Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Day 1: John Downing

Memories of Day Oners, a unique group of 62 unemployed men and women from the defunct Toronto Telegram who spent Halloween of 1971 putting out that first 48-page Toronto Sun.

They succeeded despite Tely Wake hangovers, occasional blackouts and primitive working conditions
in converted Eclipse Building factory space at 322 King Street West.

John Downing, municipal affairs reporter:

"I once got a hand-written note from Ted Rogers after I wrote a column about the early days of the Sun and how I always felt tired and acted as if I had a mild case of the flu.

Ted said he appreciated how I felt because he had felt the same anxieties with a new project and worrying about how the family would survive.

I put out the final edition of the Tely on the Saturday and when everyone went out and celebrated, I went home and went to sleep, exhausted. Then I got up and while a new son, Mark, who was only three months old, cried and cried and cried, I wrote my first Sun column on the need for a new stadium and, I hope, the need also not to stick the public with the bill. I can't recall if that message was in the first column, but it was sure in later ones.

Then I went to the battered Eclipse building, feeling awful, and met Doug Creighton coming out. He was bubbling. I told him how I felt and he took me off to the Walker House (I think) for a nice lunch and a few drinks. Felt better rather quickly, which was often Doug's effect.

The first official day, the Monday, I was at City Hall fighting to get an office. Harry Rogers, the property commissioner, wouldn't give us one, so I appealed to the mayor, Bill Dennison,who gave us one. Then I went up to Queen's Park and had the same fight there, this time with the press gallery.

I got a call from Don Hunt around 10:30 a.m. to say we were to stage our first promotion event, a balloon launch from Nathan Phillips Square, with some trip voucher or prize inside one of the balloons. Bert Petlock, an old Tely reporter and friend of most of us, had a balloon client, and showed up in the square with the balloons and helium.

Norm Betts, I think, showed up and demanded that I produce some celebrity to launch the balloons. So I went in and dragged out the mayor, an old friend, who said he was only doing this as a favour to me. So Dennison and I pulled a net from off the balloons and before they rose up into the air, some kids on bikes darted in and grabbed them AND raced off to the south. I phoned Hunt and described two of the kids so they wouldn't get the prizes. I then went in and covered a transportation meeting of Metro council and tried to stay awake.

It was fun. It was exhausting. It was chaos. And it worked.

Looking back, I still can't believe that I passed up a job as a ministry director of information in Ottawa and two jobs in Toronto, one with the board of trade, in order to take this gamble with the other 61.

In fact, Ray Biggart and I were trying to start our own paper at the same time as Doug and His Merrie Men. We had a chap with a press. We even had a former provincial Liberal leader with a million bucks (but we didn't want to start another Star). But it turned out we just didn't have any partners that dreamed as big as the big three behind the Sun."

Thanks for the memories, John.

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