Chapter Twenty-four

Settling in to yet another job was unnerving enough, but joining the CBC in the Fall of 1961 brought one shock after another: not all of them unpleasant. Nothing was as I thought it would be.

Take union membership, for instance: I didn’t realize it was required of a ‘broadcast journalist’ as a CBC newsman had been designated, or that a gung-ho union rep was in town to sign us up well before the station had its official opening. I probably took it as something of an intrusion at the time, but it turned out the man was about to bring down manna from heaven.
There had been a company union at CKUA, and one of my fellow recruits for the new CBC newsroom had worked for The Manchester Guardian whose political stance made union membership seem likely, but otherwise none of us had any experience with unions – let alone a belligerent one like the Newspaper Guild. With our signed applications tucked away in his briefcase, the union rep told us casually that the Guild was on the brink of a strike.

Wonderful! We would spend out first few weeks with the CBC walking a picket line.

The threat appeared to have melted away by the time we were all assembled at the new CBC building on Edmonton’s south side to inspect our workplace and go through the official hiring procedure. We had all brought different vehicles to the CBC parking lot, but it was mine that attracted the most attention: a bright red Fiat 600 with a folding sun roof. The others circled my tiny car, firing one question after another.

“How many miles to a gallon of gas?”
“Where’s the engine? Front or back?”
“Is it air-cooled like a Volkswagen?”
“Where do you put the luggage?”

They were all reasonable questions, but not the one that should have been asked: Has it got enough power to get it up a steep hill?
I felt called upon to take my new workmates for a spin. We would use the Fiat to get us all to the Macdonald Hotel where the CBC still had offices and the official hiring was to take place. So five big men – three of us over six feet tall – crammed into the Fiat to make the short trip downtown.
The Macdonald Hotel – now the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald – is still one of Edmonton’s most prominent buildings because it dominates the brink of an ominous bluff. To reach it from the new CBC building meant climbing the city’s steepest hill. We chatted and joked for the first minute of the climb but everyone fell silent about halfway up when it was plain I had geared all the way down to first and the little car, howling its protest, had slowed almost to a halt. Another noise invaded our cramped quarters: the blare of car horns coming from behind us. And when I finally brought the Fiat to a stop in the hotel parking lot, we all sat in silence for a moment contemplating a front-page story I had almost created for The Edmonton Journal:

Five Die In Plunge From Hill

Five prospective employees of the CBC’s new radio-television complex in South Edmonton died yesterday afternoon when the miniature car driven by one of them was shunted through the railing at the summit of McDougall Hill apparently by a frustrated truck driver attempting to pass.
“I was only trying to help,” Homer Crumb, 53, told a Journal reporter. “[The car] had almost come to a stop. I was just giving him a little push. I guess I pushed too hard.”
The little vehicle was seen to bounce three times before coming to rest more than 150 feet below.
Ironically, one of the dead has been identified as a ‘P.McDougall.’ Three others were former employees of The Edmonton Journal . . .

Yes, three of our number – Alan Rowe, Dave Adams and Ken Mason – had been lured away from Edmonton’s only daily newspaper. Only two of the remaining three were able to join the CBC that day in 1961: Frank Dolphin and myself. Neil Moffat had been detained.

Frank and I both lived in St.Albert, a suburb just north of Edmonton. We had known each other since 1950 but I couldn’t recall having met any of the newspaper conscripts until our encounter with the union representative a few weeks before.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized Al Rowe and I had crossed paths ten years earlier – crossed swords would be closer! I was working for CKRC at the time and he was a desk editor for the Winnipeg Free Press several floors above me in the Free Press Building. Both of us were working night shifts.
The offices of Canadian Press were just down the hall from the Free Press newsroom. In an earlier chapter I described the dearth of local news available to CKRC between newspaper editions. To compensate, we got permission from Canadian Press to do something totally illegal: as a subscriber-member of Canadian Press, the Free Press made duplicates or ‘dupes’ of all its local stories for the news service so that they could be distributed across Canada by teletype.
Unknown to the Free Press, CKRC had somehow gained access to these ‘dupes’ to beef up our evening newscasts. One of my duties as night newsman was to take the elevator up to the Canadian Press offices and collect these dupes. The night I met Al Rowe, I couldn’t find them in the CP offices and went sauntering into the Free Press newsroom.
I remembering approaching this bearded giant at the horseshoe desk. “Hi. I’m from CKRC downstairs,” I began casually. “Have you seen your dupes? I can’t find them in the CP office.”
Behind his beard, the giant’s complexion turned brick red and he squeaked:

“What in hell’s name…?”

When he began to haul his six-foot frame from his chair, I took off and didn’t stop running until I reached our studios.
I described the incident to Al years later but he had no recollection of it.

Any complaints we newly-hired broadcast journalists had about the union dues deducted from our first paycheck ended when a second, unexpected cheque reached us. It was for well over a thousand dollars, part of what the union had won when that impending strike the union rep had so casually mentioned had been avoided. In those last hectic days of negotiation, the union had put a brazen bargaining chip on the table: it insisted that its newest union members be included in the Corporation’s lump sum payout of retroactive wages. You can almost hear the howls of outrage from the management side of the table:
“What? But those Edmonton guys haven’t even started work yet!”
It was just another indication to those of us who had come from private radio stations that the CBC was going to be a radically different kind of employer.

Because none of us in the Edmonton newsroom had any experience with unions, we couldn’t decide on a steward to represent us at national meetings. The union executive suggested that we rotate the post among the six of us until a likely candidate emerged. Being union steward meant an all-expense trip to either Toronto or Montreal at least once a year to attend a national meeting; when my turn came due, it was October, 1962 and it the meeting place was Montreal.

Harking back to those first years of the 1960s I sometimes wonder how the world got through all that tension without blowing itself to pieces. So many perilous stand-offs, one after the other: the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall business, the Cuban missile crisis . . .

I remember the Cuban situation as the most frightening of all because it coincided with that union trip to Montreal. In fact, the crisis came to a head just as I was about to board my return flight to Edmonton. I was standing in the departure lounge of Dorval airport listening for the boarding announcement with most of my attention going to a television set. There, his face drawn with tension, President Kennedy was setting out his ultimatum to Nikita Khrushchev. I seriously considered the possibility that my departing jet might collide with an incoming Soviet missile.

Far-fetched? Consider this:
The U.S. had constructed a number of missile sites in Montana, the state immediately south of Alberta. In a move to head off Canadian concerns, the NORAD people opened its Montana control centre to a group of Canadian newsmen. One of our people took the tour. When he returned to Edmonton, he described a particular scene: An American officer was standing before a wall-size map of the northwest U.S. states and Canada’s western provinces. Using a pointer, he began to trace the “likely trajectory” of an incoming Soviet missile and said:
“Now, here’s what would happen. When the incoming bandit reached about this point, our interceptor missile would be launched to detonate about here.”
And, to our guy’s horror, the officer was by then indicating a point directly over Edmonton.

One Response to “Chapter Twenty-four”

  1. Alec Bollini Says:

    I well remember the missile crisis. Sean McGoldrick and I left the newsroom, shift over, and went across the road to the Catalogne Lounge.
    We no sooner sat at the bar, when this horrible, extremely loud “siren” blasted forth. Sean and I, filled with the tension of the moment, ducked under our bar stools, only to hear the bartender roar withy laughter. Seeing our morose faces as we entered, she turned the music sound system full blast. There was a song at the time called “West of the Wall” which started with the singer emitting a high note that sounded like a shriek. We were not happy with the barmaid.

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