long funeral since John Bassett kept it alive for weeks after he announced the murder because of a Tory leadership convention.

I settled gloomily at the news desk as the first edition flopped in front of me. "THIS IS IT" was the headline, and a big 30, the traditional way for journalists to write the end.
As the Assistant Managing Editor I was lowering the paper into the grave. The only bounce around me was in people not worried about what came next. Such as Clyde Gilmour who telephoned insisting I read his review to him so he could check for mistakes. But then he would start Monday at the Star as one of Canada's leading movie critics who also had a radio show for his records.

The copy boy who scooped the first copies from the Star presses arrived and the daily search of comparisons began. Ray Biggart running the city desk wondered about what we didn't have, mainly the big headline about another pronouncement by Walter Gordon, the Grit guru the Star idolized.

Did we want to scalp the story, the daily copycat exercise as the two giants compared editions?

It didn't task my judgment. The Tely would go into oblivion ignoring the Star's pet. Even though Gordon had a farm outside Schomberg and allowed his neighbour, my brother-in-law Gordon Long, to run a trapline. As the famous economic nationalist, he loved the idea that beaver were trapped there, an echo of the fur business that started the country.

 But then there was the time as a young reporter, also working on the census to get enough money to get married, that I asked his wife in their lovely Rosedale home whether the future federal treasurer from the prestigious accounting firm made more annually than the top census figure of $35,000. She said she certainly hoped so. In 1961, that was seven times more than I made. 

Biggart didn't argue. He was looking forward to being City Editor on Monday of a different kind of  newspaper that was being born out of the mess, the Toronto Sun tabloid.  Like many of the 62 Sun "day oners" he went on to an illustrious career as the influential assistant to Paul Godfey, the rookie Metro chairman, (after I turned the job down) and then as Metro parks and property commissioner.

Nothing much happened that day. So I gradually let the staff trickle away. I went into the sound-proofed room, basically a large closet, that housed the many teletype machines that tethered the Tely to the wire services and the world of news and checked for one last time for crashes, sinking and revolts. Nothing! So I turned them off, one by one by one.

Then I went to the composing room and told everyone to go to the wakes. I stood by the "turtle" that held the front page form and ripped up the Telegram name, the metal flag at the top. A sad trophy for my study wall, along with the matte from which the front page was made.

From there to the thunder of the press room.  How were they running? The foreman cursed and said the damn things had never run better.  I asked what the run call was from circulation and advertising. He said for 328,000 copies. I said people were stopping the delivery trucks and offering dollars for the final copy. How about if we run the presses out of paper? They can't fire both of us because we're ALL gone. Besides he had a job Monday with the Star. So he shrugged, turned the counters off and ran perhaps 345,000 copies before the newsprint storage room was empty.

I returned to an empty newsroom. Alone in silence. I made a sad circuit of all the empty desks and offices, grabbed the big wheel of contact phone numbers from the rewrite desk and carried it and the front-page metal by a startled security guard to a vacant parking lot. 

It was a Saturday of anxious farewells for 1,200 Tely employees, many of whom never worked for a newspaper again. But for the 62 gamblers, there was anxious hope up a rickety elevator to the fourth floor of an old building and rudimentary quarters spotted with equipment left behind by a bankrupt company.

I didn't sleep or party. On Sunday I felt like I had the flu as I sat at home at my portable typewriter picking at my first Sun column on the dangers of spending a lot on a new stadium. It didn't help that John Henry and Brett were oblivious and rambunctious and my third son, Mark, was demonstrating that three-month-old babies can be cranky. 

Had I chosen wisely for my family when Doug Creighton offered a daily column as the only one covering politics in a small paper? The Star had turned me down when Borden Spears said hiring me would upset their newsroom structure. The Globe hadn't replied. And I had turned down more secure but also probably more boring jobs with the federal fisheries ministry, Toronto Harbour Commission and Etobicoke school board to wade into the unknown.

Creighton greeted me cheerily as I arrived at the strange new home in the afternoon and when I confessed to my Tely mentor about my worries swept me off for lunch in typical style to the Walker House. Nothing like fine food and a few drinks with an old friend to try to make me think this may work out. So I had my first of many grand meals before I even set foot in the Sun, In the future many would say the same as Doug built the paper with his charm. 

The "day oners" worked too hard to pay attention to that All Hallow's eve and the trick-or-treaters roaming  the dark. There were no resources but experience. But then Monday morning dawned with the sale of all 60,000 copies - except for souvenirs squirreled by "day oners"- leading to the glimmer of success.

I arrived at City Hall to find the Globe had taken over the better Tely office overlooking the Archer sculpture and city property commissioner Harry Rogers (father of Bruce of radio fame) had no intention of giving city space to some unknown little newspaper even if he did know me.

So I descended on Mayor Bill Dennison who had known me since he had started as a trustee when my father, an east-end doctor, had been chairman of the Toronto school board. And Denison ordered Rogers to give me the Globe's old office.

I checked with the office to find that Don Hunt, the third member of the founding triumvirate who looked after promotion, had arranged the first contest. He had hired Bert Petlock, a former Tely police reporter before the PR world, to get a client to donate a big net, tanks of gas and balloons. The idea was to launch the balloons from Nathan Phillips Square. One would have a slip inside awarding an exotic trip from some company that had been conned by Hunt and Creighton into an exchange for future ads. 

I found Petlock and limp balloons but no ceremony. So I went back inside and persuaded the mayor to officiate. Petlock inflated the balloons watched carefully by a growing circle of urchins on their battered bikes. The mayor muttered a few words prompted by me. There was no one else there. The mayor tugged the net off but the balloons just rolled around and didn't fly. A few boys didn't wait but rushed in, grabbed a balloon off the ground, and hightailed it for the Sun. No one seemed to know how they knew about the contest or the Sun's strange new address.

I phoned Hunt and we decided to ignore the first boys on the grounds they had cheated. I left him to sort the rest out and walked up University to the Legislature, the first of many such trips since at the start there was no one else covering politics.

Of course the old Tely office there had been captured before I got there. I sat at the big table that dominated the press gallery and appealed to the reporters having the first drink of the day. Since a few sat on the executive of the Toronto Men's Press Club, and I was the future president, I managed to extract a promise of some form of space and a seat in the press galley perched over the Speaker's dais.

It was a hectic day. I walked back to City Hall and managed to stay long enough at a transportation committee meeting to cobble enough for my second column.

The Sun office was organized confusion when I arrived searching for a desk and a typewriter. By the second day Paul Rimstead and I worked out a deal by which we shared an old typewriter and battered desk shoved up against some mysterious and dirty machine. It seemed a suitable arrangement since my column ran across the bottom of Page 4 and he was across the way.

Both Paul and I ached to escape the confusion. He was clutching a package of six assorted mickey-sized liqueurs delivered by one of his many fans and offered me the cherry one if he could write first. He wrote his first take. Then he drank the Creme de menthe while I wrote the start of my column. Then we switched. He composed a second page while I drank. Then we switched. Much was consumed by the time we finished and decided heartily that the Sun may well prosper even if it was in the old Eclipse building. I went to work the next day to find out how my column ended. 

And so the Sun began for my 40 years there while 60,000 newspapers grew to more than 300,000 daily and 500,000 on Sunday. We deserved that too since we pioneered Sunday newspapers for the country. Then the little paper that grew shrank along with the entire news trade. My life downtown, my 50 years in journalism, have become memories without structure since the two Tely homes have vanished, and the Sun has moved from the building designed by John Parkin, the architect who worked on City Hall. 

And I went from a cub that a prime minister wanted fired to a PM phoning to congratulate me on becoming Editor. Decades of typing and perspiration and inspiration for 6,000 columns and 3,000 editorials. The highs of being quoted even in the House of Lords at Westminster to the lows of libel suits. The peaks of chatting with Netanyahu, arguing with Fidel, lunching with Mandela, and kidding Clinton to the goofs like forgetting the name of the politician I was interviewing on TV.

The Sun's golden anniversary this fall celebrates 50 years even as newspapers die by the thousands. But not my memories!



Friday, January 1, 2021


There Is Nothing Like A Dame

 The announcement that Joan Sutton Straus is one of 22 receiving the Order of Ontario said she was "one of Canada's best known journalists." She almost wasn't, but she would have been "best known" in her beloved country no matter what she did in a life overflowing with love and ideas stirred with passion and insight.
Once upon a time, she was fed up with the pressures of the fashion world and contemplated a change that would allow her to use her special knowledge of that and high society in her city. So she applied to the Tely who needed a fashion writer.
As the Sixties ended, it was a rowdy time in the newspaper wars where the holy Star and the far-more readable Telegram slugged it out edition by edition. But the Tely kept slipping. So John Bassett, the arrogant man-about-town who ran the Tely for his three sons and the four Eaton department store boys,  turned his paper over to Doug Creighton.
Creighton ended up using charm and an intimate knowledge of the city and his paper acquired as a police reporter and editor to centralize control of the second largest paper in the country. He ran everything with two deputies, Ed Monteith as the assistant managing editor running news and the Monday-to Friday editions, and me as the AME running everything else and the larger Saturday paper.
For me, I was thrown into a world filled with famous and credentialed people often twice my age with thin skins and decades more experience. My mistakes often appeared before hundreds of thousands of readers.
My search for a new fashion writer was a mine field since the Lifestyle (women's) department was populated with the kind of women who didn't even look at you when you asked them for a dance.
So I arrived for what I thought was just another interview at a famous Italian restaurant frequented by Queen's Park insiders, The fare was great yet so was my trepidation as I thought of the resting sharks back in the newsroom because this was turning into a make-or-shatter-me hiring. But Joan Sutton was great as she outlined a background richer than I anticipated. I returned to the office with no doubt that this hurdle had been cleared.
Creighton greeted me with happy news. He had hired me a writer. I spluttered that I had a new writer starting in a week. Creighton and his supposed boss Arnold Agnew (who was married into the Eaton family) told me that was impossible. The woman they had hired was one of the best friends of Doug Bassett's wife, one of the owners. 
A miserable afternoon followed with me arguing sporadically that I had given my word  to Joan Sutton and her career had included such positives as "dressing" performers for CFTO, which was Bassett/Tely owned. I refused to cancel my job offer. I ended up telephoning Mary to say that my success after only 10 years out of university had just crashed and burned over an Italian lunch. 
By some miracle, Creighton and Agnew finally conceded. Any joy I felt was tempered by a phone call from Doug Bassett demanding whether I knew when I hired this Sutton that the person promised the job was his wife's best friend.
I said I did, figuring I might as well go down with all guns blazing. There was a long pause, and Bassett sighed that I would get away with it "this time."
For some reason. I was running the City Desk when Joan came in on the Sunday night before she started work and gave me her first feature, about the great difficulty women had because clothing sizes were not uniform. You had to know that this company's sizes were all larger than that company's sizes.
I read it through with Joan waiting anxiously. I said it was fine. Indeed we used it as a spread three days later. 
So I should have known right then Joan Sutton Straus was going to become one of Canada's best-known journalists because she was so driven to excellence that she wrote her first printed article before she even was on the payroll.
Ironically, considering her hiring, Creighton finally made her a key insider and she was one of the 62 known as Day Oners who started the Sun when the Bassetts finally sold the Tely out from underneath us. 
An account of Joan's life would be a good book (maybe even a bodice ripper) because she has been a beauty queen finalist, model, columnist and government insider. She knew all about the city and province and the secrets of famous people were familiar to her. She organized an intimate memorial service in a Beth Tzedec chapel one afternoon and I sat with a former veteran premier and flamboyant attorney general listening to an eulogy from one of our most famous diplomats.
This honour is just another recognition for a grand lady who has had a great life. The tales she could still tell.