Not only the Queen left their mark - Keith Roulston editorial
The lavish attention paid to the death of Queen Elizabeth II this past week had the perverse result of making me think about the loss of many others I have had the fortune to know on a more personal basis.
Don’t get me wrong, the loss of the Queen who reigned over this country and much of the world for all but the first few years of my life was significant. Among my earliest memories is the local celebration of her coronation in June 1953. In my hometown of Lucknow, that took place at the local ballpark and included the cadet corps of the local high school (now closed), and was impressive for a five-year-old.
But the people who have had the most effect on my day-to-day life have been much closer to home. This past weekend, for instance, was the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association Reunion. That huge event would never have taken place in Blyth if not for a group of local organizers who, more than 60 years ago, held the first tribute to the threshing gangs, often operating around steam engines and threshing machines, that travelled from farm to farm harvesting the wheat, barley and oats.
Emblematic of these organizers in my era was Simon Hallahan, who filled the role of secretary-treasurer and often as chief spokesman for the Thresher Reunion in the early years. He was one of those people who was a community leader, also serving as reeve of East Wawanosh Township and active in his church, and he was among the leaders who started a cheese factory in Blyth which eventually became important in the founding of Gaylea Foods.
Nobody denoted community service more than Sheila Richards, even though she was not born to the kind of participation that we were used to in Huron County. She and her husband Wendell only moved to the Brussels area in the mid-1970s, shortly after James Roy, Anne Chislett and I had started the Blyth Summer Festival. Still, she quickly established a reputation as somebody who got things done and joined the Festival’s Board of Directors. By the time I retired in 1979 as president, she was ready to take over. When I became the first full-time general manager, the days when Sheila made an appointment to come to the office were always times when staff was on edge because she’d have such a busy agenda. Among her accomplishments were the role she played in helping establish the Blyth Festival Singers.
Later, Sheila played an essential part in the creation of this newspaper. She had called me, (who had quit the newspaper business to head the Festival’s administration and then left that role to start a money-losing touring theatre), to worry about how Brussels was ill-served by the fact new owners had amalgamated the old Brussels Post with the Huron Expositor in Seaforth.
I suggested that the newspaper landscape had changed enough that a newspaper for Brussels alone was not likely to survive but a paper that served both Brussels and Blyth (whose Blyth Standard had been incorporated into the Clinton News-Record), might be manageable.
Broke as I was, I couldn’t start a newspaper myself, but with Sheila we sold shares to members of the Blyth and Brussels communities for the community-owned newspaper The Citizen still is today. Sheila sold so many shares that we later found out we had more shareholders than we were permitted to have under Ontario’s laws, and we had to give money back.
In my job in newspapers and associated magazines, I had an opportunity to meet and interview so many inspiring people. Early on these included the great Doc Cruikshank, founder of CKNX radio and television.
I had grown up in a world shaped by Doc Cruickshank. He started the radio station by building a homemade radio transmitter in the store where he sold radios on Wingham’s main street. After he was reported for sending out radio signals without a government permit, he got official permission to operate a station.
Business grew. Among the people he hired was Harry J. Boyle from the St. Augustine area, who later became a producer at CBC – including of the groundbreaking Farm Radio Forum that changed rural Canada. As well, he wrote several books about growing up in Huron County, among one of which was Mostly in Clover, which was the basis for the first play, and the first hit, at the
Blyth Festival. At the time he was chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television Commission, and eventually came to see the show in Blyth, when I met him personally.
Doc Cruickshank eventually also started a television station. Though it is now amalgamated with CTV London, his creativity changed life in Western Ontario.
There are so many others who I’ve met who have made their mark on our way of life. So while the late Queen left an
influence, pardon me if her passing reminds me, instead, of others who changed our lives even more.