Wednesday 31 January 2007

Fave Flashback '75

In the spring of 1975, Toronto Sun staffers eagerly began packing for the move from the Eclipse Building at 322 King Street West to their spiffy new digs at 333 King Street East.

It had the feeling of a move from a basement apartment to a penthouse suite, or, as phrased in Ron Poulton's 1976 book Life In A Word Factory, from Cabbagetown to Rosedale.

The creaky, four-storey building on the northeast corner of King and John Streets, across from Farb's Car Wash, was a measuring stick. It helped measure the phenomenal growth of the upstart tabloid from Day One (Nov. 1, 1971) through May of 1975.

Toronto Sun pioneers made do with what they could afford in 1971 and settled in for 43 months of publishing a tabloid in a factory setting with award-winning flare.

The newsroom was unique, with numerous steel pillars and support beams, large air ducts overhead, finicky electrical outlets, a condemned elevator, well-aged Underwood typewriters etc.

If that wasn't enough of a challenge, the tabloid was being printed on presses at Inland Publishing in Mississauga, a 20-mile trek from the Eclipse Building.

But ask Sun staffers who worked in the Eclipse Building and most will say they wouldn't have had it any other way.

This privately-owned newspaper was their love child and they were willing to work 20-hour days in an unglorified environment if needed to see it grow.

This blogger worked in the Eclipse Building for only four months before the move, but considers himself fortunate to have shared that unique workplace experience.

Construction of the new three-storey Sun complex began in 1974 and in the month or two before the move, staffers were given escorted tours of their new home.

The new Sun building, with its high-speed presses, executive offices, professional darkroom and its own cafeteria, emitted such a sweet smell of success. We were eager to take up residence.

On the night before the move, night editor John McLean, darkroom manager Wasyl Kowalishen and yours truly sat around the rim playing poker after the last edition had been put to bed. We were surrounded by packing cases and clutter.

We had played poker around the rim after hours on occasion and thought it only fitting to say goodbye to the Eclipse Building with a final game.

Norm Betts, a Day Oner photographer, had some last-minute darkroom packing to do and when finished, snapped a photo of the poker players (later used in Life In A Word Factory.)

While McLean and yours truly often played poker, Wasyl's wife didn't think much of him gambling and the photo in the book apparently put Wasyl in the doghouse.

We said our goodbyes to the Eclipse Building, not knowing many of us would return in November of 1992 for a bittersweet 64th birthday party for ousted CEO Doug Creighton.

(During Doug's birthday party, an announcement was made that a small plaque recognizing the Eclipse Building as the first home of the Toronto Sun would be installed. Looked for a plaque on several visits over the years, without success.)

Meanwhile, back at 333 King Street East . . .

Connie Woodcock was the first reporter to sit down in the sparsely-furnished newsroom to type a story. This blogger's report of Burlington's missing four-year-old Cameron March was the first front page story off the new presses. (Cameron was never found, no arrests were made. It is a cold case that has haunted me for three decades.)

It would be a couple of months before "The Toronto Sun" lettering was added to the King Street entrance. The transition accomplished, with few complications, it was onwards and upwards for the Miracle on King Street for the next two decades.

Word is 333 King Street East might be sold off by Quebecor once its new Islington printing plant is completed and staff numbers shrink once again.

Maybe it could be purchased and used for another upstart, privately-owned Toronto tabloid capable of beating the media odds once again.

Until then, the miracle that was can still be measured by taking a drive past the Eclipse Building and then 333 King Street East.

Those were giddy days, indeed.

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