Celebrating 25 Years of making The Montrealer! Peter Kerr December 11, 2019 2088 Well – look at us now! It’s an important achievement to have been in business for 25+ 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. 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. “Le Gros Bill” would go on to be an impeccable ambassador for his beloved Montreal Canadiens. 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 experienced 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. Felipe 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. President 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. Mitch Garber: At the time of our interview, Mitch was the President of Caesar’s Entertainment, a massive hotel, casino and entertainment enterprise. Very much a self-made man – Mitch was generous in acknowledging the people who helped him on his path to success, especially his friend, former employer and mentor; Cookie Lazarus. He spoke candidly of his motivation to succeed, of his love and courtship of his wife Anne-Marie Boucher. When he mentioned that his father had taken his own life when Mitch was still young– I put down my pen and said; “Geez Mitch – do you want me to go off the record here?” His responded; “Peter, that’s an important part of my story, leave it in. I know that my Dad is proud of me now.” Mitch maintained his executive office in Montreal – even though the company’s hotels were located primarily in the US. Since our conversation, Mitch retired from Caesar’s and is now President of Cirque de Soleil. He also has taken on responsibility as Chairman of Invest In Canada, an agency dedicated to encouraging foreign investment in Canada. Perhaps it’s time for another Mitch Garber cover feature! Sugar 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. 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. Nathalie has been featured twice on our cover. 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. It continues to be one of Canada’s most visited museums. 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. During our second interview, she talked passionately about the 300+ organizations that have been brought in through the museum’s outreach program. I considered it a coup to spend s couple of hours with her. Trevor 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. This was a special moment for me – to re-connect with a friend who I admired from a distance. 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! Anthony & Alexia Calvillo: Both are 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. Jonathan and Susan Wener: My interview with Jonathan and Susan Wener was delightful – even though the focus of the interview was in part to chronicle how they as a couple and a family faced Susan’s immensely difficult battle with cancer – twice. Jonathan and Susan opened their home and their hearts to me – and by extension, our readers. Yes, Jonathan has earned tremendous success, but he felt helpless when faced with the cancer that was attacking Susan, the love of his life. When the doctors told Jonathan that what they needed was money for research, he marshalled his considerable organizational talents and started the Défi-Canderel. This annual fun run in downtown Montreal has raised over $18 million in thirty years. The funds are divided equally with no strings attached to Cancer Research at McGill and Université de Montreal. Theirs is an amazing story that you can read about in Susan’s book aptly titled, Resilience. Montreal is a better city because of the philanthropic activities of this remarkable couple. Rick 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. 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 were equal to those of Hockey Night In Canada. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee: Paul is the Co-Creator and star of Kim’s Convenience, CBC’s enormously popular television show. The show is a reflection of the immigrant experience; one that Paul’s parents lived after leaving South Korea to make a new life for their children in Canada. They sacrificed promising careers in academia to provide a better future for their children. At the time, Paul was going to bring the original stage version of Kim’s Convenience to The Segal Centre. His passion for telling the story is informative and humbling. To think that our country represents a beacon of hope for people on the other side of the world is a great responsibility that we can be proud of. Lori Graham: Lori 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. Jim West: Jim is the founder of Justin Time Records, easily Canada’s best jazz ‘record’ label. While he may not be a household name, he was the first person to record Montreal’s beloved Oliver Jones. Jim also brought us the soaring and inspirational gospel music of The Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, the jazz vocals of Ranee Lee and so many other talented jazz musicians. Jim is a fine gentleman in a difficult business. Here’s an example; Jim signed Diana Krall to Justin Time records at the beginning of her career. He recognized that an offer from a large US record label was in her best career interest, and so he agreed to let her go. However, he did keep the Canadian rights to her recordings for a time, and the two remain in contact. Jim West has facilitated and developed the careers of many Montreal jazz musicians, and he is a treasure for our city which hosts the world’s largest jazz festival. Jennifer 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. Nannette De Gaspé Beaubien: Before starting her line of beauty products called Nannette de Gaspé, she worked in corporate and venture capital finance for BMO in Toronto and New York. An astute executive, Nannette also served on the Board of the National Research Centre. She conceived of a way to adapt medical biotechnology to deliver all-natural skin care products. Several of products were selected for the high-profile “boost bags” presented to all the 2019 Oscar nominees in Hollywood. Her products achieved international attention and acclaim by product testers. “It’s all well and good to claim that your products are luxurious and that they are natural; but to have a high performance, that’s where our science and technology come into play.” 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 twenty-five years to October 1994. Thank you for continuing to read The Montrealer. You can read most of these interviews on our website: www.theMontrealerOnline.com Related
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