Saturday, 23 August 2014

At 30 - Jean Osborne

The Toronto Sun Family has lost another member of The 62.

Jean Osborne, a much-loved Day One switchboard operator, died in her 80s on Aug. 19, 2014, from the ravages of Alzheimer's. 

Jean, remembered for her smile and kindly disposition, was one of the 62 former Toronto Telegram staffers to take a gamble on the upstart Sun in the old Eclipse Building at King St. W. and John Street after the Tely folded.

From the first day of the Toronto Sun - Nov. 1, 1971 - to her retirement, Jean was part of a switchboard team that was integral to the tabloid's success.

On Day One, she was joined on the switchboard in the factory environment by Margaret Kmiciewicz, aka Mrs. K., who died at 87 on Dec. 13, 2008. Memories of Margaret

Over the years, Margaret and Jean welcomed and nurtured new switchboard operators before and after the Sun's move to 333 King Street East, including Marjorie, Mary, Dawne etc.

While some businesses hide their switchboards in back rooms and basements, Jean, Margaret et al were positioned in the heart of the newsroom at 333. They were, after all, a conduit to world leaders, politicians, personalities, thousands of readers etc.  

During quiet times, they were fascinating conversationalists and story tellers. 

Reaction to Jean's death at Hillsdale Terraces in Oshawa on the Toronto Sun Family Facebook page was swift:

Joan Sutton Straus: "I am so sorry to hear of her battle with Alzheimer's, and send my love and sympathy to her family who will mourn her absence but not, in this case. her death. Jean was a graceful presence at the Sun, totally professional in her work, always ready with a smile. I will never forget her." 

Cal Millar: "Very sad news about Jean. The switchboard was always the hub of the paper. She will be missed by many."

Dawne Blackwood: "Over the years I have thought of Jean many times. She was a wonderful lady and even better was a wonderful boss."

Siobhan Moore: "Jean was a sweetheart, a very gentle lady who handled the boisterous newsroom with style."

Sheila Chidley-Bilicki: Always a pleasant and such a nice person. Sad to hear of her battle with Alzheimer's and of her passing. RIP, Jean."

Moira MacDonald"I am so sorry to hear about this. I will always remember her smile. Another one of those switchboard ladies who made me a top Brownie cookie seller for years!"

Linda Barnard: "Sorry to hear this. What a lovely person Jean was. She and Mrs. K were the voices of the Sun back in the day. May the good Lord not put her on hold and put all her calls through. RIP, Jean."

Linda A. Fox: "That Sun switchboard was our first line of defence... and Jean did a great job!"

Rashida Jeeva: "Jean was a lovely person. She made a quilt - by hand - when my first daughter was born. I still have it."

Lorrie Goldstein: "Simply one of the nicest people in the Sun newsroom. So sorry to hear of her passing. Sincere condolences to her family and friends."

Memories of Jean Osborne can be emailed to

Sunday, 17 August 2014

At 30 - Bob Olver

Some former colleagues would say family, journalism and cats comfortably filled the life and times of Robert Henry Olver, who died recently at 80 in Peterborough.

His media life covered a lot of bases, including a stint on the Toronto Sun sports desk during the glory years of the tabloid.  

Bob's blog and a series of postings called Songs of the Catkin Cats captured his feelings for felines. It can be read here.

Bob's children prepared the following obit:

OLVER, Robert Henry - (1934-2014) Our dad, Bob, died peacefully on July 27th at the age of 80 in Peterborough with his family at his side. He is lovingly remembered by his wife, Kathy; his children Robert, Heather, Matthew (Lisa), Chris (Vanessa) and Peter (Shannon); his grandchildren Ryan, Erin, Juliette, Owen and Jesse; and by great-grandchildren Breanne and Owen. Bob was also a loving father to Mark, who passed away in 2008.

A retired journalist, newspaper editor and author who recently completed his memoir, "Catness", Bob is also remembered as a tireless champion of the cat community, working with his wife Kathy to save the lives of countless animals over the years.

A memorial service will be held in his honour on Sunday, August 17th from 2 - 4 pm at the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, 106 Trinity Street in Toronto (King St. and Parliament St.). In lieu of flowers, donations to Bob and Kathy's beloved Catkin Cat Farm would be gratefully accepted at any TD branch account number 255-5173241282615

A book promotion for the award-winning author reads:

Robert Olver has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and author, writing for major news organizations such as The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun, Reuter News Agency  in London, and The Sun of London.

Olver's first novel, The Bicycle Tree, was published by McClelland and Stewart and his non-fiction work, The Making of Champions, was published by Penguin-Viking in 1991. His freelance work, fiction and non-fiction, has appeared in many publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, Vanity Fair, Maclean's magazine and Chatelaine.

Awards include The Macmillan-Bloedel Award for Excellence for a series on drug addiction and two Dunlop Awards for news features on social issues related to sports. Olver and his wife, Kathy, are dedicated gardeners.

Their garden, known as The Cat Garden, was started in 1991 and has several times been featured on The Discovery Channel's TV series The Guerilla Gardener, on CTV's Mark Cullen Gardening and in many newspaper and magazine articles.

In 1990, the Olvers founded The Catkin Willow Fund for Stray Cats, which mission is to rehabilitate abused and abandoned cats and to work with feral and even wild cats as well.

Our permanent feline community is limited to 30 at present, but we have helped hundreds of cats since Catkin Willow began.

Memories of Bob can be shared here by emailing

Monday, 23 June 2014

Summer 2014 open forum

Keep your fellow Sun Media colleagues and former staffers up to date on happenings at your newspaper and the Sun Media chain.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Another honour for Les Pyette

Congrats to Les Pyette, pictured with daughter Kaydi.
From the Sault Ste. Marie Star

SAULT STE. MARIE - Les Pyette was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, where he began his long and productive newspaper career as a sports reporter at his hometown paper when he was still in high school.

He was bitten so hard by the journalism bug in those early days that he quit school to take a full-time job at the Sault Daily Star in 1963 for $65 a week, at the tender age of 17.

Pyette worked his way up to top executive positions at several newspapers in Canada and was founding editor-in-chief of the Calgary Sun in 1980.

He has travelled much of the world as a news man, but he never forgot about the people back home. He made regular trips back to the Sault to visit with family, which never seem far from his heart.

Pyette spent 41 years in the news business, 29 of them with Sun papers.

His efforts have led him into newsrooms across the country, to Taiwan, Japan, South Africa and many cities in the U.S., and distinguished him as one of the top news men in the nation.

Last fall he took his place in the Canadian News Hall of Fame among other greats in the industry.

On Saturday afternoon he was under the big tent on the Sault waterfront at the Roberta Bondar Pavilion to receive an honorary degree from Algoma University, and also deliver the commencement speech at the school's convocation ceremony.

“Who would have thunk that I would be standing here (now), when I was chasing all those sports stories around the Sault 50 years ago,” said Pyette, 69, who lives in London, Ont., but still calls the Sault “home.”

The Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) Degree is awarded by AU to recognize outstanding achievement by a person outside the university, said academic dean Arthur Perlini during his introduction of Pyette.

“Mr. Pyette's achievements in Canadian journalism are outstanding and have been acknowledged so by his peers, as well as the readership of many of the newspapers he has spearheaded,” said the dean.

“His career contributions and achievements ... are recognized today as those of a newspaper legend,” Perlini added.

Pyette was soft spoken and most when he took his turn at the microphone.

“Thank you so much for bestowing this honour on a poor kid from Connaught Avenue — Korah Road and Second Line. (It's) hard to believe,” he said.

Pyette tipped his hat to his mother and father from the podium.

“Both are long gone now ... They raised five boys and two girls in a little war-time house on Connaught Avenue. The morals and the values that they taught us still hold dear with us today,” he said.

He made special mention of his brothers, Norris, Nellie, Ron and Al, who were in the audience.

Pyette said his father wasn't home much when he was growing up because he worked two jobs. It was oldest brother Norris who drove the boys to hockey games and taught them to drive.

“(He) taught us not to take any BS from anybody ... I owe a lot to older brother Norris.”

Pyette became a bit emotional while recognizing Nellie, Ron and Al, “For all their love and support over the years.”

He said he didn't know what to make of university president Richard Myers when he called to tell him the school wanted to present him with the honorary degree. He thought one of his old friends from the Sault was putting him on.

“I'm humbled and honoured to be standing here,” he told the crowd of nearly 1,000 that filled the tent. “Thank you so much from the bottom of my Sault Ste. Marie heart for this wonderful honour. I will cherish it forever.”

Although he was still playing hockey and baseball when he began working for the Sault Star in 1963, Pyette's duties took him to local ball diamonds, soccer fields and the former Memorial Gardens to also gather game statistics and talk to coaches.

He provided the information to reporters at the Star who wrote the stories. He didn't actually get a byline until he had been on the job for six months.

After playing in a hockey game in Sudbury late in 1963 he called the Star to provide details and comments about the game.

“A guy named Greg Douglas took it (the information) and he made a story,” Pyette said during an interview after convocation.

He was shocked to see the story across the top of the sports page the next day — with his byline on it. It was one of those indelible moments.

“I was bitten hard. I was turned on right there” to the newspaper business.

Pyette worked at the Sault Star until 1967 when he applied for a job at a small paper in Illinois,“as a lark.”

To his surprise he got the job and worked three years in the U.S. before returning to Canada to continue his trade, later becoming editor at the Toronto Sun, then founding editor-in-chief of the Calgary Sun, publisher and CEO of both Sun papers and the London Free Press.

Through his career he also served as executive editor of the Toronto Sun, general manager at the Calgary Sun and vice-president of Sun Media before retiring in 2003.

He returned briefly to the news business in 2004 as publisher and CEO of the National Post for one year.

Pyette's advice to the 2014 graduating class was terse and simple.

“Believe in yourself, don't take no for an answer,” he told the more than 200 students in attendance.

Back in the '70s when the “upstart” Toronto Sun opened its doors, the so-called media experts predicted the paper wouldn't last six months, he said.

“But as you know, it's 43 years later and it's still going.”

It takes a lot of hard work to be successful, he told the students. There were many late nights and early mornings during his 40-plus years in the news business.

And he took some chances along the way, he said, such as leaving a secure job to begin a new venture.

“I can tell you students, no one is going to give you anything, you have to stick to your principles and work your butt off to gain a measure of success in this working world,” he said.

“Buckle down and concentrate and listen to your instincts, listen to your gut. If you're lucky you'll find something that you like. And if the door of opportunity opens, walk right through it and don't look back.”

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Clare Wescott to celebrate 90th

Clare Westcott turns 90 on Tuesday, June 17, another milestone for the father of Jamie Westcott, the young award-winning Toronto Sun police desk reporter who died at 25 on June 13, 1989.

Clare’s career resume includes hydro worker, newsman, longtime Bill Davis aide, Metro Toronto Police Commission chairman, Ryerson Board of Governors member, National Parole Board member and citizen court judge.

He shares some of his experiences in a recent email note saying Bernie Webber, chairman of the board of JazzFM91, will be chatting with Brad Barker on his show on June 17 at 3 pm.

Clare writes: “Have no idea what they are going to say aside from wishing me a Happy Birthday.

“Jazz FM91 started more than 60 years ago as CJRT-FM at Ryerson Institute, now Ryerson University. It was then a mix of educational programming classes and music, mostly jazz.

“As a tiny FM station, its range was not far beyond the then tiny Ryerson`s campus. It was used as a teaching tool for students taking Journalism and, about 63 years ago, I was one of those students.

“All I remember is writing and editing copy for the sports broadcaster and once I read sport news and I`m sure I was terrible for I still remember trembling.

“In 1950, I came to Toronto from Seaforth to work for the Toronto Telegram. I enrolled in night school at Ryerson by mail before I left and I recall the cost for one year was $15.

“Classes were two nights a week and the teachers were mostly working Toronto news folks who were moonlighting. Classes were held in two-story frame buildings left from the war.

“I was so lucky (although I was fired from the Tely) for in the early 1960`s I was appointed to the board of Governors of Ryerson and in 1971 Premier Robarts and I were given honorary degrees.

“Bernie was an early data processing whiz and worked in the department of education in the 1960`s and later in other government ministries. He is really the father of today`s highly successful JazzFM91.”

Thank you for sharing the email, Clare.

And a very happy 90th.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

At 30 - Hartley Steward

Updated June 11, 2014

Hartley Steward has died. He was 72.

The former Sun Media and Toronto Star executive leaves a wife, two children and countless benefactors of his mentoring over the decades in the news biz.

No funeral, as he requested, but a memorial service was held in Collingwood.

There are stories to tell about Hartley's long and productive career in journalism before he quietly bowed out of Sun Media in 2006. Stories about his years devoted to building the Sun tabloids in Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary, his time at the Toronto Star etc.

He cared about journalism and the people he worked for and with in newsrooms and boardrooms across Canada.

Our favourite Hartley Steward caring and sharing story stems from the wake of Paul Heming, a wiz Toronto Sun copy desk editor who died at 53 in September of 1993.

Paul left $1,000 in his will to buy drinks for his colleagues at his wake, which was well populated. When the $1,000 ran out a couple of hours before closing time, Hartley, not wanting to see Paul's gathering end early, added another $1,000.

TSF readers wanting to share their memories of Hartley can do so by email at 

Nancy Stewart, former composing room staffer: 
We were saddened to see Hartley Steward's obit in the Toronto Sun. Even though we didn't work directly with him, those of us from the former Composing Room and Ad Production Department remember him fondly as an advertising executive, Editor and Publisher. I'd like to relate one short story that reflects his caring attitude towards staff and his happy demeanour: 

When the Sun held its usual party for 20-year-service employees (yes, those were the days), I happened to be on sabbatical (again, those were the days) and missed the party. After my return, Hartley invited me to his 6th floor office and personally gave me the 20-year-service gold ring, taking the time to talk of work, history, the origin of our similar names and a few good laughs. He made me, and so many other employees, feel like we were an important part of The Sun. 

Mike Strobel remembers Hartley in a Toronto Sun column:

 John Downing remembers Hartley on his Downing's Views blog:

From Sherry, an ex-dayoner via a blog posting.
When I received a text from Sister Kerry yesterday about Hartley passing, I thought: Oh my God - there goes a Toronto Sun legend. That's so sad. I really loved that guy.

As a boss, and friend, he was so much fun - and so good looking - had an amazing sense of humour. Every minute spent with Hartley was joyful, in or out of the office. No matter who, or what, brought you down, Hartley had the knack of picking you up.

My heart cries when Tor Sun family members join each other at 30 - for Hartley, it's sobbing.

Judy Creighton, former editor/columnist for The Canadian Press.
I was most fortunate to meet Hartley when I joined the Toronto Star in 1973. Not only did he mentor me as a reporter, but  he became a good friend. So much so, he and his partner sublet their downtown apartment to me when they decided to purchase a house. 

Hartley was a wonderful writer and was blessed with a wicked sense of humour. He will be missed by all who knew him. 

John Paton, former Toronto Sun copy boy who rose to executive ranks, in his blog: 

Ron Base, former Toronto Sun entertainment writer, remembers Hartley in his blog:
John Cosway, former reporter/columnist/rewrite guy
My first glimpse of Hartley Steward was when Hartley and Les Pyette sat down with me for a job interview at the Toronto Sun's original digs in the Eclipse Building in late 1974.

Harley and Les peppered me with questions about my media jobs, looked at clippings from a scrapbook, listened to stories about my years with Thomson newspapers and the Richmond Review in B.C., but were most interested in my wage demand.

Told them I always want to make more than my last job. I was making $216 a week at my previous job at the Richmond Review, so "how about $217?" They both laughed - and a few weeks later I was on the Sun's cop desk for the start of a 19-year stay.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Spring 2014 open forum

Have your say about 2014 happenings at Sun Media, including more cuts said to be on the horizon.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The "Little Paper That Grew" story

In the early years of the Toronto Sun, the feisty little tabloid let it be known it needed a slogan and a new ad agency to do the job.

It has taken TSF months, but we have pinned down the story behind The Little Paper That Grew branding that was accepted just a few years after the Sun was launched on Nov. 1, 1971.

It comes in the words of Gary Carr, one of the Pellow Ambrose and Carr ad execs who accepted the challenge to provide a memorable brand for the Sun.

Carr writes:

"The year was 1976 (?) and The Toronto Sun was seeking a new advertising agency. During its start-up years, all the newspaper's external advertising had been donated by Marvin Naftolin, but after some early impressive growth the paper's management group determined it was time to hire an agency with some depth.

"At the time, Pellow Ambrose and Carr was a young, small agency with just nine employees, but was quickly becoming recognized for some very creative work, particularly a campaign for Jack Baker Distillers that had recently run in their paper.

"The Sun asked a number of Toronto agencies for a creative recommendation and PA&C was by far the smallest contender for the business.

"President Don Ambrose and Creative Director Gary Carr leaped at the chance, recognizing that the Sun's advertising would be highly visible and would be a major help in furthering the young agency's reputation.

"After a week or so of discussing slogan alternatives, Gary Carr stopped Don in the hallway of their homey office on Roehampton Avenue in north Toronto and asked "How about 'The Little Paper That Keeps on Growing'"?

"Don's immediate reply was "great but let's make it a little shorter" and that's how "The Little Paper That Grew" was born.

"PA&C marched down to the Sun's offices and presented the idea to Lynda Ruddy, Don Hunt and Doug Creighton. Within days, they were hired by The Sun

"For most of the next 20 years, PA&C continued as The Sun's advertising agency and "The Little Paper That Grew" thrived as its slogan."

Our thanks to Gary Carr for answering an often asked question: Who penned The Little Paper That Grew slogan?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Wayne Janes' farewell after 27 years at TorSun

Wayne Janes
Wayne Janes says farewell to the Toronto Sun:

When I said I wanted a buyout from the Sun, some of the people I worked with said it was the end of an era.

Maybe. But if it is it's only one in a long line of "ends of eras."

The first era ended with the ouster of Doug Creighton and there's been a string of them since, although they tended to bunch up the last few years - so much so that there seemed to be more "ends" than space in between them.

I have always loved the Sun. It opened a new door when another one was being slammed shut behind me. It was 1985 and I was offered two part-time jobs, one as a proofreader and another as mail-room sorter. I took both.

I became a full-time proofreader in '86, and thanks to the generosity (or temporary insanity) of John Paton a News desk copy-editor in '87.

A short tangent. I had a meeting in '85 with then HR boss Carl O'Byrne, during which he asked me what I thought I might do at the Sun. I said I wanted to try my hand at copyediting. He laughed, saying copyeditors were trained at J-school, which I'd never attended. Our meeting ended.

A couple of years later, after I'd been on the News desk, I saw him at a Sun party. He made a point of congratulating me and giving me a hug. It was a lesson to me of the open heart of the Sun.

The people I have worked with, in every department except Sports, have been the most generous with their time and expertise, the kindest, most hard-working, dedicated, fun, and pound-for-pound most talented souls I have ever known in my working life.

 My 27 years there has had a profound effect on me and I do miss you all.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Thane Burnett exits Sun Media after 26 years

Thane Burnett, Sun Media writer extraordinaire, has left the building after 26 years, most of them spent in the bowels of 333.

One fewer storyteller from the glory years that earned the Toronto Sun a reputation for gifted storytellers: Mark Bonokoski, Jerry Gladman, Peter Worthington, Christie Blatchford, John Downing and other prose masters.

It seems being promoted to the national desk is a kiss of death.

This is globe-trotting writer's farewell:

I can see the bartender tapping his watch.

So I guess it's time I gathered up my coat and headed out.

But before I go, and you've been great to sit and listen to my stories, I'd like to pass along a few parting words.

Not any great wisdom. More like a period at the end of a last sentence.

After 26 years of telling tales for Sun Media, another four with a Halifax paper, I am no longer their reporter. Though I guess I still qualify as a journalist.

Years ago, I stood with a group to meet Prince Charles. He was introduced to our motley band with someone explaining: "Your highness, these are a few local reporters."

"What's the difference between a journalist and a reporter?" the prince asked.

A veteran among us chimed in: "A reporter is a journalist who has a job."

So I am no longer a reporter or 'Sun Scribe' — the scrappy moniker used by my peers in the newsroom since 1971. And, because of the complicated marketplace of the business, I may never be a newsman again.

Beyond being a husband and dad and, on better days, a good man, I've always seen myself as a news writer. And my stories have always been for you — until now.

I see you looking at me with a certain unease. Don't.

These years have flown by in endless rounds of adventures. If you had told me at 20 years old how I would spend the next three decades, I would have paid to live through it.

Did I tell you once, while at the Calgary Sun, a Blackfoot elder guided me through a vision-quest involving me going without food and water, and being left in the wilderness for four days? Or the time I was, after I joined the Toronto Sun, smuggled into a South American prison? That a Canadian soldier dove in front of me to protect me from incoming fire in Afghanistan?

Oh, ya, I guess I did tell you.

Wait, what about how I felt in earthquake-ravaged China, or on the island of Montserrat during a volcano that melted my boots, or in remote India where I followed a trail of AIDS patients, or Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing or inside Ground Zero's 'frozen zone' on 9/11 or finding Biddy Baby, a tough Louisiana swamp-man whose family stubbornly rode out hurricanes Katrina and Rita inside a bandit's camp?

You're right. I told you them all, right here.

I just really appreciate the time you gave me.

And I've always been aware they were never my stories. I just carried them to you.

I know there are plenty of louder voices — those demanding you feel outrage about this or screaming the other guy shouldn't be allowed to believe that.

But behind these obnoxious characters, there are as many as 13,000 journalists working in Canada — many quietly knocking on doors or jumping on planes so you'll know the full truth of a story.

Is the industry dying? No, though it is going through serious growing pains that many other trades have known.

In fact, there are apparently — despite corporate shakeups — as many journalists in this country as a decade ago.

How do I know? A journalist dug into it and told me so.

Showmen like Rush Limbaugh like to routinely call out the flaws of 'mainstream journalism'. But Limbaugh, and those like him, simply feed off of the work done by reporters who daily venture out to ask questions and bring you back answers.

Yes, I have worries about journalism. We all do. But I believe in storytelling and the need to be informed when there are sirens blaring on the street outside, or when a government is throwing its citizens in prison a half world away.

Better journalists than me have died believing the same thing.

If I do decide to replace my pen with a hammer or rake, to give up what I've been doing for so long now, I'll still wander in here each day -- now to listen rather than tell.

I just thought it was important, if these are the last words I write for a newspaper, that you know having you sit with me to hear my many stories has been a great honour.

And with one hand on the door latch and the other over my heart, be sure I always tried my very best, knowing you were waiting right here.