News on the fly
I had just finished speaking at Vintage Wings museum, near Ottawa. A man approached me with a book under his arm. It was one I’d written. At first, he had a rather determined look on his face, and I wondered whether maybe he had a bone to pick. But his determined demeanour simply reflected his intention to get past others in the group to speak to me. He smiled and opened up my Dam Busters book, not to a photo, not even a printed passage, but to the image of a newspaper front page printed on the inside cover of my book.
“I delivered this paper,” the man said with a smile.
“You were an Ottawa Evening Journal delivery guy?” I asked.
“Yes, but I delivered this very edition!” he said proudly.
“That’s 75 years ago,” I pointed out.
“Yup. I was 14 at the time.”
I quickly learned that Don Ferguson, a tall, ruddy-faced gentleman, who towered over me, had been a wartime newsie. He’d delivered the Ottawa Evening Journal throughout the war. And he remembered the very night I’d depicted in my book, May 17, 1943. Indeed, part of the charm of that particular newspaper, Don pointed out, was the fact that one of the airmen in the raid, Lewis Burpee, from Ottawa, was featured on its front page. That made Don Ferguson’s brush with history all the more enriching for him, and as it turned that evening, for me and the museum audience I was addressing.
It occurred to me that the bloom has kind of gone off the rose for those in the business of delivering newspapers. I remember when Toronto had three daily newspapers; the best part-time job a kid could snag was one delivering either the Toronto Star or the Toronto Telegram each evening, or the Globe and Mail early each morning up and down our suburban streets. Of course, it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. One of my hockey pals, Carl, was a Tely paperboy and he told me about the tedious job of “collecting,” doing the rounds and actually keeping track of each household that had paid (or hadn’t) and reporting it back to the newspaper’s circulation office downtown. I distinctly remember one winter night, it was blowing and snowing so hard we couldn’t see past our front porch. We heard somebody moaning outside. We opened the front door and nearly frozen in a snowbank out front was our paperboy.
“Carl?” I called out. “What’re you doing?”
“Collecting,” he called out feebly, and we immediately invited him in to warm up and collect his newspaper money. That was dedication.
I also remember during the summer of 1967 when I worked as a copy boy at the Toronto Telegram, the intensity of that moment when the newspapers – all bound, labelled, and ready to be transported to distribution points across the city – rolled down the chutes at the back of the Tely building. It was like the movie “The Front Page” and the Indianapolis 500 all rolled into one, as those Tely truck crews loaded the newspaper bundles aboard the trucks and raced off into evening. With one guy driving and the other in the back chucking newspaper bundles onto sidewalks and street corners across the city, time was of the essence, to make sure every newsie in the city got papers delivered by suppertime.
Of course, these days things have changed. This newspaper, the Cosmos, is principally delivered via Canada Post. And our morning newspaper, the Star, is delivered in the early hours by a delivery person in a van. It doesn’t have the dynamism of the hand delivery days, but I have to admit, the delivery is done as the van is passing on the street. One morning, I was out there early enough and his toss of the perfectly wrapped newspaper from the front seat of the van delivered it literally right into my hands, on the fly!
One of our grandchildren has recently taken on – at least as an experiment in responsibility and small business enterprise – the job of delivering the newspaper in a suburban part of town. It’s been a challenge for everybody concerned. But it’s refreshed my memories of the prestige of delivering news that way.
That pride of job was certainly expressed the other night when Don Ferguson explained that he’d delivered the Ottawa Evening Journal newspaper the very night of the Dam Busters raid in 1943. But I had a surprise for Don. He didn’t know it, but the man featured on that May 17 front page, Canadian airman Lewis Burpee, while he didn’t survive the war, his son did. In fact, that very night at Vintage Wings museum by coincidence, Lewis Burpee Jr. and his son were in the audience.
It was quite a crisscrossing of history that night, the kind of news story best delivered by hand to your door by a dedicated newsie.
For more Barris Beat columns, go to www.tedbarris.com