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Story of The Wall


November 1, 2001

Sun's royalty. The Baron

Our Hall of Famer, George Gross

By GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

 Thirty years! Where has the time gone? It went by all too fast, leaving many of my friends in its wake. Gone are some of the stalwards who helped make The Toronto Sun what it is today -- a vibrant, controversial, profitable newspaper venture. Paul Rimstead, the well-read columnist, Ed Monteith our first managing editor, Bob Blackburn and

 J. Dougas MacFarlane, our editorial director and a man who taught me all about journalism.

 Also gone are my first colleagues in the sports department, Jim Coleman, Bob Frewin, Eaton Howitt and Ken Adachi. Many outstanding journalists simply moved on. Even the Big Red,

 J. Douglas Creighton, who orchestrated The Sun's maturation, has moved on.

 I'll also mention Joan Sutton, the former head of our women's department, John Iaboni, our first gifted hockey writer and George Anthony, our first entertainment editor.

 Thirteen Day oners remain with The Sun and keep plugging away, though perhaps at a slower pace than 30 years ago, but still just as diligently.

 So what was Day One like?

 Let me take you back 30 years to that October day the late John Bassett, then publisher of the Toronto Telegram, decided officially to close the paper and sell the subcription list to the Toronto Star for $10 million and the building on Front St., along with the presses, to the Globe and Mail, for $2 million.

 That message was delivered to me by phone at 3 a.m. by Creighton, then managing editor of the Telegram. "I didn't want you to hear it on radio, so I decided to call you at this hour," he told me.

 I was mortified! The thought of what was going to happen to the 1,200 employees immediately went through my mind. The future seemed so uncertain, so frightening. Fortunately, Creighton, Don Hunt and Peter Worthington were not about to give up the ship. After first telling most employees to find a job for themselves, the trio -- with a new tabloid in their collective minds -- began searching for financial sponsors. Once they found the money, they started looking for staff.

 I was fortunate that the day of the announcement, Red Fisher, a Montreal Gazette columnist who was then sports editor of the Montreal Star, noticed the news item on the wire service and called me at 6:30 a.m. "Don't worry, Baron," he said. "I can offer you the position of associate sports editor and twice-a-week hockey columnist."

 So, my wife Elizabeth and I drove to Montreal, checked in with Fisher, liked the setup and with help from John Robertson, one of the finest sports columnists in the country, began looking for a house. We found one and figured we'd move to Montreal in a couple of weeks.

 It was around Thanksgiving and we were giving thanks that we were able to find a job and a house in Montreal so quickly. Back in Toronto, I received a call from Creighton. He asked me to come to his house that evening because he had something important to tell me.

 "We found some money and we'll go ahead with the tabloid plans," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm offering you the job of sports editor. Are you in?"

 I told Doug that I would at least have to discuss it with my wife. He said it was all right with him and he gave me an hour to make up my mind. Elizabeth said it was my decision. Never having backed away from a challenge, I shook hands with Doug after talking to my wife. Then we had a cognac or two to seal the deal. Next I called Fisher to give him the news and apologize. He, like many others, said the tabloid wouldn't last three months.

 Years later I met Fisher at the Calgary airport when we both arrived for the 1988 Winter Olympics. He shouted for all to hear: "Didn't I tell you that new tabloid won't last three months?" He actually laughed because the Montreal Star had gone belly up.

 Our first day in the Eclipse Building at King and John streets was something right out of Damon Runyon. We were on the fourth floor of a broken down warehouse, with broken windows and no furniture.

 Orange crates served as our typewriter desks and old Underwoods enabled us to prepare our prose for the non- existent composing room. Two Volkswagens then hustled our copy to Doug Bassett's printing shop in Mississauga and it was a miracle that not one piece of copy was lost.

 I'll never forget the night we published our first edition. We were supposed to be on the presses by 1 a.m., but everything one could think of went wrong. Finally, at about 4 a.m. on Nov. 1, 1971, the first edition of The Sun rolled off the presses.

 Today, 30 years later, I'm still emotional when I start thinking of those who are no longer with us and recall what they have done for The Little Paper That Grew and the wonderful life they helped give me and my family.

 But, most of all, I feel the most special kinship with the other Day Oners who are still here to share this historic birthday, even though our critics said we would never get to celebrate even one birthday.

Celebrating 30 years of the Toronto Sun



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