Appeared in Business in Vancouver – August 12, 2014
Paul St. Pierre died aged 90 last month, and the daily newspapers he adorned look a little wan too. Abandoning characteristic diplomacy, Vancouver Sun deskman Ron Riter, equipped with the keenest of journalistic noses, would call him the paper’s best columnist of his time.
Paul could write down and up to readers in every sentence. An equal-access storyteller to the lump and the literate, he wrote books and films, real cowboys and real Indian stories, set in B.C.’s Cariboo country. Once a pretty woman fell off a ranch fence there and he caught her. “Hello,” he remarked. They married, his first of two.
He was a Sun desker when Don Cromie – maybe Canada’s last big-city independent publisher and given to exotic epiphanies, like transmuting sports writer Jack Richards into a theatre critic and sending women’s editor Marie Moreau to interview Fidel Castro – elevated Paul to associate editor. The legend is that the day he began his new role was the first he’d ever worn a suit and tie.
Dark, restless, Napoleonic, Paul preferred big horizons to airless offices. He drove a Datsun B210, his “little rice-burner,” all over B.C., extracting columns from soil and river and ordinary lives he made important. Mexico was a second home. In advanced age he wrote a reflective masterpiece, Old Enough to Know Better.
Drinking occurred in those days. (And that was just the women; Moreau closed the door and opened the bottom drawer for her women’s department staff after every workday.) Names swim back: Simma Holt, Moira Farrow, Tom Ardies – who often wrote the prize zipper across the bottom of page 1. Unheralded deskmen like Lionel Salt, tough Tom Butler, Evan Evans-Atkinson. Inventive photographers under Charlie Warner. Cartoonists Len Norris and Roy Peterson. The dailies are thinner and the fun has vanished, along with the blue-haze newsroom and the booze.
Hold on – business readership, right? Better sprinkle some dollar signs. Determined to produce a brash, big-time paper, in 1963, when Earl T. Smith hired the undersigned, Cromie was paying columnist Jack Scott $24,000 per annum, and cigar-chomping managing editor Erwin Swangard $1,000 more – plus a white Cadillac, soothing any incipient jealousy. Everyone read self-styled saloon columnist Jack Wasserman, who weighed in at around $19,000. In perspective, the journeyman rate then was $128 a week, $6,656 a year.
These figures, stunning today when adjusted for inflation, were provided by know-it-all Allan Fotheringham, not yet the celebrity columnist of the same name, who incidentally assessed the value of Cromie’s handsome Shaughnessy house at an alarming $125,000.
But that was very much then. A source familiar with several area print, radio and TV enterprises reports that all are hurting, the common enemy of course the Internet, free and often worth every penny. Yet the dailies, including the Sun under Gordon Fisher, in many respects are better than ever, and still absolutely indispensable.
Now, CKNW. The rich, legendary days are likewise gone, along with Jack Webster, Warren Barker, George Garrett, Frosty Forst and a vast alumni roster of mostly female producers and outstanding executive Shirley Stocker. Front-liners Philip Till and Bill Good recently left hours apart, Till cheerfully telling me: “I’ve had enough, and I’ve got enough.”
Good, 67-ish, with his probity, civility, fairness, balance, integrity and inclusiveness, traits I yearn for, sailed perilously close to the status of Court Broadcaster, socially mingling with the prominent and even offered a job by billionaire Jimmy Pattison during a huge on-air sendoff. Permanent replacements TBA; Chris Gailus and Jay Durant have batted for Till, sassy and smart Mike Smyth for Good.
We may never see the glory days reprieved, certainly not at the old income of Rafe Mair. Memory, speak: didn’t it hit $300,000?
© Trevor Lautens, 2014