Thursday 6 October 2011

Bruce Borland

Memories of the Toronto Sun - Bruce Borland

My media journey began as a long-haired, 16-year old hippy hopper on the back of Toronto Telegram delivery trucks. Within a year, a job was posted with the Syndicate news service. 

This job would eventually lead to a lifetime of employment in the industry, and, thanks to the Sun, the completion of my high school at nights and the opportunity to take Business Administration  at Ryerson. 

It was a Saturday morning that my mother awakened me with the news: I was out of work, the Telegram was closing. Weeks of activity were passing fast, but the "activity" soon moved to the Syndicate office, where Don Hunt was the director.

It was one of the meeting places to conceive the birth of the Sun. We were acting like the local sewing circle watching and assessing every move, all with great knowledge but not a clue what was happening.

The uncertainty of a future had me pursuing other ideas.  I had considered moving to Australia and had already spoken with the Melbourne Herald about the possibility. As a back-up, I had my application for the RCMP ready (imagine Bruce a ‘Narc’).

I can still remember the day when I was called into Don’s office. It was always a scary and traumatizing event, especially if you had no idea why. 

Although extremely kind (yet always frightening), Don was intimidating to a youngin’, especially me with my down-to-the-ass puffy blond hair and "attitude". I walked into the office to find this big man, in stature and demeanor, leaning back in his chair with his pencil (always with his pencil).

"We are starting a newspaper called the Sun and we would like you to join us," said Don. I replied with a nervous, yet excited, stutter: “For sure . . . of course.”

Don had conversations like this with three more people from the department, a fourth to be added later. Since the details had not been worked out, Don was not sure what I would be doing, but now, for the short term, I felt at ease with the future.

No one can understand the feelings, the emotions, the "wild ride" it was to be part of the death of a newspaper. It is like someone rips your heart out.

Thankfully, mine was replaced with the birth of a new, stronger one, the Sun. From the cemetery to the maternity ward.

Don, in arguably one of the most brilliant business moves for the Sun, purchased the Tely's Syndicate for $35,000, I believe. Why was this a brilliant move? The Syndicate was hugely profitable, an established company with over a million dollars in contracts (among them Ben Wicks) and, from what I found out later, it was a source of credit for the paper.

The closing of the Telegram passed by quickly for me, working and almost getting arrested when Don and I broke into an office to take our address system. The department manager, a funny little white-haired man, was threatening to call the police.

While all others were celebrating the at Tely wake, I  put through thousands of dollars of mail as at midnight we would be on our own.

The Sun enigma had started. We had no idea from one minute to the next how things would be done, but we survived, we begged, borrowed and yes, stole. The biggest shock: I got a $5 raise to $100 per week.

We were in a unique situation as we were to remain in our office within the Telegram for three months. On the first morning, I met John Bassett on the giant escalator and all I could say was "it is like a morgue in here, it is awful" and he just nodded and replied, "yes it is," and the ride continued in silence. 

Our territory was secure and anything not nailed down throughout the building followed us in and became a part of the Sun. We stole anything we could to survive. Within a few days, things were pretty cool and the dream job for an ADHDer began. Total freedom.

It was a wild ride for a 21-year old: parties, friends, meeting and dealing with people most only see in pictures, press club events, giving seminars to our producers, trips (Don allowed me to fly, but would always make me take public transit) more parties, meeting in bars like the Cantinetta (conveniently located below us, orchestrated by Doug Creighton), editors, writers, cleaners to messengers all together. 

There was no office class structure in the early days of the Sun. 

And  the beer machine: there was nothing like putting the feet up on your desk and sitting back with a cold can. It was 24/7 for us and I loved it. 

As early employees of the Sun, we could see the little paper growing.  It was not easy work, but it was not without its rewards. For our first Christmas, we had parties, a full bonus, gifts from our new suppliers and even a voucher for a turkey.  

On the first anniversary, there was a campaign advertising party - I wasn’t invited, but managed to crash the event - lunch at The Walker House (courtesy of Doug Bassett) and a massive party at the Inn On The Park held by the Sun.

The message was that we were here to stay.

Never a ‘blue-collar’ type, I was the first to drop the shirt, tie and jacket, arriving to work one morning in short sleeves and moccasins. 

The first morning of my rebellion, I remember bumping into the ever-so-formal Bruce Rae who glared at me and said, "a little casual aren't we?" I forget my response, but I am sure it had "attitude."

Pretty soon, all around me, the ties were disappearing.  We were working in a warehouse anyway and I "don't drip my soup."

When the Syndicate first moved into the Eclipse Building, it was an open concept space next to Andy Donato's and maybe six open spaces from George Gross and his slamming doors. 

Living next to Andy was amazing, he attracted all the beauty for miles; Joan Sutton, a regular, was always sweet and kind to this nobody; and me, locked up in a right-wing nightmare. I was soon labeled the "little communist" by Andy and Wicks. 

And when I loved Trudeau, well, you can imagine. 

My father retired and started working for the Sun as a messenger, then as security in the new building. Although he was previously an engineer with the East York School Board, the Sun became his life. 

I can still see him and my mother so proud at the parties. And when he got a Christmas bonus? That was a first in his life. 

Time passed quickly, then, one morning, in an ADHD mood to commit occupational suicide, I did, and went to the press room where I endured life for 30 years. 

I continued to do my old Syndicate job for two years while I worked in the press room. I didn't want to lose that editorial connection (I realized too late that it was my life). I could have returned, but by then things had moved really fast for me.

I bought a sailboat, met Nora, married four months later, bought a house and five years later we had Graeme. Not long after Graeme joined us, Robyn arrived. 

These two beautiful children would soon take over the Sun building on regular visits, always making the first stop at reception for candy and fruit from Margaret (Kmiciewicz) and Jean (Osborne), then on to seek out other treasures they knew how to find.

Children were never forgotten at the Sun: Christmas parties to die for, two at SkyDome, picnics and a yearly day at the waterpark and they were always welcome to roam, along with dogs,  in the early days.

Anyone who did not work in the press room would find it difficult to comprehend  the devotion of the men who worked there: they would die to get the paper on the streets. 

Most of them came in as mere kids. I was only 26 and was one of the oldest. It was exciting watching them grow into one of the best press crews in the country. 

Many days, the Sun would not have made it to the streets if not for their creativity, endurance and guts to try anything to make the machine run. The crew was special to the paper and special to me. It is a shame that Quebecor did not realize the asset that they had.

One night, when my children were very young, I was met in the lobby by a man waiting to serve me with divorce papers. The fellowship of the press crew astounded me: Andy Elliot gave me a place to live, Gary Haslett offered me cash and Wayne Potter offered me his bank card and the crowd in the parking lot offered all kinds of support.  

Wearing Andy's clothes, I met with Doug Creighton, who immediately set me up with my lawyer and told me that if I needed anything, I was to come to him. 

Everyone has always heard of the "Sun Family," well they, like any family,  take care of their own and were there for me when I needed them. I will never forget that day.

After two years of a nasty court battle, I got custody of my son Graeme. For my sabbatical, the men made pies from whipped cream they bought from the ice cream truck and one after the other I was hit with them before leaving to take my children on a six-week, 16,000km road trip through the United States.

We returned from an incredible journey together to our new house. Three months later, Robyn officially joined us at our home and we were complete again.

Raising two children alone was not easy,  however, I had amazing support from my families: my immediate family, my Sun family and the men I worked with in the press room.

One part of my life at the Sun was always climbing the stairs to exercise the open-door policy for the men when they were not being treated fairly. Nothing like having an ADHD mouth among the rabble; the worst possible scenario for the managers. 

Paul Godfrey's Toronto Sun managers once announced they were changing our shift and they found out we were a force like they had never encountered and he backed down. 

My final fight for the press room was with a great group of guys who wanted to stop the union from entering our ‘home’. In 2001, the Quebecor group who met with us never knew what hit them, like they had never seen employees exercise their freedom of speech without a union.

We came out with more than we ever imagined, many inequities were cleared up and the union walked.

By June of 2003, I  was suffering from serious weight-loss, headaches, and whacked-out liver readings, but still had no diagnosis. The press room managers were understanding, putting up with me not making more than two shifts in a row and when I was there, going home because I could hardly stand.

I was now living alone at home as both of my children were studying at university (Robyn at McGill and Graeme at Queens) and Chris Kriegal recognized that I was in need of a break. He gave me six months off with no questions and no doctors. I was instructed to just relax, travel and get better. During this time, I backpacked mostly around the UK, Spain and Italy.

Upon my return to Canada, due to safety and efficiency in the workplace, I was no longer allowed to work.  I understood. 

(The diagnosis after three years and "too many doctors" was Lyme Disease.)

So here I am, always dreaming of that magic pill that will have me back doing something, anything at the Sun. Ritalin is getting me close.  All through the hell (that's all I can call it), the Sun stood by me and made sure that I was taken care of. 

While I awaited acceptance for LTD, the Sun lent me money and put up with the irrational behaviour that Lyme Disease can cause. They put up with more than any company would (or should).

Being part of a newspaper never leaves one’s blood. All too many years ago, I was in the background shadowed by real journalists, the real newspaper crowd with a bottle in their desk, and I learned and listened. 

My syndicate job included re-working copy from local to international appeal, and I find social media very similar and I now occupy my time being political and even writing openly;  a dream I always had but concealed. 

I have finally become a sort of writer (and social advocate) that I regretfully did not pursue in the early days at the Sun.

Simply saying ‘thank you’ does not sufficiently convey my gratitude. Words cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunities that Don, Doug, Peter gave me, and Trudy Eagan, who used to tolerate and work with my rants.
The endless mentors. Migod how can I forget a man named Robert Farnell. He came at a time when I was ready to move on and he gave me a whole new focus, and then moved on  to the New York Times. 

And Ben Wicks. What a delight and honor for a kid to work for him and all the others who just gave me a chance. These people allowed this enigmatic being enough rein to work in his own way.

So, thank you all and be warned, I will beat this disease and come back, even if for only for one day. I do miss everyone.

If you are a Day Oner or one of the hundreds of men and women in all departments who followed The 62 and want to share your memories of the Toronto Sun in the next few weeks, email TSF.

We want to give everyone the opportunity to mark the 40th.

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