Thursday, 18 January 2007

Fave Flashback '91

SkyDome was two years old and still giving awe-struck visitors goosebumps when the Toronto Sun booked the huge stadium for its 20th anniversary celebration on Nov. 1, 1991.

Co-founders Doug Creighton, Peter Worthington and Don Hunt were always there over the years in rewarding employees for their loyalty and productivity.

But they outdid themselves in staging the 20th anniversary Toronto Sun bash, prompting the applause of 3,000 employees and former staffers who attended the party.

The Sun had experienced a light downturn in advertising in 1991 and had opted out of several ventures to reduce expenses, but Doug vowed there would be a memorable party to thank employees for the tabloid's phenomenal growth in the first two decades.

Former Toronto Sun employees working at sister newspapers in Calgary and Edmonton were flown in for the party and comped rooms at the posh SkyDome hotel. A VIA train car was booked to transport Ottawa Sun employees to the party.

While employees were told the party was at SkyDome, few expected to be walking onto the field surrounded by a full Conklin Shows midway, with carnival games, a Merry-Go-Round, Argo dancers, bars, patios, dining areas and the activities screened larger than life on the JumboTron.

It had the surreal feeling of a Felini movie.

John McDermott, a former Sun employee and Doug's favourite Irish crooner, joined the happy birthday greetings in song and the cutting of the huge birthday cake by Doug, Peter and Don was followed by an indoor fireworks display.

The 20th anniversary party, with appropriate celebratory publications and mementos, would be the Toronto Sun's last great milestone celebration. (A black tie dinner for Day Oners was held the previous night at the Royal Ontario Museum, which hosted a 20-year Sun photo display.)

Doug Creighton was quoted as saying: "This weekend is costing us about as much as it did to start the paper in 1971."

In hindsight, the 20th anniversary was the highest of peaks for the Miracle on King Street.

Booking the SkyDome reportedly raised the ire of Maclean Hunter execs and shareholders who considered that degree of giving back to employees was an avoidable expense.

Lord Thomson became a very wealthy man with that mentality - all take, minimal give.

But Doug, Peter and Don were givers; newspapermen at heart, millionaires by chance. They gave back a fortune over the first 20 years with parties held to celebrate circulation and anniversary milestones, plus Christmas bonuses, profit sharing, stock offers, sabbaticals etc.

Loyal? Damn right, we were. That is why 99% of the employees were outraged when Doug was ousted a year later, four days after the Toronto Sun's 21st anniversary.

What a difference a year made - from the harmony and highs of a 20th anniversary celebration to a boardroom takeover by the takers.

We all know where the takers have taken the Sun.

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