THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN UNAPOLOGETIC NEWSHOUND
As chief parliamentary correspondent for CTV News, Craig Oliver is one of Canada’s most recognized and respected journalists, a newsman who has reported on the major political figures and news stories of our times with passion, insight, and bracing candour.
He brings those same qualities to this many-layered memoir of an extraordinary professional and personal life. The only child of two alcoholics, he spent his childhood and adolescence in the homes of strangers. A chance summer job with the local CBC station launched his broadcasting career, taking Oliver from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Ottawa, Washington, and Central America. He witnessed up close the follies, foibles and occasional brilliance of the men and women who shaped our history over four decades.
At the same time, Oliver pursued a personal passion for Canada’s wilderness rivers. For 30 years, he and a close company of companions—all political and media figures, from Tim Kotcheff and John Macfarlane to Eddie Goldenberg and Pierre Trudeau—paddled some of the remotest waters in western and northern Canada.
Most surprising is the revelation that this comfortable television performer has been legally blind for a decade.
A CHILD OF PRINCE RUPERT
My father was a bootlegger and, for a short time, a jailbird. My mother ran a successful taxi business, also for a short time. Both were alcoholics.
Their only child was born in Vancouver on November 8, 1938. When war was declared less than a year later, my father took his small family up the coast to Prince Rupert, where he found work in the suddenly busy shipyards. That job ended when a steel crate fell on his foot, severing two toes. There was no such thing as workers’ compensation in those years, but the accident bestowed an unexpected benefi t: His disability gave him an automatic deferment from military service.
My father soon launched himself into the more lucrative career of bootlegging. As a schoolboy, I boosted my popularity by supplying friends with premium Crown Royal bags—darkpurple velvet pouches with gold braided drawstrings—to carry their marble collections. No cheap whisky for my dad. Unfortunately, like many a good salesman, he was too fond of his own product; otherwise, we might have followed the example of the Bronfmans, who grew rich in the same trade. Dad was smart enough; he and his buddies just drank the profits.
Murray Oliver was a handsome, good-natured man who impressed others with an easy charm and a sharp intelligence. An old beach photo shows him to be short and muscular, built like an athlete and with wavy dark hair. In his own world he was respected, and other men would approach him for advice or ask him to mediate disputes. He was twenty-fi ve years older than my mother, Elizabeth Easton. Nevertheless they moved in together.
My mother was a lively brunette, short and slim but busty. She was one of four sisters, none of whom could be described as a great beauty, but she possessed a biting wit that did not spare those she regarded as fools, alongside an abiding empathy for those worse off than herself. Certainly, she was up for adventure. It’s likely my father took us to Rupert not only for work but also to elude the law. He and an accomplice had been charged and convicted of fraud after trying to use counterfeit liquor rationing cards. There was no jail sentence, but...
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Craig Oliver is currently Chief Parliamentary Correspondent for CTV and co-host of its weekly political affairs program Question Period. He has received the highest awards granted by his profession: the prestigious Charles Lynch Award; the Canadian Association of Broadcasters 2001 Gold Ribbon for Broadcast Excellence; the President’s Award for excellence in Canadian broadcast journalism from the Radio and Television News Directors Association; the Broadcast Hall of Fame award from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters; and two Gemini Awards. Since 1999, Oliver has been legally blind.