It has been said of the 1960s that if you remember them you weren’t really there.
I sort of feel the same way about my dozen or so years working at the Winnipeg Sun—overwhelming evidence supports the notion that I was there during the 1980s and ’90s, but I’m not convinced that I was there.
I must have been there, though. If not, Paul Friesen wouldn’t be there now. Nor would Mark Hamm.
Oh, yes, I’m responsible for Friesen. If you enjoy his sports column in the Sun, all praise to him. If you don’t enjoy his column, blame me. I got him the gig. Correction: I got him the gig that led to the gig.
I was standing in the queue at one of the checkout counters in the Osborne Village Safeway store when Friesen stepped behind me. A young and bright, top-drawer reporter with radio station CJOB at the time, he had once confessed to me that he harbored career yearnings that leaned more toward the print division of journalism.
“Are you still interested in becoming an ink-stained wretch?” I asked him.
“Ya,” he confirmed. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Why do you ask?”
“Because something might be happening at the Sun. I can’t tell you what, but something’s going down. Let me talk to some people.”
So I did. I talked. To some people. They talked to Friesen and hired him. That was 1997. He’s still there. I think he’s grateful, but I suppose that depends on the ever-changing temperature of the sports columnist gig, which tends to run hot and cold on a day-to-day basis.
It was also in the summer of 1997 that I decided to make a one-day whistlestop in Kenora, a lovely, little resort getaway not far removed from the Manitoba-Ontario border. I mentioned my escape to one of the mucky-mucks who made all the decisions of loft at the Sun.
“While you’re there,” he said, “maybe you could meet with a young guy named Mark Hamm. He’s applied for a job here and you can do the interview.”
I did. In a pub. Then returned home to report my findings.
“I like him,” I advised the mucky-mucks. “Nice, young guy. Enthusiastic. Wants to get ahead. I got a good vibe.”
“Would you hire him?” the mucky-muck asked.
“Yes. I think he would fit in nicely.”
Apparently, it’s still a nice fit. Eighteen years later, Hamm is the Sun’s editor-in-chief.
Much has been said of the Winnipeg Sun since its presses started rolling 35 years ago this week, not all of it favorable. The Sun has been maligned, mocked and ridiculed. Scorned, battered and dismissed as a trashy, tits-and-ass tabloid that once attempted to make rock stars out of panda bears. Through it all, though, there has been one constant source of pride: The sports section.
From the formative days in the claustrophobic, cramped confines of a makeshift newsroom on Garry Street, with Vic Grant cranking out Winnipeg Jets copy and Jim Ketcheson holding the maestro’s baton, to the present, we punched above our weight class. We played Rocky to the Winnipeg Free Press’s Apollo Creed. Always and forever the underdog. Always and forever the scrappy, iron-willed fighter who could give as good as take. We embraced that role. We wore it.
No doubt we hit the canvas a few times, but we were always standing at the end of 12 rounds. And we scored a good many knockdown blows of our own.
I think of wonderful writers like George (Shakey) Johnson and Ed Willes (now the main sports columnists at the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province, respectively) and Ed Tait (beat writer/columnist at the Freep) who gave their gift to the Sun sports pages. And that’s not to ignore creative layout people like Ketch, Dave (Homer) Connors and Dave Komosky, who, by the way, ought to be in the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honor.
The Sun is still a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. Whereas it seems as though the Freep has three or four scribes for every beat, the Sun gets the job done—and they really do get it done—with a skeletal stable of one columnist and two beat guys—Friesen, Kirk Penton and Ken Wiebe.
They’re fighting the good fight…always and forever.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.