Anniversary of Blackburn’s death and death of News Hawk pilot

I’ve published a  couple of gloomy columns, especially for this time of year, but I think they are noteworthy.

December 16 is the anniversary of Walter Blackburn’s death. He died 30 years ago today, I read in the Geezers’ newsletter, produced by Bill Jory, a former Free Press staffer.

I didn’t know Blackburn, although his daughter Martha was there when I first arrived at The Free Press.

It was a gloomy day when the Blackburn family sold the paper. It felt as if someone had died.  I remember giving an interview to the St. Thomas Times-Journal about the sale of the paper. The T-J, as it’s known, would become a sister paper of the Free Press, under ownership of Sun Media.

Walter also created CFPL-TV, celebrating its 60th anniversary (now CTV London), where I am employed.

Jory’s newsletter says when Walter died the paper was “altered forever.”

Add in the technological revolution under way in media and the paper and TV station have both  been forever changed. And will continue to change. One day you will only read the newspaper online.

In the heyday of the Blackburn era, news far afield was covered, not just in Southwestern Ontario.

Bill Corfield, who died earlier this month at 93 1/2, his obit says, was hired as a reporter/pilot. He joined the Free Press in 1945.

And he piloted a a twin-engine Cessna, called the News Hawk that Blackburn purchased.  He covered events across the country.

I interviewed Corfield in 2008 when he had just published one of his books.

I had no idea that The Free Press once had a plane. Amazing.

Here’s the story I wrote about Corfield. I really enjoyed meeting him and learning some of the history of the place where I worked for 17 years. His obituary said he last flew at age 90.

It’s sad to think how much things have changed in the business. And for those who remember the Walter Blackburn era, sadder still.

Will newspapers survive, even online? Or will it be an altogether different animal?

What about TV stations?


3 thoughts on “Anniversary of Blackburn’s death and death of News Hawk pilot

  1. Pioneer – Member of CAB Hall of Fame

    Blackburn, Walter J.(1914-1983) (source Canadian Communications Foundation website)
    Walter Juxton Blackburn followed the footsteps of his grandfather and father in the family media business.
    His grandfather, Josiah, bought the weekly Canadian Free Press newspaper for $ 500.00 in 1853, and by
    1855 had turned it into the daily London Free Press.
    His father, Arthur, succeeded Josiah on his death in 1900. Arthur continued his father’s policy of updating and expanding the newspaper and keeping abreast of the times.
    As radio started to emerge in the post-war era, Arthur put CJGC on the air in 1922. After 10 years of what he and his senior management felt was slow growth in the radio field, he sold CJGC to a consortium in Windsor who had taken over CKOK in that city, and the merged stations became CKLW (London & Windsor). However, London listeners and the former staff of CJGC complained bitterly over the loss of the station, and the Blackburns put CFPL-AM on the air later that same year, 1933.

    During his high school years in the 1920s, Walter Blackburn became a radio amateur , a ham operator using Morse Code. Later, in university, he developed an interest in photography and motion pictures. Both of these hobbies would play a part in his business career.

    He graduated with an Honours MBA from the University of Western Ontario in June of 1935. His father died in January, 1936. At age 21, Walter Blackburn became the youngest publisher of a daily newspaper in Canada, as he took over the reins of the family empire.

    The newspaper had just come through a 14-month printers strike which “W. J.” felt took its toll on his father, and this proved to be his motivation that nothing like this would happen again. He spent time with not just the various department managers but with their supervisors and the workers, getting to know the business of publishing from the ground up.

    World War 11 caused disruption as many staff members left for service in the armed forces. However, in the years following the war, Walter continued to improve working conditions. The Free Press was one of the first in the area to set a policy of a five-day week. Then a pension plan was introduced, followed by a medical plan. All of these benefits were worked out with the involvement of an employees committee. In 1950, this committee was formalized into the Free Press Employees’ Association.

    1948 saw the beginning of CFPL-FM, at first simulcasting the AM signal, with some separate programming being instituted in 1958. FM 96 with a brand new contemporary format started in 1979.

    Blackburn’s earlier interest in photography and motion pictures surfaced again as the U. S. had started to license TV stations. Both Erie and Cleveland stations could be viewed in London, although with a very snowy picture. Edwin Jarmain started one of the first cable TV systems in Canada in 1952 to improve these signals. Blackburn and his radio manager, Murray Brown started to plan for a TV station, and their dream was realized in November 1953 when CFPL-TV came on the air.

    When the London Free Press Company celebrated its Centennial, the staff had grown from 184 employees to nearly 400, circulation from 38,721 to 72, 356, and of course profits kept pace, but never without facilities and equipment being updated.

    Blackburn was also involved with industry affairs. His peers in the newspaper world called him the “father” of Broadcast News, since he worked so tirelessly to convince his newspaper associates to agree to set up the teletype news Service for broadcasters to be managed jointly by broadcasters and the newspapers. He served on the BN board for nearly twenty years.

    Over the years, he also appeared many times before the regulating bodies as well as many government commissions and committees, defending the right of newspapers to own broadcasting facilities in the same cities. He and Murray Brown were successful in all these presentations because all of the Blackburn properties were individually managed with no overlapping “editorial” direction.

    Sadly, son, Walter Jr., died in 1968, leaving his two sisters, Martha and Susan, as the only heirs to the Blackburn media empire.

    The London Free Press Holdings Ltd. purchased CKNX-AM-FM-TV Wingham, Ontario from the Cruickshank family in March of 1971. ‘Doc’ Cruickshank, founder of the stations died just at the time the papers were signed.

    In 1971, Blackburn bought out “almost silent partner” Southam Newspapers 25% ownership and another small shareholder so that the London Free Press Holding Ltd. was totally owned by the Blackburns.

    Walter continued to be active until 1982 when he was diagnosed with cancer, and died in December, 1983, passing control of the company to his daughter Martha, whose untimely death in 1992 ended the Blackburn management dynasty.

    Walter J. Blackburn’s 47 year career as head of the Blackburn enterprise was heralded by all as “A Man for All Media.”!

    In 1999, Walter Blackburn was posthumously inducted into the CAB Broadcast Hall of Fame.

    Source: Book – Walter J. Blackburn – “A Man for All Media” – by Michael Nolan
    ISBN 30-7715-9200-0

    Written by Ross McCreath – December, 2001

  2. You might want to post an image of the OHF Josiah Blackburn plaque for those not
    in the habit of reading them. At residence.
    The London Public Library catalogue shows:
    -Towers of Justice, William E. Corfield Corfield,
    William E. (William Elwyn), 1974
    -Silent Victory : the Canadian Fusiliers in the Japanese War
    by Bill Corfield Corfield, William E. (William Elwyn), 2003
    -The Home Front : London, Canada, 1939-1945
    by Bill Corfield & Hume Cronyn Corfield, William E. (William Elwyn), 2006
    Not all are Circulating copies.
    -“Towers of Justice” is a wonderful book of photographs of the last days of the
    courthouse, now ‘Old Courthouse’ Middlesex County building, before it was
    glamourized. Eldridge photographer as we recall.
    Mrs. Corfield, Helen, is well remembered for her work with the Women’s Canadian
    Club, perhaps the most successful in the country.
    Corfield is credited with the names research for a Legion branch’s contribution of
    names of local war dead, supplementing the Mothers’ Book (both online since 2005)
    Really interesting is the now online imaged 100th anniversary issue of the Free Press
    in 1949, staff photo page, young Bills Corfield and Heine, even Mrs. Bullen the favourite
    of the housewife stuck at home era as “Mary Hastings”, her club, picnic at Springbank
    (surely worth an article or book…)

  3. Corfield’s self-composeddeath notice is worthy of republishing.
    CORFIELD, F/O William E. (Bill) 93 1/2 – went for a doctor’s appointment and never returned.
    Died 9 December 2013 at University Hospital, London after telling them he’d be dead in three hours
    on 25 November.
    Survived by sons Geoffrey and Paul, granddaughter Megan, two boxes of Shredded Wheat,
    four cans of creamed corn, and a silent computer.
    Predeceased by wife Margaret and daughter Leslie. Born Redditch, UK.
    Famous at St. Catharines Collegiate Institute for riding his motorcycle through the hallways upon graduation.
    Held a flying licence before a driving licence. Never known to have played any sport (took up walking at 92).
    Loved flying and writing and became pilot instructor RCAF 1942-45, and flying reporter The London Free Press 1945-52. Director of Public Relations, Labatt Breweries 1957-65 (“Mr. Pilsener”, “Take 5 for 50”).
    Established Corfield Associates, Public Relations Services 1965-99. Tolerated socialists and academics
    (sometimes graciously). Once asked to thank the speaker at a Baconian Club banquet, stole the evening by thanking the speaker so well he left early. Belonger to and writer of many things. Last flew age 90.
    He may be gone for some time.
    Gathering at The Hermitage Club, Commissioners Road, Byron (across from park near Springbank Drive),
    Sunday 15 December 2-4 pm. Serva Fidem. -30-

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