Reaching for the Stars: The Middle Years of the Winnipeg Press Club

Article excerpt

The story of the middle years of the Winnipeg Press Club is best told in pictures, provided largely by club members who were noted news photographers.

The Winnipeg Press Club found its feet after it was rejuvenated in 1922, and by the time the annual Beer & Skits got underway in 1933, the club had become part of the fabric of the city. Club events often rated a mention in daily newspapers, perhaps because the newspaper editors were typically on the club's executive and didn't mind giving the club a little free publicity.

The club raised its profile by hosting dinners starring well-known guest speakers. In 1924, for instance, the club hosted Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who had once been a reporter for a number of Toronto newspapers, including The Globe. (1) King noted the WPC event in his diary for 4 November 1924. "... the Press Club of Winnipeg tendered us a reception. We met all the members present, about 75 or 100. Made a short speech referring to trip and days on the Toronto papers, was given a good reception." (2)


During the Second World War years, the Press Club held public events as well. One of the members in the 1950s recalled, "Speakers of international renown were brought here, and on every one of these the club made money. We packed the Civic Auditorium on many occasions, and we gave the public value for its money at fifty cents per seat." (3)

Of particular note is the Press Club dinner honouring retiring Winnipeg Free Press editor John W. Dafoe, celebrating his sixty years in journalism. It turned into an international event. Public figures and journalists from across Canada gathered at the Royal Alexandra Hotel on 16 October 1943. It also attracted Vories Fisher, photographer of Life magazine, and four men from the National Film Board. As the Free Press reported in the Monday edition, "Modern camera appliances, including Klieg lights, kept the room in alternate light and dusk, and a public address system carried the speakers' voices until it was turned off during the CBC broadcast which gave Dr. Dafoe's address over the national network." (4)

In his speech, which aired live on CBC Radio, Dafoe recalled the influences of some of his early colleagues at the Free Press, such as editor Archibald McNee, who had urged him to come to Winnipeg, his "chief" Walter Payne, and William Luxton, founder of the Free Press. Luxton was, said Dafoe, a man whose "language was the most explosive I ever heard" but who was, nonetheless, "a generous square-shooter". (5)

In a measure of the Press Club's esteem for Dafoe, the members present unanimously voted to award him an honorary lifetime membership in the club, thereby relieving him of paying membership dues he had been paying almost every year since being a founding board member in 1887. (6) (The benefit for Dafoe was short-lived as he died four months later.) Dafoe reminded the journalists in the audience that, whether they were aware of it or not, they were writing history. "I would suggest to any young newspaperman that he take special notice of the historic value of the news he is handling. It is all in the day's work at the time. You write an article, and it goes into the paper, and that is all there is to it--at that time. But you must remember you are dealing with history; you are dealing with things that are a turning-point in the history of your country." (7)

Journalists are still writing history, as they were then. The Press Club stayed in the public eye and became part of the historical record, particularly during the club's busy middle years from the 1950s to the 1980s, thanks to members such as columnists Gene Telpner (WPC president 1963) and Jimmy King (WPC president 1985).

Many news photographers were members of the Press Club, including Lewis Foote, Hugh Allan (WPC president 1958) and Les Doherty (WPC president 1957), and that meant there were lots of pictures being taken. …