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Brian Jones: Tales from the storytelling trenches

Retired CBC-TV anchor Peter Mansbridge has postponed his St. John’s show.

His “Stories Behind the Stories” national speaking tour was supposed to start Saturday in St. John’s, but, according to Mile One Centre’s website, “new dates will be announced in the new year.”

Far be it from me to replace His Peterness, but here are a few random tales from the storytelling trenches.

 

Holy smokes

Many Newfoundlanders probably recall Pope John Paul II’s visit to Flatrock in 1984. His Canadian visit was supposed to include a visit to Fort Simpson, N.W.T., but that leg had to be cancelled due to bad weather. The Pope promised northerners he would come when he could, and three years later he fulfilled that pledge.

Two planeloads of Italian journalists followed John Paul II on his trip to the North.

In 1987, I was a reporter for the weekly newspaper in Yellowknife, N.W.T., which had to be the best weekly newspaper job in the country. On any given day, your boss might walk over to your desk, plop down an airplane ticket and say, “Be at the airport at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”

The site in Fort Simpson was spectacular, right beside the Mackenzie River. A huge teepee sheltered the altar. Thousands of mostly Dene residents came for mass.

Two planeloads of Italian journalists followed John Paul II on his trip to the North. A raised platform to one side of the altar was reserved for photographers. The clicking and whirring was loud and furious, but stopped the second the Pope began saying mass.

Then, en masse, about 100 Italians let their cameras dangle on their straps, took out cigarettes and lit up, puffing and blowing smoke in full view of the Pontiff.

 

Hot Highness

Famous people often visited the North, especially in summer. In 1987, the Duke and Duchess of York, the recently wed Prince Andrew and Lady Sarah Ferguson, went for a canoeing holiday on the Barrenlands.

On that occasion, a fleet of floatplanes was full of Fleet Street Brits.

The prince was the big attraction. During a photo shoot on a Barrenlands riverbank, the crowd of British photographers called out, “Your Highness, look this way!” or, “Andrew, over here!”

Miffed at being ignored, Lady Sarah struck a sexy pose and pretended to seductively unbutton her shirt, first the top button, then the next ….

Too racy for the Royals indeed.

 

Meech madness

In June 1990, Canadians’ attention was focused on Newfoundland’s House of Assembly, where the fate of the Meech Lake constitutional accord would be determined.

St. John’s hadn’t seen so many Canadian journalists in town since 1949. During a break in debates, I was on an elevator in the Confederation Building when on walks Patrick Nagle, longtime Canadian Press reporter and icon of the newspaper trade.

Being youngish, I’m awestruck. I’m pondering what I should say to him, but before I get a chance, another person comes onto the elevator. It is Tory MHA Shannie Duff.

Duff ignores me, but gives Nagle a looking over. Then, in a condescending tone a kindergarten teacher might use with a five-year-old, Duff says, “Ooh, you have a notebook! You must be a reporter!”

 

Greenhouse gaffe

In the early 1990s, climate change and global warming were relatively new to the lexicon. At The Evening Telegram — as this venerable paper was then called — important newsmakers were often invited to “editorial board” meetings, where bigwig editors would ask important questions of important people, and some reporter scribe would be suckered into writing it all down and putting together a story.

I was drafted for one such dreaded task. The featured interviewee was an environmental activist whose name and organization I don’t remember.

But I clearly recall the conversation. He direly warned about the long-term dangers posed by greenhouse gases.

To which then-managing editor Bill Callahan responded, “Can’t the government just pass legislation to limit the number of greenhouses that people can have?”

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com

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