In early January of 2003 I received an email from a gentleman in Ottawa by the name of John McQuarrie. He wanted to know if I would be interested in providing the writing for a coffee table book he was producing on Canada. I did a little research and discovered John owned a publishing company called Magic Light Publishing, and he had, in addition to being a commercial photographer with names like Coors and McDonell-Douglas in his back pocket, produced several coffee table books of very high quality. Yet, my first inclination was to say no. And I did. It just seemed like a daunting task to me on first blush. I mean, the book wasn’t on just Ontario, or another region of the country…but all of the country. I wasn’t sure I was qualified to contribute. By this time in my Canada AM career, I had travelled quite a bit to do remote broadcasts from many regions, and, in October of 2002, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ‘AM’, I was part of the team that drove an RV across the country and did a show in every province along the way. We did 10 shows over the course of two weeks, beginning in Kimberly B.C. and at the end of the second week, we wrapped up in Summerside PEI. We then hopped a plane to St. John’s NFLD, where we did the 11th show to complete our 10 province run.
It was on this trip that I really began to fall in love with this country. Driving across it’s broad expanse will do that for you. We did shows in Kimberly BC, Pincher Creek Alta., Swift Current Sask., Dauphin Man., and Kenora Ont. the first week. We started week two on the other side of Ontario in Merrickville, which by the way is almost a 2000 kilometre drive. Then it was on to Ile d’Orleans, in the St. Lawrence River adjacent to Quebec City, Hartland NB, Digby NS, and Summerside rounded out week two. Then off to St. John’s before coming back to Toronto. What I loved about every remote I did for Canada AM was it gave Canadians in other parts of the country a chance to see and experience how fellow Canadians live and work in their part of the country. One thing that will always stand out for me is driving from Swift Current to Dauphin. We were between Regina and Fort Qu’Appelle when the Guess Who came on the radio. There we were, driving across the prairies getting our fill of ‘Wheatfield Soul’ by the only band that could provide it.
On January 30th, 2003 I travelled to Ottawa to do a Winterlude remote the next day. The annual winter bash in the Nation’s Capital is something we visited on the show many times over my career. I checked into the Chateau Laurier Hotel and before going to my room, the clerk at the front desk told me he had a package for me. Odd, I thought, but he presented me with a fairly large box and I took it and headed to my room. When I opened the box, there were several coffee table books included, mostly under the title of “Then and Now’ highlighting selected cities and regions ‘today’ and from ‘yesteryear’. At the bottom of the box was a completely photocopied mock up of a book with the title “Best of Canada”. The package was from the John McQuarrie, clearly a man who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and in hindsight, I’m glad he didn’t. It should be noted here, that John had no idea of what hotel I would be staying at in Ottawa, and sent the package over the to hotel, ‘guessing’ that’s where I would be staying, or, at least he did his homework and made a few calls to find out if I had checked in yet. However the package got there, and his sleuthing paid off. I entered an arrangement with John to ‘write’ a coffee table book which would be 160 pages in length and titled “Best of Canada”.
So, where to begin? I really had no idea what tone I wanted to set or even how best to describe what the photos conveyed. With some coaching and pointers from John, I pecked away at it, but really needed some time to just immerse myself in the project. Cue the jury duty. I had been summoned for jury duty in Toronto and had to be at the downtown courthouse from Monday February 10th to Friday the 14th. I was fairly certain I wouldn’t get picked for an actual case, because media people generally don’t get chosen because of the profession they are in. So, I gathered with about 120 other folks on the morning of the 10th and quickly noticed there were several work kiosks available. The key was to get there early enough in the morning and stake claim to one, and, for the next four days, that’s exactly what I did. Only once did I get the call to go with a group to a courtroom for potential jury selection, but I was rejected fairly quickly, and while expected, it was a relief. Basically, for four days, for 8 hours a day, I dove into writing the book. I didn’t get it finished in those four days, and can remember writing on planes and at home, but I finally got it done. While personal experience is a valuable tool when it comes to writing about the whole country, research was a key, and I did a lot of that over the course of the three months John had given me to write it. In the fall of 2003, “Best of Canada” was published.
On June 15th of 2010, I attended the opening of Real Sports in Toronto, the bar and restaurant opened beside the Air Canada Centre and run by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. While there, I ran into a couple of friends, Scott Moore and his wife Becky, who had just returned from a trip to Africa. You can imagine my surprise when Becky informed me she saw my book in a small school in rural Kenya. They had visited the school as part of their association with “Save the Children”, a Toronto based group that built the school for children of the Kipsigis Tribe. Next day she sent along the above photo, taken in the school, and related to me that the “Best of Canada” book is the actual textbook used for their geography class. I was flabbergasted at this, have no idea how the book got there, although the organization is based in Toronto, but carry a certain sense of pride at this utilization of “Best of Canada”. You just never know.
Much earlier in April of 2004, the book also led to my getting this nifty package from Colonel J.K. Tattersall, Force Commander of Task Force Bosnia-Herzegovina, Operation Palladium, Rotation 13, based at Camp Black Bear. They had taken a case of “Best of Canada” on their peacekeeping mission in the region, and were giving it to various regional and city representatives as a gift from Canadian forces. It’s not a coincidence that this gift from them is not packed away for safe keeping someplace at home. I’m very proud of it as well.
Just last week, I received an email from a working acquaintance from my Kitchener TV days. At the time, and this would be 25-30 years ago, Ken Derrett was a marketing guy for Labatt’s. I had met him at a couple of Labatt golf functions and promotions back in the day, but as we both moved forward with our careers, I lost track of him. Until last week. Seems he is now the Senior Vice President-Chief Marketing Officer for the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League. He’s very much proud of his Canadian roots and purchased a couple of copies of “Best of Canada” to give away to his American friends as gifts, and wanted to know if there was a hard copy edition available. ( there is ). He also let me know the Spanos family, owners of the team, is now in possession of the book.
John and I have sold upwards of 60,000 copies of “Best of Canada”. I always joke to people that I have now written one more book than I’ve read! Actually, “Best of Canada” begat “Best of Atlantic Canada”, and from that “Best of Nova Scotia”. John tells me we will have yet another “Best of Canada” printing next spring. The three stories I’ve shared show us just how big, and just how small, this world is.
It’s not like I’ve written a great novel or anything like that, in fact I do get kidded that it’s ‘just a coffee table book’, and that it is, but it’s one I’m awfully proud of, and one, that I almost didn’t even write!
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Here’s a link where you can order “Best of Canada” online.
Here’s the link to my Scenic Tours Canada Mekong River Cruise next November..
Representation: Dan Champagne