Sunday 30 October 2011

John Cosway

Memories of the Toronto Sun - John Cosway 

Nothing in Toronto print media circles in the early 1970s said "underdog" more than the Toronto Sun's factory environment in the Eclipse White Wear Building at King and John Streets.

Creaky wooden floors, exposed overhead heating vents, holes in the walls, an elevator with attitude, a side view of a car wash.

But of my 19 years in the Sun newsroom, most treasured are the four months spent in the Eclipse before the move to the brand new building at 333 in May of 1975.

The move to 333, with its million dollar Goss presses, spoke volumes to what Sun pioneers had achieved in less than four years. It was a breathtaking measure of success and it left an indelible sense of achievement.

(Drove by the newly-owned 333 a couple of months ago and felt drained seeing it gutted, the pressroom and loading docks replaced with a No Frills, the huge mural gone, Red's cafeteria long silenced.)

But back to 1975 . . . 

A 2005 Media Memories blog told of my pre-Sun print media ties, so in a nutshell: Toronto Star carrier; Globe and Mail copy boy; string of reporting jobs in Ontario and British Columbia.

Didn't know it at the time, but working for Mickey "The Tatler" Carlton at the Richmond Review for most of my five years as entertainment editor of the bi-weekly B.C. broadsheet - 1969-1974 - groomed me for the Sun.

It took several attempts to pin down the elusive Les Pyette for a job interview late in 1974, while applying to other daily newspapers in the GTA. Thankfully, no other paper called before I sat down with Pyette and Hartley Steward in a small office in the former factory.

My stack of clippings included a raunchy Review interview with The Happy Hooker at her new nightclub in Vancouver. I think that - and asking for $217 a week, a dollar more than paid at the Review - got me the police desk job, working with Cal Millar, Al Craig and Tony Cote.

During my first week on the job in January 1975, a young female reporter came to work in a red see-through sweater with no bra and I knew working at the Sun was going to be a fun job.

That same week, Connie Nicholson, the future Connie Woodcock, said to me, "I hear you came cheaply." Perhaps, but I was working for a hometown Toronto daily. Didn't know if I'd last a week, but I was there and ready to work.

The streets of Toronto were relatively quiet in the mid-70s, perhaps a gun call once a week. My first front page story had to do with a shooting atop Canada Square and the front page photo was a circled shell casing on the roof. A gun had actually been fired.

Back in the day when the newsroom had a travel budget, Les sent me off to New York three times for Son of Sam coverage; an interview and subway ride with Curtis Sliwa and his Guardian Angels; and to track Baby Herbie.

Also covered the Nationals junior hockey team in Europe; interviewed UFO's Dr. J. A. Hynek near Chicago and jetted off to England, Florida and California for travel pieces.

Man, it was an easy-going newsroom to share with a most talented group of  tabloid men and women.

There I was working under the same roof with Andy Donato, Peter Worthington, Bob MacDonald, George Gross, Jim HuntGord Stimmell, Jerry Gladman, Gary Dunford, Mark Bonokoski, Scott Morrison and numerous other talented men and women.

Doug Creighton, founding publisher, was not a stranger to the newsroom.

And there were the behind-the-scenes editors who mastered the Sun's tabloid formula - almost daily front page magic, with a preference for spot news involving fires, accidents, crime, celebrities and T&A.

I used to sit in the newsroom in awe watching the pros - Les Pyette, Ed Monteith, Peter Brewster, Michael Burke-Gaffney, Peter O'Sullivan, Tim Fryer, Woody McGee, Lew Fournier, Paul Heming, Sandra Macklin, Gord Walsh  et al - in casual garb, loving their work and packaging a newspaper that was the pride of faithful readers. 

Much of the front page magic came from a crack team of competitive, award-winning photographers, including Hugh Wesley, Michael Peake, Norm Betts, Ken Kerr, Fred Thornhill, Bill Sandford, Jac Holland, Stan Behal.

Plus a productive cop desk team over the years that included Cal Millar, Al Craig, Tony Cote, Rob Lamberti, Gord Walsh, Lee Lamothe, Mark Stewart, Jamie Westcott.

And sports and entertainment teams to die for. 

But it would all have been for naught if not for devoted readers who felt like family and were treated like family.

Most nights, when my night shift at 333 was over, I'd stand by the presses talking to the unsung heroes of the pressroom waiting for the presses to roll. The roar of the presses never got tired.

As mentioned, the Sun was fun and unpredictable. One of my favourite days in the newsroom was the day Lou Grant, aka Ed Asner, spent on the city desk as a Doug-appointed associate city editor. Brilliant, but never invite Peter Gross back to the newsroom.

We appreciated the milestone thank you gifts and parties, courtesy of Doug, Peter and Don. It said a lot about their character and the willingness to share the good fortunes of the profitable, rising Sun. The 1991 20th anniversary party at the SkyDome, midway and all, is legendary.

When the Sun made the Top 100 favourite places to work in the 1980s, we all knew why. It was a place where newspaper people made the decisions, not bean counters and stockholders. There was ample staff to do the job properly and when it was done properly, it was recognized.

Words that come to mind: Loyalty. Respect. Sharing. Caring.

There was give and take, with employees sharing the good fortunes of the rising Sun with stock options, two-month sabbaticals, Christmas bonuses, a decent medical plan, milestone parties and milestone gifts.

Some Sun vets got as many as three two-month sabbaticals for each 10 years of service before they were axed by Quebecor. The envy of most companies, the sabbaticals required you get lost, relax and enjoy. Spent my 1985 sabbatical roaming Europe. Relax, indeed.

And when the sabbaticals came to an end, it was back to fun in the Sun. 

The whole building, all six floors, was a joy to roam with my various sports and election pools because everyone was always upbeat. Grouches and grinches were in short supply. 

As the late, great Jerry Gladman told a neighbor he wasn't going to work, he was "going to be with friends."

I never worked in newsrooms for the money, so I really didn't care how much I was earning, but the unsolicited raises kept coming. The Sun took care of its own, so there was no need for a union as long as Doug was at the helm. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was also encouraging when Pyette was receptive to my ideas.

After burning out on the cop desk after two years, Les sent me up to the courthouse to set up the Sun court bureau. Previously, we had a crime writer, but no court coverage.

When lotteries became legal in Canada, Les agreed Toronto Sun readers would benefit from a column about lotteries. Peter Brewster came up with Luck of the Draw.

Early in the 1980s, when Beta and VHS machines and movie video rentals were in their infancy, Les agreed readers would benefit from a column about the new form of home entertainment.

Les also agreed when I suggested the Sun being a people paper, man-on-the-street interviews should be added. Five years of street walking looking for comments for You Said It proved very popular in annual readership surveys.

And minutes after Doug's ouster as chairman of the board was announced, Les and Bob MacDonald agreed we had to throw Doug a party. Bob said Doug's birthday was coming up, so a birthday party it was.

I suggested the Eclipse Building was the ideal location and as I discovered in a drive-by after work that night, much of the Eclipse was vacant and available for rent. The next day, I gave Pyette the telephone number from the For Rent banner and the party organizing team took over.

Hundreds of loyal employees lined up for Doug's 64th birthday party. You can view video of Doug's 64th in five parts on YouTube.

From that first day at the Sun in January of 1975 to my departure in January 1994, the tabloid was a home away from home.

But the mood on all six floors changed dramatically after Doug's incredulous ouster. I was going to leave a few months later, but a pool-playing Sun colleague said to hold on, the first buyout offer was on the way.

Any lingering doubts about taking time out to smell the rose ended the day Paul Heming, 53, a much admired copy desk editor, was found dead in his home.

Others gone before their time - under 65 - before and after I left include Ben Grant, Lloyd Kemp, Greg Parent, Mark Stewart, Jamie Westcott, Paul Henry, Bruce Blackadar, David Bailey, Jerry Gladman, Joe Fisher, Cam Norton, Joe O'Donnell, Paul Rimstead, Ray Smith, Phil Sykes, Ted Welch, Jim Yates, Sherri Wood, Nick Ibscher, Michel Gratton, Kathy Morrison, George Rennie, Garf and John Webb, Bob Jelenic, John Jamieson, Ken Adachi.

A generation raised on the original Front Page expected newspaper men and women to die with their boots on in their 80s and 90s, not in their prime, so there have been too many funerals for Sun colleagues in their 20s to 60s.

For me, and many others, the day Doug was ousted was the day the music died. We lost that loving feeling and just couldn't get it back.

But our love for the Sun as it was into the 1990s, and the unique work environment it offered, continues.

Thanks to all of the good and talented people who shared the floors of the Eclipse Building and 333 and helped make my 19 years at the Sun a dream job.

It was quite the ride. 

John Cosway
Port Hope 

If you are a Toronto Sun Day Oner and have a bio or memories to share, please email with a photo before Nov. 1.

If you are 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, email TSF.


  1. As a young reporter, I love reading all these old stories. Please keep the website going as a voice for the voiceless.

    But for all the magic that was the Sun, when did it truly end? When Doug was shown the door? When Quebecor took over? Seems to be part of the history that's overlooked. Where did that magic in the Word Factory go if it was so strong for so many years?

    Congrats Toronto Sun on 40 years. Hope you can thrive for the next 40.

  2. Beautiful, Cos.
    You nailed it.

  3. Thanks, Dunf. Coming from Mr. Page 6, it means a lot. Did you notice we didn't mention your right hook to a frustrating VDT that sent it crashing to the floor?