They succeeded despite Tely Wake hangovers, occasional blackouts and primitive working conditions in converted Eclipse Building factory space at 322 King Street West.
"News of The Tely’s demise was far more difficult for those with families or long-time employees in their later years than it was for a 20-year-old like me. But it was devastating nonetheless because I believed my newspaper career – a budding whirlwind ride that began in 1968 – was finally over and I’d simply get on with completing my education at the U of T’s St. Michael’s College, destined to become a teacher.
Then, one day in mid-October I called home during a break in studies and my mother told me George Gross had called and wanted me to reach him. Once I did, The Baron offered me a full-time opportunity with a fledgling paper to be called The Toronto Sun on conditions that included (a) Working as many hours per night as my school would allow, as long as I put in five days a week and (b) That my work would not impede me completing my B.A. at the U of T (graduation date 1973 – and I made it!)
George didn’t really have to put any of those conditions on the offer – I was in as soon as he said a small group of Tely staffers were going to start The Sun. It was a total leap of faith in people I loved, believed in and thought if we all worked hard we could make this “dream” come true.
On Halloween 1971 – a Sunday – I remember driving my 1969 metallic bronze Dodge Coronet down to the Eclipse Building for the first time. It was a drab day and the neighborhood was desolate, dreary and depressing … empty railway lands south of us, a parking lot on the east adjacent to our new home, Farb’s Car Wash to the west, the Kingsplate Open Kitchen (a greasy spoon that would be so vital to us) on the southwest corner … all closed as Toronto of that era slept on Sundays.
As soon as I stepped into the rickety elevator for the first time, I realized it was better to take the four flights of steps. Odds were strongly in favour of being trapped in the elevator at some point as some quickly learned.
Our offices? The outhouse compared to the penthouse at The Tely on Front Street. Boxes everywhere. And even though our sports department featured The Baron, Kaye Corbett and Ken Adachi in the building that day – with Eaton Howitt in New York covering the Leafs at the Rangers – there was no room for me there. So I was shuffled off to the back area, somewhere in the vicinity of the washroom. I remember the building being cold. The Argos hosted the Ticats that afternoon with freelancer Bob Frewin covering the game for us – and a crumpled Hamilton QB Joe Zuger making our first cover.
At some point, George asked me to get a “toilet roll” and I went to the washroom looking for one, only to see all the toilet rolls, well, on the toilet rolls. I remember tracking down Donnie Nixon, one of our maintenance guys, to ask him for a toilet roll and the look on his face told me he thought I was off my rocker, especially since he said he’d already put them in the washroom.
But I persisted, not wanting to fail. Donnie finally got me one though and when I brought it to George, he said at his perceptive journalistic best: “What’s this?” And I said, “the toilet roll you wanted.” At that point George, Kaye and Ken erupted in laughter because what he’d wanted me to get was the carbon-roll of copy paper for our typewriters, affectionately called “toilet roll” in the business. So very early on in my Sun career, I learned an all-important distinction between a “toilet” roll and a toilet “roll”, if you catch the drift.
What I remember most about that day – and it would define us as the days became months and the months years – was the unwavering spirit to succeed because we had “attitude” long before it became fashionable. Virtually every department knew each other because we were all falling over each other. And we pulled for each other because we knew it was the only way to make it.
Our news, our photography, our cartoonists, our Sunshine Girls, our Rimmer, our sports … we sure kicked ass, woke up the newspaper business in this town and shook up Toronto.
At around 11 that night, with the composing room on the basement floor still scurrying to put the pieces together for the run to the press room at Inland in Mississauga, George told me to go home because I had classes the next morning. But the pattern was set because I’d put in full days at school with full days at work. Hey, when you’re 20, you don’t think of rest, right?
As I went home that first night I was thoroughly exhausted, more mentally than physically, but feeling good that we were born … a proud moment for all of us."Thanks for the memories, John.