Tuesday, October 31, 2023


We celebrate Halloween more and more each year. The average street in Etobicoke has more skeletons than the local graveyard. I think it is wonderful because it was also the night we 

started the Toronto Sun. And anything we can celebrate these days with the anti-Semites praising Hamas and Trudeau fopping his way to new disasters is welcome relief.

When I was a kid, an old sheet and some lamp black was my costume and my dour Dutch grandparents thought carving a pumpkin was something only devils did. So later I embraced all the weird elements of Halloween with a joy equal to my three sons. But of course that was hidden at the office where I was a cub just trying to stay afloat at the Toronto Telegram, the large newspaper that was better in a news sense than the pretentious Star and the sanctimonious Globe.

We were a tough newspaper town but the Tely had more flash and fun.

Spiritualism and ghosts were routine fare for the media which still got chills with Dracula yarns in the  1950s and 1960s. But deep down you knew that it was all BS. Or was it? But then.....

There was the time in 

Hamilton when I heard stomping upstairs in an empty house and the staid couple confessed it was a ghost that bothered them several times a week. And the time the Tely had a caller tell us about the CBC warehouse that security refused to enter at night.  CBC officials spent days giving me the runaround. Then a Star reporter at City Hall, used to Page One bylines, confessed that he thought his basement was haunted by the woman who had hung herself there.

The big story early in the 1960s was when the respected Andrew Macfarlane, later Journalism dean at Western and son of a U of T dean of medicine, wrote about the haunting of Mackenzie House on Bond St. just south of Ryerson. At night the home of Toronto's first mayor had the printing press running and the caretaker getting slapped. It was a Tely sensation and Andy spent hours telling us of his investigation which was only printed because of his reputation.

I was headed home as a kid editor one day in 1968 when someone on the Rewrite Desk said there had been a tip about a haunted house. Since I lived just blocks away, I said I would check it out. Then a reporter, John Gault, who later wrote for Lorne Green on a Canadian TV series, said I had promised to take him along the next time I checked out a ghost story.

We spent several evenings and one night there, listening to footsteps circling overhead in the attic, driving the young jobless couple from the Maritimes crazy. After all, they believed you had to be nuts to believe in ghosts. But there were no branches hitting the house, no plumbing noises, no obvious cause. John and I moved into the attic and saw a light bouncing around at 3 a.m. The temperature would skid up and down without reason.

We were exhausted but didn't write until some neighbour phoned the dreaded rival, the Star, which ran a few paras in the final edition, and the terrible tempered City Editor demanded to know why I had been scooped. So we spent a final night and wrote two pages and the next day hundreds of people and the police stood around the house and oohed and aahed at any noise.

TV came calling, offered the couple money if they kicked us out and let them telecast from the attic with their premier Sunday show. So John and I left. For years there were broadcasts from the house on Halloween and people whispered when they saw me in the stores. But the family went away and a boarder in the basement scoffed at any haunting. And I got promoted where the publishers wanted me to concentrate on federal bogeymen. 

I drove by the house the other day and wondered. Again.

Now it is my son Mark with the skeletons in the lawn and car and porch, and the kids come flocking down the street with parents as anxious shepherds. The Tely is gone and the news is as sour as a woke activist.  It's time for a great Halloween yarn but I will settle for an answer as to what really happened those nights back in 1968 when I could see my breath and the ghost never bothered to stop pacing in the attic. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Noble Disabled

I just got my annual dose of why I should be humble by attending the 30th luncheon of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. I have been a member of the selection board since the start and have always been awed by the noble accomplishments of the 126 inductees.

Thanks to the hard work and adroit stewardship of a former senator, Vim Kochhar, and everyone's favourite former mayor, David Crombie the hall has flourished in a time that accessibility is still too often a promise rather than a reality. The people we have honoured have been stalwart warriors but the cause is slippery because too often the powerful just talk a good game.

I know because even though I often have been part of the inner circle, I now face the daily obstacle course as an old deaf fart in a wheelchair. The luncheon was held as usual at the Fairmont Royal York, the giant hotel where I have been attending luncheons starting as a cub Telegram reporter 65 years ago. Wonderful hotel that gives only lip service to accessibility. It's a wonder they spell it correctly in the trumpeting of the claim because when you search for how to get into the fortress, how to find the solitary elevator hidden near the eastern entrance guarded by hostile valet attendants when you try to park for a few seconds. there is no info. I was dropped off because I hadn't gone to the bank to get a second mortgage to pay for the parking of $13 an hour, or $39 for an event.

As my faithful son Mark reminded me, last year we had plenty of time waiting for that elevator with David Onley, the former lieutenant governor. (David has left us, probably having to argue about accessibility at the Pearly Gates.) He recalled during the wait our lunch where the police towed his car despite the handicapped sign in the windshield.

The food, as usual, was great. And so were the three new inductees. Stephen Harper was a solid PM, considering the present dog's breakfast, but often forgotten are the changes he accomplished. He couldn't attend the ceremony but what he did for the disabled lives on in a country that is tired of his successors. Chantal Benoit, the wheelchair basketball megastar, and Michelle Stilwell, in athletics, wheelchair basketball and provincial politics, were world champions proudly wearing their international medals and honours. If only we were blessed with more such achievers.

The location of the luncheon reminded me again of how careless the world is when dealing with the disabled. Downtown is a mess. The streets around the Royal York are so bad, I was almost hit by a motorcycle roaring down the sidewalk to get around the stalled traffic where the cops and the lights seemed to be competing to make things worse. I am not a novice in dealing with the public or events. I have been president of national, provincial and municipal bodies, ranging from the CNE to university and hospital boards, and delegate to international assembles. And now, with dulled senses, I make the rounds of five hospitals and various health offices and the daily battle with traffic in a city where council can't seem to do the basics without costly posturing.

Let me warn you as your address book fills with the names of departed friends and your neighbours vanish, it is only going to get worse. Because Canada is aging, and the candidates for the Disabled Hall of Fame are going to multiply.