Friday, April 13, 2012

Sons of the Snow Scoop

A half dozen e-mails and the occasional letter still pop up annually about Parka Patrol.

Ah, the sweet little Saturday night blues and Bambi fantasy about a lovesick ranger in a fire tower.
Once in a while he got into town to play the jukebox at the local hotel, which curiously only played B-17, a reference to the long-ago pop tune and Bingo.
Listeners were praised as hardy countrymen and Sons of the Snowscoop.

Or was it a fantasy? The show took its mail at a post office box in Maynooth, ON, which is on the way to Algonquin Park.
(I wanted to use Snowball, ON as our mail drop, but it was too far to go. LOL)

For 25 years, I commuted into Toronto to do Toronto Sun humour columns, and broadcast projects like Parka Patrol, and a later weekly CFRB opus, Recordhounds.

Once a month, I'd lumber into CBC Radio's old Jarvis St. Kremlin to tape three episodes. All of the strange records were my own, a frightening insight into my head and interests over 40 or so years. We'd have a lead sheet for the tunes, and a nearly complete script.

I'd say our greatest achievements included the National T-Shirt Trade, a national unity parody.

Listeners sent us their favourite small-town t-shirt and we'd trade it for one of the same size from somewhere else. Local fire companies, gas stations and unheard-of cafes seems to be the most popular. The mail handler (me) nearly went insane. In the two years of the show, we drew about 1,200 letters--all answered with a note, bumpersticker or Maynooth Bears t-shirt. Alas even then, the CBC had no budget for inspired craziness.

Our other big bark was the Parka Patrol Dog Show.
Listeners sent in a pic of their adored mutt, and the object was to send a Best in Show ribbon--100 printed up at a trophy store--to EVERY dog entered, mention each dog BY NAME on the show and send each one a ribbon. Every dog a winner! The Dog Show had about 80 dogs, with appropriate thoughts on their talents. (Owners had to tell us their talents, which included drooling, humping and farting).

We sent listeners Bingo cards for National Bingo Night. Many numbers called. Very confusing. Many winners.

A plugged-in pal got then-Communications Minister Marcel Masse to record us a promo: "I am the Minister of Communications. You are the People of the Parka." It was Very Official.

Anyway, the mail load, timing tunes and chasing ever-weirder music began to impinge on my real job as daily columnist. I begged the CBC to at least run off some pre-printed postcards--the same wolf image and the exploding pineapple seen here. Nada.

So Parka Patrol went away, to wherever old radio goes.
No more music for the Saturday night bath.
No word of whether Bambi won Bingo.
No more recipes for Stuffed Porcupine or how to catch one.
(Wait on the corner of the porch until porkie comes to eat the house. Bean a big can of V8 off his noggin.)

Where will the young learn such stuff?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Never cry wolf

Postcards killed the radio show

Hard to believe, but this postcard killed a radio show.

CBC's Parka Patrol, the wry Saturday night show that apparently came from a forest ranger tower near Maynooth, ON, disappeared after a successful two year run in the '80s.

The first year, it drew 350 pieces of mail. The second year, nearly 700.

Funny thing about the intimacy of radio: each single listener feels he or she knows the little voice in the box. They want contact.

The poor sap who wrote and voiced Parka Patrol answered the mail.

"If we could just print up some postcards, life would be so much easier," the Corporal of the Cordwood begged. "The mail load is impossible."

"What would be on the front of the postcard?" asked the Corp.

I made one for them.

I found it this morning.

They said no.

The show ended.


The Sun never sets

Fans and critics of the Toronto Sun know that over the years, John Cosway compiled a fascinating blow-by-blow account of its rise, flubs and failures. Virtually every staffer contributed to his feisty independent blog. Way kewl.

(See it at

In the fall of 2011, the Sun "celebrated" its 40th anniversary.
Quietly is an understatement.

But Cosway solicited every staffer to contribute memories of their time at the word factory.

They're all at the above e-address.

Here was mine....



Memories of the Toronto Sun - Gary Dunford

Bruno Gerussi - the Stratford actor-turned-Beachcomber - scored me the longest gig I ever had.

He was chums with TV critic Bob Blackburn and the amazing Kathy Brooks and knew more than most about the death of the Tely and birth of the Sun.

As the Sun invented its new Sunday edition, Gerussi insisted I meet Brooks and pitch a humour column. I added it to my handful of freelance gigs, which included Bruno's radio show and his fledgling Beachcombers.

My weekly Sunday Sun playlets mostly centred on Tiny Perfect MayorDavid Crombie and his civil circus. Three or four people found them funny. I was at the one year mark and counting - mostly counting myself lucky. But then Brooks calls . . .

Kathy drags me in to see J.D. MacFarlane when Slinger left for the Star. The scowly editorial director owl seemed dubious I could file 34 column inches, five days a week. But Brooks charms him. "I want items!" he thundered.

On a good day my space was an odd mix of jokes, media whispers, quizzes, blind items. It took about two years to become Page Six, a smart alec spreadsheet of local heroes, CBC excess and sheepdogs.

John Downing was my Sun guardian angel and mentor. It was Downing's IBM Selectric I used til he came over from city hall late afternoons. It was Downing who often advised on what was total or partial B.S. in the flotsam I collected. And it was Downing's unseen hand that allowed a wildcard freelancer - who "served at the pleasure of the publisher" for 23 years - to be treated like Sun staffers, which was very well indeed.

To repay him, I kept an ugly eight-foot tall cardboard palm tree on his desk for about 10 years, an eyesore to most, but a fine landmark for incoming Strip-o-grams.

"Gary," a worried Marj Henry would whisper into my extension: "I think there's another crazy person here to see you." Keep them in the lobby. I'll come out.

For a few years, Mark Bonokoski and I shared a back corridor office, prime real estate with a glass window allowing us to scout every model, actress and bunny wannabee, rushing with her makeup bag to a SUNshine Girl photo shoot. I think Bono missed a few stunners while out at the city desk, barking at some hapless editor about his missing adjectives. Go figure.

Old fogie that I am, I well remember Jim Yates handing me my first Radio Shack TRS-80 Model100 word processor, the cutting edge of 1983 technology. With about 10 pounds of cables and teacup-sized couplers, you could be 60% certain of filing a column into the Sun's cranky computer room. It was a miracle that dwarfs the iPad. Okay, some nights, you had to file four or five times. Up to a dozen if there were thunderstorms.

Since I was a pioneer telecomuter, my space at the Sun changed as often as fall fashion. My desk was once close to Peter Worthington's editor space: I was aware of every column complaint he took from the boss of CFTO.

Did Doug Bassett know how many iffy items came hand-written on cream-colored Desk of Douglas Creighton memo paper? Maybe. Gossip fresh from Winston's. I was a hapless pawn in some decade-old Tely payback I knew nothing about. Honest.

For two happy years, I got to see every crutch, sling, bandage and ankle cast editor Barbara Amiel sported, rolling into the office from her exercise, falls and social wars. It made me much more health-conscious.

Much has been made of what a party school the Sun was. How many Columnists' Dinners were there? Too few. Doomed by wretched excess. It was Sun style. Party hearty. Go big or go home. Rent SkyDome. Get a carousel in there. And don't miss the after-party at Hoofer's. Crooks. Betty's. Go if only to hear the Star people bitch.

Tom MacMillan was every columnist's co-conspirator, mine more than most.

What newspaper in North America underwrote every-10-year sabbaticals? Played Santa Claus in good years and bad? Cut some stock aside for those who weren't Day Oners in Sun Media's IPO? Did we know how good we had it? You bet.

A dozen wage slaves were airlifted annually to "Sun Seminars" in distant cities. Mine was in New York City in 1984. There, in the swank Hotel Pierre ballroom, I showed the directors a home-made video that mocked the paper, its editors, its readers. The legendary Amiel Reel, tagging her as the Black Queen of King Street. Always bite the hand that feeds you. It was possible. Humour was not a firing offence. MacMillan intro'd me as asked as loner and loon. True.

I'm always amused when Cos includes some whippersnappers' complaint that TSF is for and by boomers looking backwards at an amplified, impossible, golden and glorious past. How can the present ever compete with such B.S?

Memory is a blessing, kiddos: time erases most of the petty, stupid and awful. (Did we really drag Liz Braun to lunch at the House of Lancaster? May we all burn in Hell.) But you have total recall of the good stuff. Memory is sweet.

And for Sun staffers of most of the last 40 years, there was a generosity of spirit afoot that quite simply was unique.

Worth celebrating.


Monday, March 28, 2011

New dog in town

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

new dog in town

Back at the dawn of TV, on Sunday afternoons there was an NBC show called Wide Wide World.

Dave Garroway hosted this hour experiment, as they attempted to put up a live picture of Niagara Falls, a live street fair in Chicago, traffic moving across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Since this was all done with patchplugs, coaxial cables and transcontinental switches, it was about 20% static and 80% miracle. When things went wrong, Garroway turned to his closeup camera--while technicians scrambled--to explain how impossible it was to do such a show in the 1950s.

Like much in life, the long-ago show lives in memory as a childhood miracle, flickering images that beget videotape, satellites, high def.

At the end of each Wide Wide World, Garroway would recite the following benediction:

"The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide...
Above the earth is stretched the sky,
No higher than the heart is high."

He'd hold up two fingers and add: "Peace."

I think of the verse ever time I go kayaking....

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

happy canada day


Where did I go?
What did I do?
Rafting in Costa Rica.

I have hundreds of photos...
. Lots of tree frogs in blue and red.
. Birds of every description.
. Perfect curves of nearly deserted Pacific beaches.
. Surf as sweet as Hawaii.
. Dozens of new beans and rice dishes.
. Friendly locals on the party bus that takes you up above Jaco and buries you in beer.
. Amiable Ticos and the world's best coffee.
. Moody volcanos and zip lines thru the trees.
. Crocs and holwer monkeys and spoonbills in the trees, as pink as a baby's butt.
. Magic landscapes as only nature can design them.
... but alas, no picture of the baby ant eater.
(It moved too fast for me to stop being slack-jawed.)

I still dream green.

But what haunts me still is the overnight raft trip down the Rio Pacuare.
One of the world's five last great wild rivers.

Beyond magic.
Beyond words.
Midnight: just stars, darkness and the whisper of water.
Yes, I had fun.
That is where I've been.
Happy Canada Day.

night lava, volcan arenal

Costa Rica pictures

rio pacuare

sunset up above jaco

sleeping capuchin monkeys

playa hermosa

rio pacuare

manuel antonio

chestnut-mandible toucan

happy crocs

Volcan Arenal at dawn

Costa Rica postscript

After conversing with Costa Rica's scarlet macaws, I returned to find a reader desperate for a copy of a performance piece originally written for Bruno Gerussi's seminal CBC Radio show in the 1970s.
Yes, this was just before Bruno became a TV beachcomber.
Seven Days appears in multiple anthologies and my own column collections.
Why not here?

(appears below)

Seven days

in the beginning,
man created the mudhole and the marsh
damming streams for viaducts
and routing waters for his own benefit
waters, white as crystal, rushed through trenches
trickled through makeshift reed piping
splashed clean into clay bowls
bubbling to do man's bidding

and it was the morning and the evening of the first day
and the seagulls were dying

on the second day, man created the slaughterhouse and the zoo
and the wild animals of the earth
which wandered at will across the planet
instead watched man from behind wire mesh
scruffy lions with sad faces
and elephants, their bottoms calloused from sitting on cement

and it was the morning and the evening of the second day
and the seagulls were dying

on the third day, the buffalo disappeared.
simply disappeared.
and across the pampas
safaris, $1195 per person, sought out exotic creatures
to mount in rec rooms or multiply in cages
and the ice floes ran red
jungle monkeys reeled in terror
antelope, gazelle, deer
stared back thru every rifle's sights

it was the morning and the evening of the third day
and the seagulls were dying

on the fourth day, man created the sewer and sump
and pumps to pipe sewer to sump and sump to sewer
at incredible cost
to nose and pocket.
and the pumps pumped
and the sumps drained
and the sewers flowed
into creeks and lakes
and every drop of sewage makes
an ocean spread across the world
the promised universal apocalypse

and it was the morning and the evening of the fourth day
and the seagulls were dying

on the fifth day, man crated and canned atomic wastes
and made up the word megaton
packing lethal wastes in rusty old drums and concrete caissons
cramming biological uglies into old train tank cars
that ran on undetermined schedules
across the landscape
somewhere, sunken tanks of arsenic are cloaked in barnacles
rust slowly in salt water
and now and then, on october afternoons
underground explosions occur
but smiling spokesman describe them as necessary and safe
as desert floors collapse and islands tremble.
the smiling spokesman swears
the san andreas fault
remains faultless

and it is the morning and the evening of the fifth day
and the seagulls are dying

on the sixth day, man created the additive
which differed in name, but never in purpose
and was gleefully installed in cereals and fertilizers
soft drinks and cookies
field and bug sprays
creams and cosmetics
it was added to everything man ate or drank
but scrubbed from smokestacks
and sewage
and lakes
and eventually,
even the additives had additives
and counter-antidotes to combat the counter-pollutants.
even the experts gave up explaining
exactly what the additives were to accomplish

and it was the morning and the evening of the sixth day
and the seagulls were dying

on the seventh day, there was quiet over all the earth
except for the lapping of waves
and the bubbling of storm drains
and the seagulls were dying
the plankton
the oceans
the atmosphere
the trees were dying

and man

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Taking a swipe at those who oppose wind turbines off the Scarborough Bluffs, Premier Dalton McGuinty is signalling he won't hesitate to foist "green" energy projects on communities across Ontario.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wind Hustlers

So like the medicine shows of old, sky smoothies in suits tour rural Ontario, pitching hopefully rube councils the virtue of Catching The Invisible Wind.

After all, these friends of the Ontario government--and numbered companies who'd like to be buddies of the government--will be subsidized and tax-breaked up the yin-yang to erect 40-storey wind turbines all over the Algonquin boondocks. (Turbines sounds much better than windmills, dude. Very high tech.)

The wind catchers will operate when the wind blows--just 30% of the time--pissing a piddle of power into the grid now and then, but the when cannot be predicted. Or harnessed. Or stored. So the same coal/oil/nuke that currently fuels the grid will grind away 24/7 just like now. Duh.

Wind blows hardest when it knocks down trees or during ice storms when the power grid goes down. Will the blades spin in vain? Or not spin at all? What's wrong with this picture?

How often does the electric grid blink or fail in rural Ontario? There is a more consistent power supply in Ecuador.

Each wind-generated kilowatt hour will be purchased at a guaranteed McGuinty price that is three to five times the price of a kilowatt from existing sources. This surcharge will be passed along to Hydro One customers, like the Retiring Past Mistakes entry on each bill which repents the sins of the 1950s. We have new sins.

Nobody really knows what happens to a 400-foot high windmill in an Ontario ice storm. Can blades the size of jet planes hurl ice slabs? Does the whole structure go down, like a high tension hydro tower?

What happens to wildlife?
Or neighbours within earshot?
How bad are the sound and vibration?
Are there health implications?
How much land will bulldozers tear up to place these suckers?
Who removes them if a cheaper, better source of power makes turibines antiques?
Shut up.

That is why the wind experiment must be carried out east of Algonquin park, where eyesores can easily be erected on heights of land. That these low-per-capita income areas of rural Ontario rely on tourism to survive is... well, what would the word be? Unfortunate? Opportune?

I know! Green!

Ontario must retro-fit all existing Group of Seven paintings to include a large wind turbine next to Tom Thomson's scraggly pine.

If Ontario's cities are the main beneficiary of schemes to feed their wretched excess, shouldn't they lead by example?

I want a wind turbine atop each turret of Queens Park. How about one to replace the communications mast on the CN Tower? Imagine Rochester, green with envy to see a propeller spin atop Toronto's landmark beanie.

Each Toronto skyscraper should have its own rooftop wind turbine to supply--a third of the time--the electric needs of Commerce Court or the Toronto-Dominion Centre. Who needs a grid? Just a long extension cord to the roof. Why they could leave the lights on all night! Whoops, I forgot. They do that anyway.

Where does the wind blow harder than straight in off Lake Ontario?


Alas this is not the plan.

No windmills allowed in David Smith or Dalton McGuinty's yard, thank you.

Rural councils smell a Wind Hustle that will benefit everyone but themselves, and are dragging their feet. Will they get free power? No. Tax benefits for ratepayers? No. Construction gigs? Hah! A little brushing? Maybe.

One rebel council slyly passed a resolution to make no decision in the matter for 10 years.

That prompts Queens Park to fast-track the Wind Hustle and bypass the locals entirely. Shut up! This is called parliamentary democracy.

So we'll get costly power--but only 30% of the time--from unsightly structures taxpayers have underwritten in subsidies and breaks, from towers that won't make much of a dent in the "dirty" supply we use now.

A few favoured companies will roll in free taxpayer cash.

Turbines will go up whether tourists, taxpayers, MPs or locals want them or not. But only in areas that don't have the population or pull to do much about it. What luck!

Why I'm feeling greener already.

Pass the barf bag.