Not long after Globe disappeared, I only had a C$25-a-week column from the Lakeshore News & Chronicle as income. But because I am not a big spender and shared a flat, I largely banked the C$500 a week Globe paid me and was in good shape financially.
The News & Chronicle column was far more important to me than the money it produced. So was my alliance with its editor, Jeanette Burney Tremblay, the former mayor of a micro-municipality called Pincourt, which occupied part of the small island of Île Perrot, off the western tip of Montreal.
Jeanette, a feisty widow in her 60s, came to journalism via the obscure and now defunct tabloid Northshore News, which was in the Transcontinental stable. She was promoted to be the editor of its News & Chronicle, a substantial broadsheet, which had a monopoly in the most affluent expanse of West Island Anglo suburbs: Dorval, Pointe-Claire, Beaconsfield, Baie d'Urfé and Ste Anne de Bellevue. The lakeshore did not refer to a lake any more than Lachine, the neighbouring municipality, meant China. The lakeshore in the newspaper's name referred to Lake St Louis, a widening of the St Lawrence River caused by the Lachine Rapids, which blocked most ocean-going ships from going upstream from Montreal.
While I was not entirely alien to Montreal's West Island, it was a foreign country to me. It was 24-karat suburbia in the Toronto mode. Montrealers were those who lived east of those municipalities occupying the high bluff separating Lachine, which topographically marks the beginning of the extended western plain covering the 13 miles to the tip of Montreal Island at Ste Anne de Bellevue. Except for the two towns at either end, the West Island was predominantly English speaking and, to a purebred Montrealer's eye, much like the Toronto suburb of Scarborough—aka "Scarberia"—to disparaging downtowners like myself.
The Lakeshore News & Chronicle was part of Henri Duhamel's Transcontinental Inc, a printing and media company then based in Ville Lasalle, a relatively new district of housing and industrial estates in the 1960s, though it had long been a separate independent municipality. LaSalle Boulevard in the 17th and 18th centuries was the portage trail from Montreal to Lachine, above the rapids, from which the coureur de bois fur trappers could more safely trek to and from the interior. Eventually, Transcontinental Inc would be listed on the Montreal and Toronto Stock Exchanges, never quite living up to its hubristic name, but at the time—1983—it owned a print shop and several suburban weeklies.
Under what circumstances Jeanette lost her editorship of the News & Chronicle I cannot recall. She wasn't fired, because Transcontinental gave her the editorship of the Notre Dame de Grâce Monitor and bilingual St Laurent News. Like Lasalle, though nowhere near it, Ville St Laurent lay on the northern fringes of the City of Montreal, just as Lasalle lay to the south.
Eric Johnson, my restless colleague from my days of Con U, the Olympic Village and Globe who lurched from journalism to golf course greenskeeping and back again, was then working a the only full-time reporter at the News & Chronicle. He recommended me as a columnist to Janet and I was taken on. But soon he returned to his abandoned fairways, eventually ending up as a district reporter for the Toronto Star in Waterloo, Ontario, undoubtedly near a golf course where he could serve the two mistresses who governed his life. And now that I had replaced the hale and hearty Eric Johnson as chief and only reporter, I had a full-time job albeit with a paltry wage.
Even put together, the NDG Monitor and the St Laurent News were nothing compared to the paid-for Lakeshore News & Chronicle, which was a 24- to 32-page broadsheet compared to these two free-distribution 32-page tabloids. Still, I was happy with the development. My anti-appeasement column was enjoying great success on the West Island, fighting francophone forces and their dominating Anglo appeasers, attacking the introduction of the metric system under such headlines as "Celsius Sucks." But still it was read on the West Island, where I knew no one. In fact, Jeanette called the column "The Montrealer," which meant an "outsider" even to her and most if not all West Islanders.
At the time Montreal was divided into 28 municipalities. They had developed as separate towns outside Montreal proper, which up to the 1680s ran only six blocks from the harbour and little more than a mile east and west along the waterfront. By the time the British came in 1760, it was perhaps twice that, with fields along a broad plateau to the north extending to the base of Mount Royal. At its top they erected a cross, and on a clear day one could look for 20 miles or more across the broad expanse of the river, more than a mile wide, and then the much broader plain that was the St Lawrence River Valley.
One of these municipalities was arguably the smallest in the world: Dorval Island, where the 10-seat town council outnumbered the permanent population. This was the result of it being a summer cottage area in a day when the island was a remote getaway an hour's carriage ride from the town centre. During the winter there were only a half dozen permanent residents, mostly caretakers of the properties.
Each municipality has its own story. One that was unknown to me when I covered a fire there for the Montreal Star was in the east end. The St Jean de Dieu mental hospital was a municipality on its own. I could see its police force rounding up the escaped inmates who were quite plainly visible in the dark in their whites. But I also learned that it lacked an adequate fire department—and that the last time it asked the neighbouring Pointe aux Trembles municipal fire department to assist, the hospital had failed to pay its bills, so there was no hope from that quarter. I remember the paragraphs reporting this were expunged from my story, as it was thought that there was no need to embarrass the French.
The other municipality in Jeanette's ken was Ville St Laurent, which was biggest of them all in area and started its organised life in 1720 as a parish. It was of no interest to me and it seemed to be of little interest to Jeanette when she took the helm. Jeanette agreed, and so we were just to run just the Monitor. There was the publisher Lou Miller, who had owned the Monitor and sold it to Trancontinental a few years before but stayed on as general manager.
While he took a lively interest in a number of things and had his way on such things, he did not interfere with her editorial direction. There was a fuss once over an editorial I wrote about how we might experiment with a 9-5 school day and a three-week shutdown in summer, with the whole education process being shortened by three years. It turned out his wife was a schoolteacher and he would never have heard the end of it had he allowed the editorial to run, so I acquiesced without protest and bashed out another editorial in a flash. He was so appreciative and apologetic about inconveniencing me that the interruption in my editorial freedom went by unnoticed. Jeanette just cheered me on.
The biggest editorial noise at the Monitor, which was larger than my own, was that of its chief salesman, John O'Meara, who wrote a column castigating the Frenchification of life. So we were all on the same page, which was great. I regretted that I lost my West Island voice, for as soon as Jeanette left, the News & Chronicle was taken over by the politically correct, who may well have had a hand in unseating her.
While at the Monitor we were happy gang of Micks and Jews (Miller and three of the salesmen being Jewish). What disputes there were—one erupted in a fist fight over poaching customers—were quickly settled by Lou, who was still famous in certain circles as an amateur hockey referee 20 years earlier with a reputation for arriving at quick settlements that did not impede the flow of the game.
Transcontinental, personified in the remote and icily polite Henri Duhamel, was like Lord Thomson's operation in that it cared little about the politics of its papers, but was passionate about revenue and expenditure and would not tolerate an increase in the latter without an increase in the former. I think Jeanette ran afoul of that, given her seething about not having the money to spend that she had had at the more substantial News & Chronicle. One day Lou Miller approached me when Jeanette was not there, told me in confidence that Jeanette was to be fired and asked if I would take over. I said Yes.
There was a painful week or two during which Jeanette blithely went on as normal—and so did I—and then it happened. Unfortunately, it came out that I had had advance warning and did not tell her. This poisoned relations between us, and Jeanette would not speak to me again.
I felt guilty. She might have mounted a successful rearguard action, but I would have broken my word to Lou. And, of course, would have lost the opportunity of a full-time job and what amounted to an independent command, which I craved. What's more, I lived in NDG by then at my brother's Marlowe barracks, and to-ed and fro-ed from home and work on my bicycle. It was an idyllic life, and I saw a good future at the Monitor.
I lived on Marlowe Avenue not three blocks from Westmount, where I had lived from ages 10 to 17 and had spent much of my life downtown, which lay immediately to the east. The Monitor's circulation area was mostly Anglo Christian south of Côte St Luc Road, and mostly Jewish to the north, in the municipalities of the City of Côte St Luc (pop. 31,000) and the tiny but rich Jewish municipality of Hampstead (pop. 7,000). To the north, we were a secondary presence, as the Jews were served by a strong weekly freebee called the Suburban, owned and operated by a dynamo of a woman called Sophie Wollock, who died five years earlier dancing in a Young Men's-Young Women's Hebrew Association (YM–YWHA) street festival. There was also the Town of Montreal West, a small sliver of a municipality of some 5,000 people no more than five short blocks wide and a half dozen blocks in length between the Canadian Pacific Railway commuter tracks to the south and their freight rail line under the hump bridge in the north, bordering Côte St Luc.
But the core of the NDG Monitor base was Notre Dame de Grâce with its 67,000 people. My mother picked up US$5 from the New Yorker for reporting the existence of the "Notre Dame de Grâce Kosher Meat Market." (I thought I would trump her when I penned a similar report for the Vancouver Sun that "The Otis Elevator Company in Vancouver is located in a one-storey building at 1050 Davie Street." But they didn't use it, I think because it was unconventional. So I had nothing to trump Mother.
The Monitor started in 1926 by a fellow called Hugh McCormick, no relation to me, though older folks often thought otherwise, which did me no harm; but not enough people knew of the origins of the Monitor for it to do me any good. I loved the Monitor as an institution; it was a taut little frigate that could take a lot of punishment. There was a framed copy of the paper's first edition on the wall at the front door of the office. "Harold Mackle Wallops Thief on Harvard Avenue" was one headline. Another story told of a local hero grabbing the halters of two runaway horses pulling a driverless heavy wagon running amok down Sherbrooke Street. It was a paper to be proud of. I had dreams of it becoming a Sunday paper and then a daily and finally taking on what I had come to call in my columns the Toronto Gazette of Montreal, where so many of its staff were blow-ins from Upper and Outer Canada and ever so solicitous to the concerns of the ever-grasping French majority who sought to reduce if not eliminate the English in their midst. The Gazette was a Quisling organisation.
The Monitor had seen better days, of course. It was once a plump paid-for broadsheet that prospered in the roaring '20s, survived the hungry '30s, and did well in the '40s with successive Liberal governments in Ottawa and even in Quebec during the war years. For NDG was a federal Liberal Party bastion. All went well for the Monitor, and indeed all English weeklies. Montreal was the most important city in the British Empire outside of the UK—more so before the Americans seriously entered the war in 1942. As local author Hugh MacLennan once said, "Montreal was an English garrison surrounded by a French village." But the winds of change were beginning to be palpable even then.
After the collapse of the provincial Union Nationale party that ruled Quebec from 1944, the provincial Liberal government with its 1960 anti-English slogan Maîtres Chez Nous—"masters in our own house"— began what became known as the Quiet Revolution, ironically a phrase devised by a sub-editor at the Montreal Star and renowned in French Canada as "Révolution tranquille." One of the features of this era of French advancement and English retreat—enthusiastically backed by francophone forces in the federal government as well as the appeasement-minded Anglo progressives in their ranks under the leadership of Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson—was bold public works projects.
One of these projects dealt a body blow to the Monitor. That was the building of the Decarie Expressway, a sunken eight-lane canyon that ran through NDG, shaving off its small but most densely populated eastern zone from the more affluent west. It deprived the Monitor of the critical mass that might have sustained its growth. The paper struggled on as a paid-for, but soon descended to lowly freebee status.
Like Côte des Neiges that lay to east of Côte St Luc and Hampstead with its 35,000 people, NDG was not an independent municipality but, like so many other places, a district of the City of Montreal that had begun organised life as a parish. By 1913, the broad expanse of NDG, quite unlike its compact neighbour Westmount (pop. 20,000), was getting too populous for cesspools to handle human waste disposal. Because of the greater distance between houses in NDG, the installation of adequate sewage would be hugely expensive. While the French were concentrated along Decarie Boulevard and around St Augustine Church on Girouard Park, the English dominated points west for miles. So NDG's natural choice was to be merged with Anglo Westmount. However, while willing to absorb NDG, Westmount would only agree if NDG residents paid the horrendous cost of the sewage installation—up to exacting Westmount standards. Montreal, on the other hand, would absorb NDG and take on their sewage at a cost more agreeable to residents. A referendum of ratepayers settled the question in Montreal’s favour.
So on my three-speed Raleigh I wended my way from the Marlowe Barracks along Sherbrooke, through what remained of the narrow, densely populated tranche of NDG, a thick slice of which was obliterated by the expressway itself with its on and off ramps—a large two-mile swath sawn off from the leafy affluent streets to the west. I cycled past the Chalet Bar-B-Q, where the basic menu hadn't changed since the 1940s to produce the best family chicken dinners to this day.
I passed Girouard Park, officially renamed NDG Park, crossing Marcil, where I later lived with my second wife, past Ma Heller’s bar, a federal Liberal bastion that promoted a campaign by the late Ma Heller to raise a company of boys for wartime military service. It was memorialised in a framed embroidery that hung on the wall, with all their names under the rubric Heller's Gang . When the place was bought by Steve the Greek, the memorial was later moved to the Royal Canadian Legion, a few blocks away.
Then I cycled up the incline on Royal Avenue past the elite Lower Canada College, across from which was a cricket pitch, where on Saturdays black men in impeccable whites could be seen playing a game few in Canada played anymore. Then came a gentle coast down to and along Monkland Avenue to cross Benny Park, and then a final long block from Terrebonne to get to the office at Cavendish and Somerled. We occupied about half the upper floor of the two-storey building.
Summer, winter, rain or shine, I plied this route. It was good that John O'Meara was fully occupied with bashing the French, for which he was widely despised and ridiculed. To me, he made perfect sense, and I had it out with friends and acquaintances. One time I read an O'Meara column line by line to them to determine what they found so laughable or what they disagreed with. Invariably, they wanted me to stop reading and interrupted constantly with inanities to bring the reading to an end. It became clear that they didn’t want to talk themselves but only wanted me to stop, forever seeking to change the subject if it switched from prosecuting O'Meara to defending him.
What was astonishing was that they really had no disagreement; they all regretted the Frenchification of life. But they had deprived themselves of their own decision-making power, or even thinking what they would not dare say in public even to their friends. At the time, I called it "group think," though it would later be coined as "political correctness" by Alan Bloom of the University of Chicago in his book The Closing of the American Mind. But that was not to come out for another four years.
With O'Meara bashing away at the French, I turned my attention to feminism, which I took to be—and still do—the greatest enervating factor in modern life. I appreciated its seductive powers even for men. The fastest way into a woman's pants was to agree that boys and girls were equal. If they were, I reasoned, there would be no need to campaign to make them so. They would be equally in demand everywhere. The idea of affirmative action, that is, preferential discrimination, would be laughable if everyone was thinking straight. But they were not thinking straight, even by their own lights. So I railed against feminism and the causes feminists championed—such as padding the park, that is, making parks safer for children, which always meant banning something. I was against compulsory seatbelt and bike helmet use, saying that the state was entitled to make rules protecting people from the actions of others, but was not entitled to enforce rules compelling a person to avoid risks knowingly imposed on himself. That violated personal sovereignty. For the same reason, I opposed the ban on smoking as well as environmental and recycling mania that was rapidly taking hold.
Not that the Monitor was all hectoring and lecturing. Not a bit of it. One day our publisher, Lou Miller, came in with what he considered a prize zucchini from his back garden. It was a squash more than a foot long. Lou, then a mustachioed fellow in his early 60s, somewhat rotund and bald to boot, looked a bit like his giant zucchini.
As shooting first and asking questions later is prudence in photography, I took his picture with my Polaroid, which I had used professionally, because one knew a picture was good enough as soon as one took it and could take another if it wasn't. But this one was perfect.
I did not know what I was going to do with it, but such was my faith in Micawber's Law, that "something would turn up," I worried not. Not long after, it did.
"Face the Monitor Challenge" my headline screamed, with a picture of confidently smiling Lou Miller and his giant zucchini. Beneath it was a blurby challenge to gardeners to appear at the Monitor office with their zucchinis, which would be measured by the Monitor's secretary, Mrs. Jean O'Meara (John's wife). The winner would get a free Monitor pen. Admittedly, it had to be one of the most measly prizes ever—a cheap plastic and metal ballpoint pen that the salesmen gave away to customers.
Still, they came traipsing through the office, oldsters, youngsters, men of all shapes and sizes with the odd matron or two. We were going to close it off after a week, but there were more who had not heard about it and wanted to be included. So we ran it another week and published a dozen pictures of people with their giant zucchinis, several larger than Lou's.
Lou was a little miffed to see himself on the front page as an avuncular cherub holding a giant zucchini, as I didn't mention how I would handle it until Sunday when he wasn't there. But he was all smiles when people started to come in with their giant zucchinis.
Quite how I discovered the potential for a winemaking contest months later I forget, but I think it came from an Italian participant in the zucchini challenge. I had heard Italians made wine and were quite competitive about it. Moreover, there were two rival Italian communities, one a largely left-wing group in southern NDG below the tracks in St Raymond. This area was represented by the leftist Montreal Citizen city councillor Sam Boskey, a Red-diaper baby from an old communist family. The other community was to the north, west of the Monitor office, arrayed around St Catherine de Sienna Church. These people were conservative and represented by independent city councillor Filippo Salvatore, an off-the-boat Italian who had become a McGill University lecturer and a major representative of 200,000 people of Italian descent in Montreal—perhaps still the largest concentration in Canada, though Toronto was fast gaining on us. He was an interesting young man perhaps a year or two younger than I. He was interested in fascism in the Italian community and told me of a church fresco in the northeast that pictured Mussolini. He ended up writing a book in 1998 called Fascism and the Italians of Montreal 1922-1945. There was also good support from Reed Scowen, NDG's Liberal member of the National Assembly, the provincial legislature in Quebec City, and we were away to the races.
A few months earlier, Lou Miller retired and John O'Meara, as top salesman, took over as "publisher," but like Lou, was de facto general manager. At first, we got on well, largely staying out of each other's way, and what few conflicts there were, were easily resolved.
But O'Meara was risk averse. There wasn't much risk in the Monitor zucchini challenge, and the proof of success was evident from the day after first publication with contestants traipsing in one after another. Had no one turned up, there would have been no loss. Few would have remembered the Monitor Challenge with fresh news to distract them. Some would snigger and sneer, but for O'Meara that was water off a duck's back.
But the NDG Wine Contest was different. It involved getting a church hall to hold it in and competent judges. There were also presentable certificates to be made. And a couple of weeks of promotional blurbs in the paper. It wasn't impossible, but there was a lot to be done. No getting away with handing out crummy Monitor ballpoint pens. I even wanted speeches to be made by O'Meara as the publisher, but he firmly demurred. "This is your baby," he said, with a fear of failure in his voice.
One of the city councillors found a local wine judge. Then out of the blue the wine columnist at Le Journal de Montreal wanted to know about the contest, and I suggested that he lead the panel of judges. He was okay with that. Then I unloaded the speechifying, the welcome and the introduction of myself as presenter of certificates to our MNA Reed Scowen. I finally prevailed on an unwilling O'Meara to get the certificates from the Transcontinental print shop in distant Ville Lasalle because he was the only Monitor person available with a car. The arrangements on this aspect of the operation had broken down.
Never having attended a winemaking contest, I did not know what they were like or how they were conducted. The two judges conferred and told me to get this and that, and the place was set up to their satisfaction.
But when O'Meara got back, successfully retrieving the certificates from the print shop, he could not conceal his fearful disappointment with what looked like nothing happening, which prompted him to ask repeatedly in tones of growing terror: "Is it a success?"
I couldn't say. There was no hoopla in the room among the 50 present. Just men at tables with numbers on them and many bottles and glasses. The judges were sipping, making notes and spitting sips out into purpose-built receptacles after sloshing sips about in their mouths a bit. I did notice the Le Journal guy, a plump, well-dressed gent with a poor complexion, was not spitting his samples with the regularity of the other judge, and he looked a little unsteady on his feet.
It lasted three hours, with the politicians standing by looking interested while O'Meara fretted visibly. I assured him it was a success and would be reported that way. I suggested he make his excuses and leave, as it would not look good for a junior like myself to be handing out the prizes when the senior was present. It could be thought of as an insult, as if they were not worthy of the publisher's attention. He scuttled off and I made his excuses.
I was told who won and presented the certificates to the first, second and third place contenders. There was a woman, the wife of one of the participants, who was familiar with my Polaroid, and had pictures taken of myself with the winners. The rest was easy. It was a success, but not nearly as much fun as the zucchini challenge. We never did it again.
I found a collection of Roman maxims and ran them as fillers in the paper. They were quite popular, though they ran their course after a while.
"Art is long, life is short" - Hippocrates . . . "Life is one long struggle in the dark" - Lucretius . . . "I see what is better, and approve it, but I follow the worse" - Ovid . . . "If I cannot sway the heavens, I will raise hell." - Virgil. Stuff like that.
At first, there was Pierre, a typesetter who moved on after accidently erasing our entire editorial output. I was alarmed, but not angry; it was the sort of thing a cyber klutz like myself might have done. At the time disaster struck, I was about to interview Pierre Paradis, later Quebec's environment minister but then campaigning for the provincial Liberal party leadership. So our interview started with my mind so completely on what I was going to do in light of the disaster, I confessed all to him. And what he said has stood me in good stead to this day in the event of computer data losses. "I have always found," he said, "that re-inputting material a second time is many times easier than the first time. I don't know why, but it's true."
And so it proved to be. As one of my favourite authors, Barbara Tuchman, who wrote The Guns of August, A Proud Tower and others, famously said: "The worst is not the surest." And by the time the day was out, I was worried about something else entirely, and the disaster was forgotten.
My most important innovation, which angered our legendary mayor, Jean Drapeau, who wrote an angry, yet charming, letter to the editor in protest, which I played up big time, was my use of opposition city councillors as reporters.
What had happened was that the power of the conservative Civic Party, with an overwhelming majority in the 51-seat council, made Mayor Drapeau a dictator. But the election of a raft of Montreal Citizen's Movement councillors in the Anglo west end, saw that absolute power of Drapeau fading fast.
All the MCM councillors wanted to be mentioned in the paper. So what I did was quote them if they had any news. And the more news they brought me, the more extended their stories would be, perhaps even with a picture of them looking handsome, noble and brave. Soon they all knew the drill and with my help got to know the elements of basic reporting. And as they were so used to gathering the material for their endless social complaints, they were a quick study. This is what so annoyed the mayor, who wrote the angry letter the editor. The last thing he wanted was councillors becoming de facto Monitor reporters telling of the usual shortfalls of his civic administration.
Many of our problems were perennial and seasonal. The most objectionable was dog shit season. Most every dog owner in winter allowed their animals to defecate at will. It would soon be frozen and covered with snow and, if visible, largely unobjectionable as a collection of stones might be.
Of course, come the spring, all came to flower, and for a short time was massively unsightly. April showers and intermittent thaws in March left blackened shards of ice crisscrossed with dirty rivulets running between them into the sewers that were unsightly and depressing to Montrealers, who longed for summer to bloom again. But the dog poo, now leached of all offensive odours, at least provided someone to blame for the hateful springtime angst. Thus the annual dog shit rage, amply amplified in the pages of the Monitor, went on not later than June, and served notice to the dog owners that the poo pickup season had begun, and we could forget about it for another year.
About this time, Councillor Salvatore swung in with his cause that the Monitor championed in June and July, when he reported an outraged citizenry upset about "arrogant squirrels." Except for their luxuriant tails, Montreal's gray squirrels look like rats, but we bear them no hostility as they, like inoffensive sparrows, brave the outdoors and share the Montrealer's plight of being stuck here in freezing winter and broiling summer.
But citizens agreed that "arrogant squirrels" were entirely too much, popping into kitchen windows and grabbing what food they could find before scampering away up the interlocking trees that concealed the overhead electric and telephone cables that were squirrel highways. It was hardly a problem at all, and it came at a time when NDG with its leafy streets was at its most lovely and could easily stand as a Canadian ideal.
Another initiative I took was to drop all regular columns by politicians, including our Liberal Member of Parliament Warren Allmand. I had run into Allmand at Concordia University at some function but knew little about him other than he was against capital punishment. It wasn't until I got to the Monitor that I discovered how left-wing he was. What's more, how he would raise no objection to the way his Anglo constituents were being treated by Quebec's increasingly nationalist governments.
What Allmand did send us, which I found useful, were the Hansards, that is, the parliamentary transcripts, in which Allmand often appeared, somewhat mystifying his constituents, John O'Meara included, by expressing his deep concern for the plight of Namibia. "What's Namibia?" O'Meara asked me, after reading of Allmand's speeches. Our MP was always whingeing about the plight of others while his own constituents were ordered to erase their culture by putting up signs in a language decidedly not of their choice. The more I looked at him, the more I saw him as a virtual communist, and as if to prove my point, the Communist Party backed him instead of their usual go-to choice, the socialist New Democratic Party candidate, in the 1984 election.
That particular piece of counterintuitive news first appeared obscurely at the bottom of a back page of the Gazette, as if it were Part II orders for the local Red Brigade, not to be noticed by anyone else. But I played it up big with the front-page headline "Communist Party backs Warren Allmand.” I even added a cartoon, by Pat McDougall, showing Sam Walsh, the head of the Communist Party, with a red star on his cap and his arm around an embarrassed-looking Allmand.
Every week, McDougall, a life-long CBC announcer who recalled my mother as a "great broadcaster," came in to look at a printout of our week's editorial output assisted by our photo files of the politicians we covered. From this, he would draw whatever came to mind and often as not they were good, and most were useful. (Then in one of life's great ironies, he got amazingly good news and amazingly bad at the same time. The bad news was that he had cancer, with eight months to live, and the good news was that he won some enormous amount—C$4 million—from Loto Quebec, the provincial lottery. He told me that he was happy that it would provide financial security for his family.)
Girlwise, things were happening and unhappening. Lannie Trudeau, sister of Dennis Trudeau, my Gazette colleague a decade earlier and then the main news anchor on CBC local television, and I were now an item. I found Lannie lingering hopefully at the end of an NDG Conservative riding association meeting, a group I found distressingly anaemic. They weren't Tories in the British sense or conservatives in the American sense. They seemed to be no different from the Liberals, except that for various individual personal reasons they hated Liberals, having been wronged by them in some way. Still I was delighted to meet an attractive girl who held conservative views. I went to meet her family in Ottawa at Christmas, where I again met TV star Dennis. Dad was a retired train conductor and seemed to fuss over people thinking punching tickets was what it appeared to be when in reality it was "taking transportation." Lannie and I got as far as buying an engagement ring, but I grew impatient over her chronic tardiness. The relationship ended abruptly after I warned her if she were 40 minutes late three consecutive times, I would split. She was; I split.
Then something occurred that was reminiscent of that odd moment when I was waiting for my not-yet fiancée Jill to fetch me when I was lost in London's Maida Vale and spotted Marianne Heron walking by. She gave me a glance and went by. In an uncanny similar incident, I was outside the Marlowe Barracks when a girl, more sadly beautiful than pretty, came out of a small food store, and I said to myself, almost as a prayer to God, that that's the sort of thing I want.
Sometime after my bout with the feminists, Rosemary Turpin came in. She had been assigned with posting a notice of meeting of her apartment complex's tenants' association. We had a coming events column that I had copied from the Irish Times called "What's On" and on another page, a column "What's Up", with a picture of a unicorn on top. In substance, this was an updated version of my father's 1940s Herald column "Sound Track", which in turn was something of a copy of Walter Winchell's "On Broadway" column, a series of sundry signals separated with triple dot ellipses. My father said any copyboy could write it, but it was amazingly well read from scraps one picked up from here and there - and so it turned out to be and I retained it where I could thereafter.
Roly-poly Rosemary Turpin berated me about my anti-feminist views and told me to get in touch my feelings. I was frequently berated by readers about some attitude of which they disapproved. Councillor Boskey’s mother, an old line commie who I had squired around Dublin a five years before, considered herself the policeman of the Monitor, having successfully persuaded me to stop including only black men when describing fleeing felons. Of course, she was none too pleased when I included the race of all fleeing felons and those of African descent clearly, and quite disproportionally, outnumbered white fleeting felons.
Rosemary also told me something very much of interest. She knew Anne O'Reilly, who had written an intriguing letter to the editor, and proposed we have dinner together.
On the appointed evening, I arrived and found Rosemary's apartment swarming with kids ages 5, 6 and 7. I had arrived about the same time as four mothers, who had come to pick up their kids from what turned out to be an unofficial crèche.
I remember one woman was black and there were three others, some of whom departed with their kids as soon as they arrived, with others lingering for a chat. As instructed, I made myself comfortable in the living room as the ladies collected themselves and their kids and departed from the kitchen. There was a woman I hoped Anne O'Reilly to be, as she was definitely the most attractive. But she could have been any one of them. Even the black one could have been named O'Reilly, but I did not think so, given the reference in her letter to the editor to "Sinn Fein - North/South Division," which sounded made up, but bespoke an Irish cultural connection. I only caught a glimpse of the group before I was ushered into the living room with a 7-year-old boy, who turned out to be my de facto son Derek for the next 12 years.
At last the women departed with their children and I was pleased to be introduced to Anne O'Reilly, the one I so hoped it would be. As it was in the case of Marianne, it wasn't until much later that I realised that Anne O'Reilly and the woman I saw months ago walking out of the food store were one and the same, though she had no recollection of me or the incident.
Anne was born in Ireland, but as a youngster had moved to Coventry and then to Montreal. The story gets weird at this point. She so hated living at home, that she wanted to go to jail. There was no overt cruelty at home, so it was hard to see what was so terrible about it that it drove her to prefer prison—until I spent a weekend at the family homestead in Kingston, Ontario. Anne's powers of description were at least as good as mine, and I find it impossible to convey what made that household so intolerable, except to say that every move by the parents, who seemed to dislike each other, made all in their midst feel uncomfortable, on edge and anxious to get out—even to the backyard in the rain.
After that, I quickly concurred that Anne was perfectly justified in wanting to go to jail. This she achieved in a most imaginative way. She wrote a series of libelous and maliciously false letters supposedly from one tenant to another in the apartment block. The letters had one tenant telling another that her husband was having a secret affair with another woman in the building. I cannot remember other examples, but there were many and they did cause the furor she intended. I also remember that it was a multi-staged operation, so eventually it went through all the stages of warnings, psychiatric examinations, first, second and last chances till she got to a jail at last with the cozy name Girls' Cottage School in St Bruno, south of Montreal.
I was again utterly entranced with her. And when a small apartment became vacant next to hers in a rundown building on nearby Prud'homme Avenue on the other side of the expressway, I moved in, though my place soon became an office for both of us with Anne, her son Derek and I living together in her flat.
She was on welfare, and I wanted her to work with me in the typesetter job at the Monitor. But she thought it was boring and intolerably inserted amusing errors when it took her fancy. She was intelligent and an excellent writer, and wildly funny when she did an impromptu skit of Mary and Joseph coming into Bethlehem, as "respectable taxpayers with a substantial family-owned business, and all you can find Joseph is a stable!" with her version of Mary sounding like a Jewish yenta.
But those were good times, fewer and farther between as time went on. I had to fire Anne and decided to hire Hilary, the daughter of Joel’s wife from her first marriage. She was 18, a heroin user, and affected a nasty dark punk persona, but was nonetheless an attractive blond with attitude in spades, either on a manic know-it-all high or darkly sullen. I hoped to have Anne make friends with her, but that was a flop and a lesson learned. You cannot bring two negative people together in hope of positive collaboration. I was disappointed as they were so much alike.
But Hilary did the job I wanted Anne to do and did it a million times better. I really came to rely on her, and the paper prospered. We seemed to be running up to 48 pages now.
And that's when I began to run into trouble with O'Meara. We started off at 32 pages a week, and with all the editorial bounce we got up to 40 pages and after a time to 48. That's where we stalled. To move up a notch at that point we had to move to a new press, which was available to us, but no longer could we expand in eight-page increments. After 48 pages, we had to rise in increments of 16. To do this would have meant an increase in costs without a corresponding increase in revenue. Not only was the shift from the bush league to the major league press a substantial cost increase in itself. O'Meara and his sales team, which had grown no bigger, preferred to divide the larger revenue stream among the small group and would suffer a loss overall if they could not fill the new 16 pages with enough advertising. This was true, I had to concede. What we had to do was to expand through deeper market penetration within our existing territory. To increase the territory would be to increase the press run that would increase the costs. We had to garner more readers from the existing area.
At this point, our Transcontinental owners decided they wanted something in French, and on the front page. Someone had sent me a bundle of William Johnson's Globe and Mail columns about how the French were screwing in English in Quebec. Who better to tell it to but the French themselves. Johnson was a man of great stature, an Order of Canada winner (something like a Canadian knight) the author of several books and a lecturer at the University of Toronto. His father was an Anglo and his mother was French Canadian. He was educated by the Jesuits in French and was highly critical of Quebec's cul-de-sac culture. It was bitter medicine for French readers, but it generated interest among them and that fell into line with Transcontinental's and my intention to increase market penetration within the existing territory.
I believe that from a technical point of view, the downfall of the daily newspaper can largely be attributed to a lack of focus on market penetration, being satisfied with a false equivalency of monopoly of a market segmentation, and forever pursuing desired markets that only appeared to be accessible, but were not.
And in the course of this pursuit abandoning markets that were accessible but did not appear to be as remunerative as the ones thought desirable. This meant going after women who shop and abandoning men who didn't but who were the mainstay of newspaper readership. This drove men away to the internet to escape the sex, recipes and fashionable fears that have governed newspaper content worldwide for 30 to 40 years.
What drove me to resign was that there was no way forward for me. The move from 48 to 64 pages was now an impossible dream, but it all suited O'Meara and the sales force perfectly. They could take what editorial space I had and use it for advertising, which they did without restraint, even placing late ads on hitherto ad-free editorial and op-ed pages. So I quit.