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The Newspaper Editor

The falcons I write about in The Ravenstones weren’t the first birds that preoccupied me over the course of my adult life. Back in 1972 another one did, when I was the appointed the first editor of the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Uplands Falcon newspaper. The paper was named after one of the planes flown by my fellow officers of the 412 Squadron, the French-builtĀ Dassault CC-117 (Falcon). Being the squadron’s administrative officer, I flew rarely, but I did get at least one flight in this impressive plane, as well as a longer ‘training’ flight to the Caribbean in the squadron’s larger plane, the Cosmopolitan.

First Issue of The Falcon, 1972

The Ottawa base, one of Air Transport Command (as it was then called), no longer exists, being decommissioned in 1996. Nor does the newspaper, either in print or online. In preparing this post, I made a search for the newspaper or its history on the internet. Regrettably, no record exists. Perhaps one does in the archives of the Department of National Defence (DND); more likely, it’s simply been forgotten. During the big cuts to the federal government in the mid-90’s, the base was closed and, apart from some of the military housing, the land was transferred to Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier airport. 412 Transport Squadron, which traces its history back to World War 2 (one of only three left in that Command) continues to operate out of Ottawa although it belongs to 8 Wing in CFB Trenton.

I did not set out to have a newspaper career. My prior experience in the news business was limited to a few articles in my high-school newspaper and contributing to its yearbook. A base newspaper was a whole other matter, and it came on top of my day job and other volunteer activities. Of course, since grade school I’ve always loved the written word and the process of writing. But here the responsibility was enormous and I took it seriously. The publisher took a very hands-off approach, leaving every detail to me; the paper, which came out every two weeks, was very much a one or two-person job, involving everything from arranging the page layout to soliciting advertising, assisted by a few loyal contributors. Many late nights were needed to meet the bi-weekly deadline.

Readers will not be surprised to hear that I kept copies of every issue of that 10 months editorship (with two brief absences due to hospital stays). The following was my opening editorial:

The Falcon, March 10, 1972

Base newspapers were (and where they still exist, I assume continue to be) classic community news sources, focusing on operational updates from individual military units, “messages” from the Base Commander, a catalogue of local events, from baseball and hockey leagues and curling clubs; guide, cub and scout groups; fishing and boating; babysitting, birdwatching and biking; church and school updates; to issues of the day (base housing rent increases, crime, fires, conditions of service, etc.) Most serious news articles came courtesy of the military’s communications arm, and we were expected to support the general aims of National Defence and military preparedness.

Still, we had the freedom to pick and choose which articles to print and were able to add local stories, as appropriate to the individual locale and base. The real creativity came about in choosing the lead story, the layout, massaging individual articles and writing the editorials and odd opinion piece. It was in the last effort that I often chose to add something of humour (always a risk of offending someone, as I learned) and being more adventurous in what I chose to say (‘pushing the envelope’ is the expression), perhaps even more than senior base officers wanted or appreciated. I wrote about apathy and alienation, international relations, the role of the military in society and even politics (we were in the middle of a federal election), throwing in a poem by my favorite satirist, F. R. Scott.

The point is, by the time I’d left university and begun my full-time career with DND, my ideas about the role of the military had evolved considerably. Naturally, I felt the need to express a few of these ideas from time to time, although always endeavouring to stay between the lines. I recall near to the end of my appointment one editorial that ran afoul of the powers that be on base. I think they were happy when they found a chance to replace me and move on to safer ground (that’s a story for another day).

The public story of my departure:

The Falcon, November, 1972

Cover Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash