Well – look at us now! It’s an important achievement to have been in business for 20+ years. I’m going to give you a short history of the publishing experience that preceded The Montrealer, and then fast-forward to our more recent history and some back stories about the people I’ve had the good fortune to interview.

I’ve actually been self-employed since 1989, after working in the advertising departments of Maclean’s Magazine and L’Actualité, now owned by Rogers Media. In 1989, I set up an advertising sales agency, selling magazine, television and billboard advertising for a variety of media companies. One of my clients was a monthly publication owned by a division of the Toronto Star. The publication I represented was geared to the boomer generation, also known as the 50-Plus market.

To spur growth across Canada, the company recruited local entrepreneurs to purchase franchises. I had worked in the media business for 15 years, and after discussing with my family, we decided in the summer of 1994 to invest in a franchise. As it would later turn out, my franchise turned out to more like a Dunkin’ Donuts than a Tim Horton’s. However, it got me started publishing a monthly paper and enabled me to concentrate on selling advertising as my primary responsibility. I grew into the writing aspect as time went on.

Our first cover story was written by someone else, and it featured Jean Beliveau. The main premise of the story was about the former Montreal Canadiens Captain turning down an offer to become Canada’s Governor-General. His daughter had young children and as a single parent, Jean believed that his first duty was to his family, and he declined.

As the years went by, most of the other franchises failed. And while I wasn’t exactly flourishing, I was doing well enough to maintain a modest amount of growth. However, after two five-year franchise terms, I had had enough of what had become increasingly a Toronto-centric publication. I couldn’t really blame them, because the majority of the franchises had by then failed.

To make up for the lack of Montreal editorial content for our readers (and advertisers!); I had started to write my own travel and cruise articles, and cover local artistic events and concerts.

20 years - Felipe AlouFelipe Alou

This was my first cover story, and I believe that it was in 1998. The Expos were playing way over their heads, further ahead in the standings than they had any right to be. I was told that I had 15 minutes with Felipe. He was warm with his welcome, although a little formal. He knew I’d be gone in what was now 13 minutes. I made an observation about his managing style. “Felipe, am I right in guessing that the reason you’ve got this team playing so well – is that you are treating them like men. You assume that once they’re here in the big leagues – they can play baseball; and you let the coaches worry about fine-tuning their fundamentals. So you treat these guys with respect as men….” I didn’t get to finish the sentence. Felipe broke into a big smile and said; “Peter, I’ve been interviewed by professional sports writers during my whole career as a player and as a manager. I’ve been doing just what you described for my entire career – and nobody else has noticed it. You come in here and like that – you got me.” Forty-five minutes later, the PR manager knocked on the door to say that a television crew from ESPN had been waiting for half an hour.

I left the franchise, and struck out on my own. One of the first orders of business was to find a name for the ‘new’ publication. I had liked the sound of The Montrealer, and one evening searched the Quebec business registry. To my happy surprise – no one owned that name. The next morning, I was first in line at the door. The guy at the desk couldn’t believe it either, and asked if he could double-check. With a great flourish, he stamped my application and grinning from ear-to-ear said “Amusez-vous bien patron”.

My first interview subjects were people I knew or sort-of knew. Larry Smith was my first cover and I forever thank him for giving us the credibility in the marketplace by accepting my invitation. Next came Aislin, Oliver Jones, and a few other local personalities. Problem was – I had a small circle of famous friends, and I was using them up quickly.

The papers were all being picked up, but at a slower pace. I needed to up my game.

20 years - Bill ClintonPresident Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton had been the keynote speaker here in Montreal at the first Climate Change Conference. He was scheduled to deliver a motivational speech in late February, 2006. While he wasn’t a Montrealer, I thought I’d just make Bill Clinton an honorary Montrealer. The worst he could do, would be to say ‘no’. I called his office in New York City and explained who I was, and could I speak with President Clinton. Instead, I was put in touch with a number of ‘his people’; given access to the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and photo gallery in Arkansas. I had a lot of fun, and came up with an informative article about Bill Clinton and a couple of terrific candid photos of him and Hillary. What I had inadvertently accomplished was to raise the profile of The Montrealer. Now, when I called and told people that we had featured Bill Clinton, Aislin and Oliver Jones, potential cover subjects took The Montrealer (and me) more seriously.

20 years - Jennifer HeilJennifer Heil

Jennifer won Gold and Silver Medals respectively in the 2006 and 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. When I interviewed her, she was studying at McGill, and she was clearly a natural communicator. I’m always impressed by the focus, determination and personal drive that Olympic athletes posses; and Jennifer was transferring that energy to the Because I Am A Girl Foundation with PLAN Canada to help girls in underdeveloped countries to obtain an education and make break the cycle of poverty. She had pledged to raise $1 million, and led off by making a personal donation of $25,000. All while she was still a student at McGill. It was indeed an uplifting experience.

20 years - Sugar SammySugar Sammy

I first met Sammy on a Friday afternoon, and I was his last interview. We had time to get to know one another, trade stories, and as it turns out – we struck up a rapport. Since then we’ve met several times, and we’ve actually published three different cover stories about Sugar Sammy. Sammy is young, very cool and he helped us to reach a younger audience. When Sammy tweets that he’s in The Montrealer or on our website, our numbers go through the roof! Our interviews are more of a conversation than a series of questions – but we still get the job done to make it interesting for our readers. He works very, very hard at what he does – so that on stage he can make it look easy.

20 years - Nathalie Bondil

Nathalie Bondil

The Executive Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Nathalie is an interesting combination of an astute business woman and a creative thinker. She has a clear vision of the importance of The Arts in a civil and modern society, and that a museum should be accessible and fun. She has transformed the MMFA to earning world-wide peer recognition, and in 2014, The MMFA was named the most successful Museum in Canada. In addition to producing outstanding exhibitions from fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier to Van Gogh; and spearheading the transformation of the Erskine & American Church to a becoming an intimate and popular concert hall; Nathalie has made a tremendous impact on Montreal. I considered it a coup to spend a couple of hours with her.

20 years - jubilation choirTrevor Payne and The Montreal Jubilation Choir

Trevor and I had been friends when we both worked as musicians for Donald K Donald back in the 60s and early 70s. Trevor quit the rock ‘n’ roll business, studied Music at McGill, and went on to teach. But his greatest gift of teaching came when Daisy Peterson Sweeny (Oscar’s sister and Little Burgundy piano teacher) asked Trevor to help out with the youth at the Union United Church. Several decades later, I called Trevor and asked him if I could do a story about him for The Montrealer. By then I had already ‘done’ our mutual friend Don Tarlton (Donald K Donald) and Trevor agreed. I rang his doorbell, the door opened and we exchanged greetings; “Hi Trevor… Hi Peter”, and thirty or forty years melted away. It was one of the best afternoons in my life. We talked about his youth, his introduction to music, his daughter, his sometimes poor luck with love, his being awarded the Order of Canada; and of course – The Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. Trevor has given so much music and opportunity to the many hundreds of youth with the choir; that he can now chuckle about Daisy Sweeney’s challenge to him several decades ago. Bravo my friend – Bravo!

20 years Alexia AnthonyAnthony & Alexia Calvillo

Anthony and Alexia Calvillo are both cancer survivors, and the purpose of my interview request with them was to tell our readers about how they met their diagnoses, and how they came through treatments. This was a new type of interview for me – in that for the first time I was interviewing two people and for the first time we would have two people sharing the cover. It was inspirational on several levels; the concern they had for their young daughters; their deep love and respect for each other, and their Faith. Of course we talked about football, but Anthony wanted to make sure that we covered Alexia’s cancer and treatment. As it turned out, her tumour was the size of a grapefruit and a positive outcome was not a certainty. Remembering their quiet dignity and courage keeps me going when the going sometimes gets tough. It was a compliment to The Montrealer that the Calvillos agreed to be interviewed.

20 years - Denis Coderre

Mayor Denis Coderre

I met the Mayor of Montreal for the first time when I interviewed him for our April 2014 issue. I was given 30 minutes, and we established a good rapport within a few minutes. He has tremendous energy, and believes that he has a responsibility of stewardship for Montreal. He not only wants to re-establish Montreal as a major Canadian city, he possesses the decisiveness to drive the process from the Mayor’s chair. We were having a familiar conversation, talking about our families and his experience as a football coach for his son’s team; and I stole a glance at my watch. My time was running out, and I stated that l had several topics to discuss, and could we get back to my agenda. He smiled and asked if I was ok for another 20 or 30 minutes; saying; “I’m enjoying our conversation. We say 20 – 30 minutes because I can put up with most people for even that amount of time. But when it’s going good – we can find the time to talk longer.” We see each other fairly often at different functions, and he’s never shy about breaking away to cross the room and say hello. Denis Coderre is great for Montreal, and it was a pleasure to interview him.

20 years - Diana KrallDiana Krall

Montreal audiences have a love affair with jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall. The first time we published a cover story about Diana, she was scheduled to perform on consecutive nights at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in Place des Arts as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Diana has a story of perseverance and the ability to push herself beyond her comfort zone. A happy part of preparing the article came when I spoke to Jazz Festival co-founder André Menard about Diana, jazz music in general and perhaps surprisingly, Brian Wilson. Diana Krall led me to André Menard, who is perhaps Diana Krall’s biggest fan. The folks at The Jazz Fest liked what they saw in The Montrealer, and we have quietly been part of their advertising and media plan for many years now. I’ve been introduced to Oliver Jones, Jim and Chet Doxas, and their father George Doxas, who is now a friend. I’ve met and interviewed many jazz and blues musicians through my association with The Jazz Festival – and it all began with Diana Krall.

20 years - Rick MercerRick Mercer

I had already done several interviews with CBC on-air personalities, set up with the help of the network’s Montreal PR Director, Debbie Hynes. We work well together, and Deb has been instrumental in setting up interviews with Kevin O’Leary, Arlene Dickinson and even Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo. The interview for this feature with Rick Mercer was by telephone, which is usually not as good as an in-person conversation. But Rick is a terrific communicator, and we spent a lot of time talking about his early days in theatre in Newfoundland. He told me how (in an effort to shut him up) the drama club teacher assigned him the task of writing the play that his school’s company would perform at a province-wide competition. “Well wouldn’t you know – we won!” exclaimed Rick. And the rest as they say – was history. For The Montrealer, it was important that we were able to secure an interview with the network’s biggest star, whose ratings of 2 million+ viewers are equal to those of Hockey Night In Canada.

20 Years - Holly ColeHolly Cole

This was a special interview for me, as a fan of smooth jazz singers. Holly is from Halifax, and my family’s roots are also in Nova Scotia. I also spent many years singing rock ‘n’ roll in bars throughout the Maritimes. Sometimes to create an ambiance during an interview, you need to give a little of yourself. The trick is not to get carried away and use up your time talking about yourself. Holly and I clicked on a musical level, and we had a great conversation about singing and performing. She invited me to send her one of my songs – one about a blind piano player from Amherst Nova Scotia. To my happy surprise – she really liked it! Once again, The Montrealer was chosen from a myriad of Montreal media – and I got a chance to have a conversation with one of our greatest jazz singers.

20 years - Lori GrahamLori Graham

Lori Graham has agreed to be featured on the cover of The Montrealer in 2011 and again in 2015. She worked very hard to even get into the Broadcast Journalism program at Concordia, and then graduated first in her class. Lori worked the overnight shift in the CJAD Radio Newsroom, writing and then reading her hourly news reports while most of the city slept. But she seized the opportunity to get on-air experience. Then she’d go to classes for the day. I was impressed by Lori’s dedication to being a broadcaster and subsequently the face of CTV as part the station’s popular news team. Lori brought an important recognition for The Montrealer, and everywhere we went with those issues, people would tell us their own ‘Lori story’, always centering on her kindness and willingness to raise funds for the less fortunate.

20 years - Andrew CarterAndrew Carter

Periodically you meet someone and the conversation proceeds so smoothly – you feel like you’ve known each other for a long time. I’ve had the good fortune to interview CJAD’s morning man Andrew Carter on two occasions. The Andrew Carter Show is Montreal’s most successful am radio program. During our most recent conversation, Andrew told me about his commitment to be a spokesperson for the new MUHC Hospital. He also serves in the Boards of The Cedars Cancer Foundation, The West Island Palliative Care Foundation and The Weredale Foundation. It’s refreshing to see a media personality use his star status to support organizations that help others less fortunate.

So there you have a summary of some of my favourite cover features that we’ve published since becoming The Montrealer in 2005, and a couple going back to our early beginnings in October 1994. Thank you for continuing to read The Montrealer. You can read most of these interviews on our website: www.theMontrealerOnline.com

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