Features | “We tried to call President Kennedy from the Daily office”

McGill alumni discuss what the paper taught them and its place at McGill

As a very young McGill student in the early 1960s (I entered McGill at the age of sixteen, straight out of Grade Eleven) many of my happiest hours were spent in the Daily office, which was then located in the basement of 690 Sherbrooke Street West (now the McCord Museum, but at that time the Student Union building). In my first year I was a reporter for the Daily, in my second year a desk editor, in my third year features editor, and in my final year I had the title of executive editor, and my main task was writing editorials. (I wrote a few more editorials as a graduate student although I no longer had any title on the Daily). In those pre-computer days we typed our stories or editorials on ancient manual typewriters that may well have been purchased when the Daily was founded in 1911. Edited copy was then taken by taxi to the printer (to Le Devoir for my first two years, and later to Radiomonde, a small print shop in the north end) and set in lead type for printing.

One of my most celebrated moments at the Daily was when I covered a speech by the British historian Arnold Toynbee denouncing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – a topic which few people discussed openly in those days. I wrote an excessively sensational headline which ran across the top of the front page, and which attracted considerably more attention than the speech itself. I also remember the Daily’s 50th anniversary party, hosted by editor-in-chief Morris Fish, who is now a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Another memorable event, a couple of years later, was when we tried to call President Kennedy from the Daily office for a comment on the admission of African American student James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Needless to say, we were not able to reach the President. I do however remember conducting personal interviews with two Canadian cabinet ministers, George Hees and Howard Green, when they visited McGill. On another occasion I was sent to cover a speech by Rene Levesque, because I was the only available Daily reporter who understood French! (That would be unthinkable today – at least I hope so). I was very proud that the reporter from the Concordia student paper had to ask Mr. Levesque for a translation of his remarks, while I did not.

I made many friends on the Daily (one of whom, Lew Soroka, was later the dean who hired me at Brock) and it was a very important part of my McGill experience. It taught me a lot of things, including how to write well and how to work under the pressure of a deadline – both skills that are not universally found in my profession. I also perfected the typing skills that I now use every day on my computer, and was able to practice my French on visits to the printer.

I hear that the Daily is planning to celebrate its centennial next year, and I certainly hope to be there for the party.

Garth Stevenson earned a BA from McGill in 1963 and an MA from McGill in 1965. He is a professor of political science at Brock University.

Read more alumni letters here.