Saturday, April 10, 2021

THE DUKE DIDN'T GIVE A DAMN

TREASURING A REBEL

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

ONLY THE IGNORANT WOULD RENAME RYERSON

 AN APT NAME AND A GREAT STATUE

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

THE SUN ALSO RISES

 THE WEEK THAT WAS



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

JOAN SUTTON'S GRAND APPETITE FOR LIVING

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.