Amid the flurry of skyscrapers rising in Toronto, there are precious few architectural gems. The only eye-catching designs are the L Tower by Daniel Libeskind at the Sony Centre and the Absolute World condominiums – aka Marilyn Monroe – by Yansong Ma in Mississauga.
I spent 90 minutes recently rediscovering the Toronto-Dominion Centre and have decided to anoint those six buildings as Toronto’s best design. The trouble with the TD Centre is that’s been around for so long that everyone takes it for granted. It nearly didn’t happen and the fact that it exists at all is due to the vision of one man, Allen Lambert, Chairman of TD Bank from 1961 until he retired in 1978. Lambert was introduced to art and architecture by David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank when the U.S. institution sought to buy TD. The takeover was quashed by Ottawa, but Lambert began to haunt art galleries and think about design.
At the time, Toronto had seen few new office buildings for decades. Developer William Zeckendorf, who had built Montreal’s Place Ville Marie, approached Lambert in the early 1960s with plans for a concrete tower that Lambert rejected. Lambert turned instead to Cemp Investments, a Bronfman firm, a move which brought in Phyllis Lambert (no relation), Sam Bronfman’s daughter. The Bronfmans had just built a new headquarters for Seagram on New York’s Park Avenue. The architect Phyllis picked for that structure was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who was also chosen for the TD centre. In the end, New York got but one Mies while Toronto has six plus the banking pavilion in the International Style.
Until the TD Centre was begun, there was still some question where downtown Toronto would be situated: King and Bay or Yonge and Bloor. Allen Lambert made the decision. And his legacy didn’t stop there. As a Centennial project in 1967, TD bought 100 pieces of Inuit sculpture. His successor, Dick Thomson, in 1981 added another 100 works curated by the Smithsonian for an 11-city U.S. tour. The magnificent collection is displayed on the mezzanine in the South Tower on Wellington Street.
To my mind the bronze-tinted glass and black steel towers of the TD Centre look as fresh and as stunning as they did when they were completed from 1967 to 1991. Allen Lambert, who continued to be active in business until his death in 2002 at 90, used to joke that there were three ages of man: youth, middle-age and “You’re looking well.” In his case, because of his unique contribution to the downtown core, I think there’s a fourth age: eternal.
On September 17, 2001, I was fired from my position as senior writer at National Post. I was just back from holidays, and not a little shocked. But many others were sent packing that day, too, almost one-third of the entire newsroom staff. At the meeting to inform all of us, Editor Ken Whyte praised our skills and said that no more talented group of journalists had ever been assembled. Then they told us to go back to our desks where we would find that email and other computer access had also been terminated. We had two hours to gather up personal effects and vacate the premises. “If we’re so wonderful,” I asked, “why are we being treated like common thieves?” There was no answer.
After the meeting I thanked Ken for the opportunity to work for him and told him he was destined to be the finest journalist of his generation, a comment quoted in a column the next day by Christie Blatchford, who later left and was hired back. The only other high profile hire since 2001 has been Andrew Coyne. Ken has indeed done well and now runs an entire division at Rogers. I’ve done just fine, too. I don’t have a day job anymore – not unusual after almost 30 years in journalism – and instead have been focusing on my books. Since 2001 I have written seven books including a just-completed ghosting job for a memoir by Donald S. Macdonald, a Trudeau cabinet minister and the man who chaired the Royal Commission that lead to free trade with the U.S.
National Post, launched in 1998, was a bold experiment. I was part of the initial crew because proprietor Conrad Black bought The Financial Post, where I worked, and rolled it together with other staff he’d assembled. For a while it was a glorious place to be. Ken Whyte’s leadership style was “let a thousand flowers bloom.” At one point we had more readers in most major markets than The Globe and Mail.
For the last decade, with the exception of the aforementioned hires, National Post has been on a money-losing downward spiral. Every few months more employees are let go as revenues plummet. The paper is but a shadow of what might have been. I thought it would have disappeared long since. Paul Godfrey is the latest CEO hired to save National Post and the remains of the Southam chain at what’s now called Postmedia Network Inc. He’s halfway to finding another $180 million in savings so it can survive. I wish him well.
In the last year the company lost $154 million so neither prosperity nor profitability seem close at hand. Yet Godfrey received a 50 per cent year-over-year increase in annual compensation for 2013 to $1.7 million, even though he didn’t reach all his performance targets, according to the Management Information Circular released Wednesday. He was also paid other compensation of $151,338, an amount that included entertainment expenses of $79,742. Here’s my respectful two-part suggestion to Paul Godfrey: Turn back your $579,000 bonus and start paying for entertainment from your own pocket. Take the resulting $660,000 you saved the company and hire half a dozen excellent journalists. You never know, they might produce breaking news stories that attract readers and drive new revenue. As a strategy, don’t you think it’s worth a go? You’ve tried everything else.
Last night’s launch of the five-part documentary series The Campaigns on CPAC was excellent. Entitled The Great Free Trade Debate the first episode covered the 1988 election featuring party leaders Brian Mulroney, John Turner and Ed Broadbent. Beginning with a recent campaign was wise; next Sunday’s goes all the way back to 1917.
In addition to excellent footage and production values, there were insightful interviews from various Mulroney spear-carriers including Harry Near, Hugh Segal and Marjorie LeBreton, all of whom told me things I didn’t know. For example, after Turner topped Mulroney in the debate, Norman Atkins advised Mulroney to hoist free trade as a campaign issue by telling voters he would hold a referendum later. The Prime Minister wisely rejected the idea. He would have looked foolish. After all, the election was the referendum.
The series, produced by Catherine Christie-Luff, looks at four other campaigns: 1917, 1945, 1968 and 1925-6. I was interviewed on the 1968 campaign wearing my hat as press secretary to Robert Stanfield even though my time with him didn’t begin until 1970. That episode airs December 15. Did I reveal any secrets? Tune in and see.
If I were designing a new news show, it would probably look a lot like Kevin Newman Live that debuted last night on CTV News Channel. The trouble is that the format doesn’t work in real time. There was no content, just blather.
Former Rob Ford staffer Mark Twohey was the in-studio lead item but didn’t have much to add to explain the current fracas at Toronto City Hall. The best Twohey could come up with was to say that Ford could only chose between “fight or flight” and since the mayor has nowhere to go, he’s staying to fight. It’s a phrase that Twohey has used before.
The double-ender with California-based addiction specialist and interventionist Candy Finnigan was weird. In diagnosing Ford from afar she urged him to go into rehab. I guess we knew that already. Finnigan even mangled the cliche by referring to Ford as “a bull in a china closet.”
Early in the show, Newman read tweets. An OK idea but maybe for much later in the lineup. He also told us excitedly how members of the audience could connect with him via Twitter and Facebook. But the newsroom set behind Newman was two long rows of empty chairs. Where was his team? In a show that’s supposed to be about connecting, the nothingness was downright eerie.
I faded after the Chris Hadfield singing in space item and how it was Hadfield’s son who gave him the idea to play air guitar. The 30-year veteran broadcaster is trying too hard to be chipper and hip. Everything was so breezy that somehow the news of the day just got blown away with the fall leaves.
Thinkers. I don’t know what to say about thinkers except that they don’t sound much like do-ers. Four of the recipients on the global Thinkers50 Awards are Canadian, with Roger Martin ranked third and Don Tapscott fourth. Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, has been on the Research In Motion/BlackBerry board of directors for six years during which time the company nearly imploded. I understand that Martin led discussions on strategy at board retreats held at Langdon Hall, a Relais et Chateaux destination close to Waterloo. I guess no one listened.
I’ve never met Sydney Finkelstein, a Canadian who teaches at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, who also made the list, but I have worked closely with Don Tapscott. Don and I signed a contract with McGraw-Hill to be co-authors of The Digital Economy, published in 1996. We were each supposed to write half the book with me focusing on case studies and Don on the big picture. As the months passed, his contribution was slim to non-existent. I finally sat him down in his office, picked up a piece of chalk, and wrote on his blackboard, “Read the Riot Act.” I told him he had to start producing 2,000 words a week or we wouldn’t meet our deadline.
Don got busy and ended up liking everything so much that he decided he wanted the book all to himself. He bought me off so I no longer appeared as a co-author. Which was fine with me, the book was mostly about his ideas on networked intelligence anyway. Plus I continued to receive half the royalties on every book sold. The cheques are still coming.
As for Richard Florida, the American-born “Canadian” on Thinkers50, his big idea seems to be that Toronto should be a cultural, financial, trade, and thought centre. Doesn’t that sound a lot like Florence way back in the fifteenth century when the guilds and the Medicis ruled and the Renaissance bloomed? Just a thought.
It’s been six years since the Dixie Chicks were on the road. They are just finishing a three-month tour of the U.S. followed by three weeks in Canada. Lead singer Natalie Maines came armed with some Canadian material that I’m sure she used all across the country. She said she’d seen a story on Huffington Post describing Canadians as among the happiest people in the world. After getting depressed thinking about this fact for some time, Natalie then realized, “It’s so cold here, you don’t feel any pain.”
By the time of last night’s show, where my daughter and I saw the Dixie Chicks at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, the fiasco that is Rob Ford had offered up more grist for the mill. “Wherever you are Mayor Ford, and whatever you’re smoking, this next song’s for you,” said Natalie as they launched into Sin Wagon that includes these lyrics, “One more helpin’ of what I’ve been havin’/I’m takin’ my turn on the sin wagon.”
Natalie, with Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, performed a two-hour twenty-two song setlist that’s been pretty consistent on the Long Time Gone Tour, featuring most of their hits in chronological order. The encore began with Travelin’ Soldier, the song Natalie was introducing 10 years ago just before George W. Bush launched the attack on Iraq. Her comment that night about being “embarrassed” because she was from the same state as Bush knocked the group into limbo for years. The next song in the encore was their bravura response to the world, Not Ready to Make Nice. The final song was a Bob Dylan cover, Mississippi. Last concert I was at, Pearl Jam also used a cover to conclude, Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World.
Natalie has a new hairdo. According to Natalie, when her schoolboy son saw it for the first time, he said, “I hate it. It’s hideous. It makes you look ugly.” He’s right. The blond is gone, replaced by black, shorn on the sides with a lickspittle bubble on the top. In her short shorts she looked both butch and like Justin Beiber at the same time.
The trouble with going to concerts is that other people are there. This crowd was three-quarters women in their thirties, often in packs of six, like bridesmaids in Vegas. In another era, the crowd would hold up Bic lighters all aflame in tribute. These days, all you see is the lit screens of smartphones with faces staring at the technology. As if there wasn’t a great performance going on around them.
Such obnoxious behaviour used to take place only in piano bars where people were drinking and chatting and the entertainment might as well have been wallpaper. Now, no matter how good the group, or what pyrotechnics are exploding on stage, it’s almost impossible to attract and maintain everybody’s attention. You wonder why some people even bother to come, the show seems so incidental. Unless it’s so they can add a few selfies to their collection from a new location.
John Kenneth Macalister was born in Guelph in 1914 and attended Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute where he won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford and the Institute of Corporate Law in Paris. When the Second World War broke out he tried to enlist but his eyesight was too weak so he joined the Special Operations Executive, a British intelligence agency.
Macalister and another Canadian, Frank Pickersgill, parachuted into France in 1943 to help organize the resistance movement but were captured almost immediately by the Gestapo. The two were treated as spies, imprisoned and tortured, and in 1944 were sent to Buchenwald where they died terrible deaths, hung on meathooks.
I grew up two doors from Macalister’s parents, Celestine and Alex. Like Kenneth, I was an only child, born in the year he died. Celestine liked me and would regularly invite me in for visits when I was a lad of ten or twelve. We’d sip tea from bone china cups as we sat in her drapery-darkened front parlour decorated in the Victorian style with every surface covered in knick-knacks. Alex was editor of the Guelph Mercury for years. I don’t think he and I ever spoke. He’d come home from work and hoe alone in his vegetable garden until sundown. He seemed a broken man.
Celestine gave me three books that had belonged to her beloved Kenneth: Northern Trails, by William Joseph Long, Red Fox by Charles G. D. Roberts, and Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel by Victor Appleton. The first two are inscribed to Kenneth, one as a Christmas gift. She also gave me a walnut document box with her husband’s name on a small brass plaque attached to the top.
I have treasured these keepsakes for decades but I decided, with Remembrance Day coming, I should share these treasures with others. Today I visited GCVI – where Macalister is a member of the Wall of Fame along with other illustrious Guelphites like George Drew, Edward Johnson and Joey Slinger – and donated everything to the school archives. Walking those halls for the first time in fifty years was a chilling experience. Time has flown by so quickly. But I have been able to have my life and my freedom because of Canadians like Kenneth Macalister and soldiers from many other nations who fought with bravery for those of us yet to come. For that, I give thanks.