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TV pioneer Norman Campbell honoured

Sid Adilman


It's too early for acclaimed former CBC-TV producer-director Norman Campbell to know what he will be doing on Sept. 8, but he knows he'll mark the special day quietly.

Fifty years ago that night, national Canadian TV began when English CBC-TV went on the air at 7:15.

And Campbell directed the first show: Let's See, a 15-minute promo for the night's programming. It featured two battling puppets, a weatherman and remarks by Toronto's then-mayor Allan Lamport.

Campbell does not expect to be invited to the CBC's studios on anniversary night.

In 1995, at age 71, CBC dropped him after 47 years, allegedly because of budget cuts. He did not get a pension from the network because he had been on contract for all those years.

He has returned to CBC since, but only as a volunteer, to help transfer some of his pioneering arts and original music specials from decaying tape to digital. He has not been called back to direct any CBC programs, and that makes him sad.

But he's honoured with a display of his own in a stunning exhibition at the CBC Broadcasting Centre Museum marking the National Ballet of Canada's 50th anniversary and its once close connection to CBC-TV because of Campbell's shows. The exhibit includes scenes from the ballet productions Campbell directed and his Order of Canada medal.

For this interview, Campbell chose to be uncharacteristically diplomatic about a lack of interest from the CBC and other producers in working with him since 1995.

Instead, he points to his 11-page, tightly spaced career résumé, which ranges from his four practice CBC-TV programs in July, 1952, through to his last program for CBC, the Stratford Festival's production of Romeo And Juliet in April, 1993. It lists 188 program titles and that, he figures, represents 300 to 400 individual shows.

It does not list his outstanding stage success: The musical version of Anne Of Green Gables, which he wrote with Don Harron and which has kept the Charlottetown Festival alive since 1965.

Campbell, who can name virtually everyone with whom he has ever worked, vaguely recalls directing CBC-TV's first show.

On its first outing, Let's See, which became a nightly fixture, featured a belligerent puppet named Uncle Chichimus and his female opposite, Holly Hock (both created and manipulated by John Conway), zippy, chalk-throwing weatherman Percy Saltzman and Lamport live.

Campbell was then 28. He still does not know why he was picked to direct the first show or who chose the lineup.

But he admits that on the day of show, he "was apprehensive. In radio I had learned timing and that helped." But he had no formal training in TV.

Born in Los Angeles, he grew up in Vancouver and became a meteorologist stationed on Sable Island. He quit to try and sell songs he'd written and got a job directing variety shows on CBC Radio in Vancouver. That lasted nearly four years until he was paged to Toronto to join the plunge into TV. Delayed by radio duties, he arrived in June, 1952, too late for the six-month TV training course CBC had provided others. He had to learn on the job.

"The only television I had seen was through a furniture store window in Vancouver," he recalls.

There was no sense of history being made in the tiny Marlborough Ave. studio that first night, he says. "We were just trying to get a show on. But there was hustling and bustling in the bigger studio across the hall. The place was crawling with actors, singers and musicians (for the third show of the night, Kaleidoscope, at 8).

Kaleidoscope featured Don Harron, Jan Rubes, Glenn Gould, Howard Cable, host John Fisher (known as Mr. Canada) and had greetings from Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and CBC President Davidson Dunton.

Newsmagazine, a half-hour show that followed Let's See at 7:30, made the biggest headlines. Announcer Lorne Greene reported news at it was happening: Reporter (later renowned TV producer) Harry Rasky heard that Toronto's Boyd Gang had escaped from the Don Jail and, with cameras in tow, raced after the police pursuit.

Campbell figures that senior network executives were so distracted that night, none of them thanked him for getting the network on the air smoothly, particularly after CBC's logo appeared on camera upside down.

Campbell went on to direct the first ballet on Canadian TV (Maria Chapdelaine, in late 1952), the first sitcom, Four For The Show ('52-'53), the first original Canadian musical for TV (Sunshine Town, 1954) and both TV productions of the non-musical version of Anne Of Green Gables (1956 and 1958).

He gave Robert Goulet, among many other Canadian performers, their first starring roles.

"In those days," he says wistfully, "if you had a good idea at CBC, you could do it your way."

He is particularly known for directing National Ballet productions on CBC, starting with Swan Lake in 1956. Two shows won International Emmy awards Cinderella in 1968 and Sleeping Beauty in 1972.

He says the ballet's founder, Celia Franca, "understood that I wanted to recreate their stage choreography for television, but I didn't want to change it. I regret that we couldn't keep on doing those ballets in later years (when budget cuts forced CBC to cut its big arts specials)."

But, he stresses, "ballet was only one part of my life. I loved doing sitcoms, and I had to go to the United States to do them."

While still on contract to the CBC, he worked sporadically in the U.S., directing episodes of All In The Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a weekly series with Liberace and specials with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Chevalier, Diana Ross, Andy Williams and Olivia Newton-John, as well as The Mikado with Groucho Marx.

Watching Campbell direct his first run-through of All In The Family in 1972, producer Norman Lear asked him to direct all the episodes that season.

By then, a number of those who began at CBC with Campbell had left to do U.S. television, but Campbell declined Lear's offer. "I loved doing ballet, and I loved Canada, and I loved the feeling of living in Toronto with my wife (Elaine, his frequent script and songwriting collaborator) and our five children.

"(The offer to go to the U.S.) was a slow take and, later on, I may have had some regrets, but I just kept on going. They were wonderful days."'s a story about Bill Genova


Mar. 23, 2003. 08:33 AM


Whether it's for fitness, to get to work or just for pleasure, this is a city that walks (at least when the weather's right). Metropolis tells you how to get on your feet.


Get strolling
With spring upon us (finally), Metropolis celebrates the fine art of walking


Torontonians do not do walking tours.

Or at least that's the stigma. They're for tourists, we think. When we do attend tours, we often feel the need to apologize, as if we were crashing a party.


"Most locals prefer a theme tour like, say, Haunted Chinatown, as opposed to a traditional tour," says Shirley Lum, who runs A Taste of the World, Neighbourhood Bicycle & Walks Inc. tour company. "People here are more interested in looking at something in a different way, going back to those nostalgic places and finding something that's fresh and new."


But for a local, a tour can change the shape of the city. You see an everyday Staples store, but then a guide points to the mouldings, and suddenly it's the Pierce Luxury Car dealership from the 1930s. An everyday site gains meaning, becomes a living, breathing piece of history.


Tours "help you get to know neighbourhoods you may only know the names of," says Karen McCabe, a participant in one of Lum's tours. Familiar parts of the city, such as Yorkville and the St. Lawrence Market, change shape when one looks through the eyes of an experienced guide. For example, Gibraltar Pt. Lighthouse may not seem spectacular but, according to Bill Genova of Genova Tours, it was once Toronto's tallest building.


And walking offers a sensory experience, smells, sounds, even touches, absent from the drive-by tour. You have the opportunity to look more closely at cityscapes and skylines.


Tour guides themselves tend to start their walks as extended hobbies, as a way to showcase a passion for the city. For the jaded local, their love for Toronto is inspiring. Many of the guides we spoke to were chatty types looking for an audience with whom to share their thoughts. Two of them compared their tours to giving birth, calling the participants their "children."


Whether you're single, love food or are curious about exploring Toronto's neighbourhoods, the following are walking tours created with your needs in mind.


Genova Tours

Old Town Tour of Toronto


Bill Genova seems like he could be a part of his own tour. The 62-year-old, who runs Genova Tours, appears to be a relic from Toronto's past, sitting at his St. Lawrence Market table, the only one covered in an old red cloth and a candle burning in a wrought iron stand.


He's come to the market for 60 years; as a boy, he helped his father buy wholesale produce for the family grocery store at 4 a.m. Now, Genova, a retired financial planner, gives tours of what he calls Toronto's Old Town. He also heads walks in other Toronto neighbourhoods, such as Kensington Market, and provides a nightclub tour highly recommended by Toronto Downtown Bed and Breakfast.


Genova has his own little corner of the market, beside Buster's Sea Cove. Stop in most of the businesses in the neighbourhood and they'll know his name. "My tours are for those who have an interest in times past," he says. "Most of the people who go on my tours are older locals, because they have time and memories they want to relive. A lot of younger folks have no time and few memories. "When I take people out, I try to give each place meaning, like pointing out the spot where William Lyon Mackenzie spoke."


Exploring the city with Genova is like taking a journey with your cigar-smoking Grandpa down memory lane, listening to his tales of how things once were. Expect to be overwhelmed with detail, and realize that once Genova gets going, there's no stopping him. It's evident that time and research go into his tours; they're a lecture of sorts, with Genova stopping quickly at spots to point out the origins of various buildings.


"Toronto was established as an imperial British garrison against the Americans. I love saying that. I remember singing `God Save The King in theatres," Genova tells us as he begins his overview of our city's past. "Ten generations have lived and died here."


He goes on to discuss the origin of our roads, saying diagonal streets were once used as native trails. We also learn that, located in the interior of the original St. Lawrence Market, most of which was destroyed, is the former city hall. Our guide laments that 25,000 buildings, including historical landmarks, were destroyed between 1950 and 1970.


Brimming with enthusiasm, Genova leads us through the city, his descriptions littered with phrases such as "When I was young ..." or "If you're old enough to remember ..." We learn that the area surrounding St. Lawrence was Market Square, the city's core, in which the taverns, hotels, financial and entertainment areas were located. Situated here was also the red-light district with its brothels, a.k.a. "oyster bars."


Walking through the Gooderham & Worts Distillery (55 Mill St.), built in 1832, is like experiencing another time and place. In light of this unique charm, many film companies have used the complex as a movie set Genova points to a dark doorway where Al Pacino was shot at in The Recruit.


Suddenly, a construction worker working on the distillery's restoration, notices our tour. He runs out of a building and excitedly shows us two old liquor bottles he has found. Another worker stops to tell us the sites we must see. The grounds are covered with pieces of history, such as wooden pulleys, evidence of the masterpieces of Victorian machinery.


Meandering through Corktown, we come to the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, built in 1848 as Toronto's first free school. Across the street are the original cottages of Irish workmen; the buildings are now considered desirable homes, for those with a renovation budget.


Looping back to St. Lawrence Market, everyone says their goodbyes, as Genova leaves us with a sense of history and a connection to the city's roots.



A Stroll in the Park Walking & Adventure Club

Toronto Islands


Seventeen-year-old Christina Kroboth was out for a short walk in High Park at 1 in the afternoon, when she was grabbed by a man who had followed her into the women's bathroom. He tried to kiss her but she grabbed his Adam's apple (as her grandfather had taught her to do) until he stopped and she could run away.

Three years later, Kroboth began Stroll in the Park as a means for singles to enjoy walking Toronto's green spaces with the safety of numbers. It is also an opportunity for singles to find that "special someone to share long nature walks with," as advertised so often by newspaper personals. Her group offers regular tours of local parks, such as the Rosedale Ravine and the Scarborough Bluffs.

On this day, Kroboth leads a group of singles on a Toronto Islands tour. The guide, with overflowing enthusiasm, platinum blonde hair, black eyeliner and tights, reminds one of an aerobics instructor as she leads her tour to the ferry terminal.


A male participant is greeted by Kroboth with squeals and hugs. There are significantly more women than men: 11 to four. But for two younger women in the group, this appears to be of no concern. "The singles thing is not really my main goal. I'm interested in the exploration and the exercise," says Michelle Michalak, a public relations worker in her 20s.


Kroboth describes her walks as a way to get to know people naturally, without the drunken pressures of the bar scene. "At least not until later," an eavesdropping woman interrupts, anticipating the dinner and drinks option afterward.


Kirk MacGregor, president of the Toronto Caving Group (a local cave-exploration association), says frankly: "I admit openly that I'm here for the singles. Let's face it, I'm aging, plain and poor; I don't have a snowflake's of a chance."

Whether or not people have the same objectives, they are united by a love of the outdoors, which is clear as they introduce themselves in the greeting circle that begins all of Kroboth's tours. The group then sets off for Hanlan's Point, the boat ride feeling like a tour of the Arctic as it crunches through the ice. "It's one of Toronto's best-kept winter secrets," says the first mate of the ride. Ospreys, falcons and snowy owls can be spotted in winter as they stop over Lake Ontario on their migrations, he says.


From there, it is off to the lighthouse, ice formations at the pier and finally the Rectory Café before the tour, or at least the walking part, is over.

The $20 cost of the 3-hour walks covers administration; transportation and the dinners after are extra. Sometimes, Kroboth offers a brief history of the selected park, or has someone from the group read a blurb from a Green Tourism map.

But, according to Kroboth, she is not offering a tour she's offering an chance for people to take a leisurely stroll through a park without having their brains stuffed full of information.


A Taste of the World Neighbourhood Bicycle & Walks Inc.

Foodies Gaslight Stroll: Rosedale and Yorkville


If you're inclined toward a leisurely walk mixed with gourmet nosh and a few juicy bits of local trivia, A Taste of the World's tours might be for you.

Since 1993, tour guide Lum has offered theme tours, such as neighbourhood walks, ghost walks, literary walks and foodie walks, through Toronto neighbourhoods.


Her walks down streets such as Broadview highlight local culture and unique shops. Ghost walks tell stories of "haunted" spots such as the Grange. Literary walks take you to sites strung together with historical excerpts from books and letters.


And foodie walks take you to restaurants and provide history on selected sites.

Wine, goulash, schnitzel, gateau Basque and avocado stuffed with potatoes and baby shrimp these are some of the delights found along Lum's Yorkville tour.

The guide took 15 others and me on one of her offbeat tours, Foodies Gaslight Stroll: Rosedale & Yorkville Village. (The name comes from an old gaslight that still burns at Yonge and Roxborough Sts., which lit the way during Toronto's horse-and-carriage era.)


According to Lum, many of those in her group, mostly women, come along with a friend, though a small few manage to drag their husbands along. "My wife made me come out," says one male participant. "She's happy."


Lum's 10 years as an owner/tour guide have been fuelled by a desire to explore and share the city's secrets. Carrying a map-of-the-world umbrella, she starts by telling us about the smattering of walking tours that have disappeared since she began. Lum brings along some historical photographs to compare with the sights of modern-day Toronto. She then recounts Rosedale's origins: How it began as one family and one house, with Yonge St. just a plank surrounded by mud.

Our first stop is the recently restored North Toronto Station, now the LCBO's Summerhill store. Once Toronto's central railway station, this marvel boasts a soaring ceiling, marble walls, even the original brass ticket wicket. Nearby, we visit the Staples at Price and Yonge Sts., where high art deco carvings of a man holding a car indicate that this was once the Pierce Arrow luxury car showroom in the '30s.


We enter a small bakery called Le Petit Gourmet (1064 Yonge St.). This unassuming, family-owned find is famous for its traditional Basque food. Our group sits for a sampling of salmon blanc, marinated green beans, shrimp-stuffed avocado halves and, of course, gateau Basque. Everyone is visibly impressed by the spread.


After the food, the tour goes by Sir Henry Pellatt's modest home, where he lived after he was kicked out of Casa Loma, and past a building where members of the Group of 7 once worked. A nephew of artist A.Y. Jackson's who went on Lum's tour told her that Jackson died a bachelor his fiancée called off the wedding, as he loved his art more than her.


After getting our fill of residential lore, we are off to Yorkville. There is much commotion as our urban group struggles to make it up a small hill in the park.

The men are practically carrying the women as they complain about their inappropriate footwear. But having survived, we are happy to hang out and flip through tantalizing images at the Cookbook Store (850 Yonge St.). After our break, we check out the fire hall and the clock tower, and then head to our final destination, a sit-down meal at the Coffee Mill (99 Yorkville Ave.).

The Hungarian restaurant and café harks back to the neighbourhood's famed '60s. Everyone chatters as they dine on goulash, summer sausage, potato salad, schnitzel and coffee cake. Live violin music plays in the background. As with the Basque bakery, the food here is good but simple.


Lum's greatest asset is her ability makes you look at everyday sights in different ways the tours are engaging, accessible, and easy to follow.

Keep your ears open, because the traffic can be loud and Lum is no slow talker. And keep an eye on that world-map umbrella as she moves on to the next site.




Genova Tours

Muddy York

114 Parliament St

Toronto, Canada

M5A 2Y8