Author Tags: Gold

After eighteen years hosting BC Almanac for CBC Radio, broadcaster and journalist Mark Forsythe announced, not without reluctance, that he would be leaving his position at the end of 2014. Early in 2015 he learned he would be accorded a Lifetime Achievement Award from RTNDA (Radio Television News Directors Association), a national organization with regional members.

During his tenure at CBC, Forsythe became an expert on British Columbia as whole, having visited much of the province.

Whereas many successful radio and television hosts are essentially selling themselves in the 21st century, making themselves into personalities, Forsythe has epitomized the increasingly old-fashioned ideal of the broadcaster as public servant. Always a serious listener, Mark Forsythe became a trusted and respected voice around B.C., fairly responding to a remarkable variety of issues and personalities, eschewing self-referential asides and providing balanced views of conflicts rather than inflating them.

Along the way, Forsythe produced several significant books, often in association with colleague Mark Dickson.

Mark Forsythe’s first book, British Columbia Almanac (Arsenal 2001, $18.95), was the equivalent of Peter Gzowski’s Morningside books on a provincial scale, divided into four seasons. It’s a folksy mix of letters, favourite beers and books, salmon recipes, immigrant stories, neighborhoods, maps and photos from his travels. It also features contributions by CBC Almanac guests such as historian Jean Barman, diver David Griffiths, outdoorsman Jack Christie and gardener Brian Minter. “I guess it’s our radio scrap book,” he once said.

Born in Stephen Leacock country, at Orillia, Ontario, in 1955, Mark Forsythe spent most of his childhood in Toronto. The closest he came to wilderness as a youngster was his neighborhood ravine. When that stretch of greenbelt was slated to become part of a proposed Spadina Expressway, local residents successfully rallied against it and Forsythe had his first taste of civic politics.

Forsythe’s mother was a registered nurse; his father was a radio newsman. The marriage came apart. With minimal support from his father, his mother was a ‘single Mom’ in the 1960s, independent and running against the grain of her parents’ Irish-Catholic expectations. “She was my earliest role model,” he says. “She was something of a trailblazer in my small orbit. While juggling the demands of two sometimes wayward sons with difficult hospital hours, she decided to change careers and become a teacher.”

When his mother re-trained in the summers, Forsythe was sent to his grandparents’ farm to haul hay, plow field and join an extended family that included seven aunts and uncles. It was a place where the adults sat around the kitchen or back stoop and told stories, a practice that instilled in Forsythe, the city kid, his habit—and skill—of listening. His grandfather’s tales of Ireland prompted him to go there for a visit. While it was uncanny to see faces that seemingly stepped out of the family photo albums, Forsythe was taken aback by the hunger strikes and machine guns during ‘The Troubles.’ “You couldn’t park your car in the centre of a village or it would be towed away as a bomb threat,” he recalls. “It opened my eyes to that long, sad history of violence and pain.”

In Toronto his father worked at the CHUM Radio newsroom where Mark Forsythe was fascinated by the big, grey teletype machines, machines that spewed out news from around the world with a sense of urgency. When he’d visit his Dad, he would tap away on a typewriter, making up stories, while his father prepared and read the news. He had no conscious desire to become the next Max Ferguson but he’d lie in bed most nights with a tiny transistor radio. “Batteries were a hot commodity in those days,” he says. His mother remarried and they moved to Cowansville in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. With minimal French, he found most Francophones helped him by conversing in English. There he met his future wife, Cathy, whose father had a small trucking company where Forsythe worked loading trucks on the graveyard shift. The hard work didn’t cool a budding romance. They now live in Fort Langley with their two sons, Ryan and Devon, a cat named Moresby and a mutt named Tasha.

While taking a Communications Arts program at Fanshawe College, Forsythe produced student documentaries during the day and flipped pizzas at night. In 1974 he was ready for his first radio job at BVLD in Smithers. I couldn’t believe my luck,” he says. “Landing in Smithers, with Hudson Bay Mountain above and the Bulkley River sprawling out in the valley below was as close to paradise as I could imagine getting.”

Forsythe worked for ten years in Prince George as a host and program director, part of the same operation that owned the Smithers outlet. The owners cared about doing a good job. They had a well-staffed news room committed to public affairs, something that was ‘pretty much unheard-of’ in the 1970s for medium-sized stations.

He and his wife lived in a tiny log cabin with no running water or electricity. “It was a wonderful introduction to the wild for a kid from Toronto,” he says. “We canoed. We cross-country skied. We listened to the spooky sound of the lake freezing and cracking.”

Because he found himself increasingly listening to CBC, at age 29 he took a job with CBC in Prince Rupert. “Rupert was an ideal place to learn,” he says. “There were First Nations issues, the fishery, the cycles of resource economies, problems with northern isolation.” Forsythe joined the morning program in the southern interior, then came to CBC Vancouver. After a five-year stint hosting The Afternoon Show, he took over as the host of Almanac during the noon-to-two slot.

“Something that’s always amazed me is how our listeners respond to write-in requests,” he says. “I started hoarding letters. I think it must be a genetic trait I picked up from my mother. Last spring I thought it was about time to pull everything together. Radio is such a fleeting medium but at the same time the words of our listeners and our contributors are often worth savouring. That’s basically how this book came about. People care so much about their physical environment, whether it’s the sanctuary of a stroll in a Burnaby greenbelt or memories of growing up. The letters are so evocative of place and emotion you can almost frame the images they conjure up.”

In 2005, Forsythe co-authored The BC Almanac of Greatest British Columbians (Harbour), with Greg Dickson [see below], followed two years later with a co-authored book on the gold rush to mark the province's 150th birthday, The Trail of 1848.

Including stories, artifacts and photos from Mark Forsythe's audience for his BC Almanac program on CBC Radio, Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson's From the West Coast to the Western Front: British Columbians and the Great War (Harbour 2014) marks the 100th anniversary of World War One.

Among those profiled is First Nations soldier George Maclean who won a Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second-highest award for gallantry available to non-commissioned officers and privates in the Great War. During the Battle of Vimy Ridge, armed with a dozen “pineapples” – Mill bombs also known as grenades – he launched a solo attack and captured 19 prisoners, getting wounded in the process. Maclean was a rancher from the Head of the Lake Band in the Okanagan who enlisted in Vernon in 1916, having previously served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles during the Boer War. Shot in the arm by a sniper during his heroics at Vimy, Maclean returned to Canada for treatment and became a fireman in Vancouver. He died in 1934. Of the 611,000 Canadians who fought for King and Country in World War One, 55,570 were from British Columbia. That was the highest per capita enlistment rate in Canada. Of that contingent, 6,225 died in battle at a time when the overall population of B.C. was only 400,000.

Still residing in Fort Langley, Mark Forsythe is learning guitar, travelling in and beyond British Columbia and keeping his mind open.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Trail of 1858: British Columbia's Gold Rush Past
British Columbia Almanac
From the West Coast to the Western Front: British Columbians and the Great War


British Columbia Almanac (Arsenal 2001) $18.95

The BC Almanac of Greatest British Columbians (Harbour 2005). With Greg Dickson.

The Trail of 1858: British Columbia's Gold Rush Past (Harbour 2007). With Greg Dickson.

From the West Coast to the Western Front: British Columbians and the Great War (Harbour 2014). With Greg Dickson. $26.95 978-1-55017-666-7

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "Media" "Gold"

British Columbia Almanac

Profiled in our Winter issue, radio host Mark Forsythe has seen his British Columbia Almanac sell out its first print run. The Children’s Hospital Foundation received its first donated share of Forysthe’s royalties in March.


BC Almanac Book of Greatest British Columbians (Harbour $39.95)

I am the egg carton man

Co-compiled with his CBC radio producer Greg Dickson, Mark Forsythe’s BC Almanac Book of Greatest British Columbians (Harbour $39.95) includes entries for the likes of Emily Carr, Terry Fox and W.A.C. Bennett, plus a few surprises.

Take, for instance, the man who gave the world the egg carton.

Joseph Leopold Coyle, who lived in tiny Aldermere, a community close to Smithers, evidently invented the egg carton after a local rancher named Gabriel Lecroix was having difficulty shipping his eggs in tact to the Aldermere Hotel. The rancher and the hotel were forever squabbling about who was responsible for the broken eggs. Coyle, who ran the nearby newspaper office, was privy to this bickering and decided to fix the problem.

Having taught himself how to construct most of the machinery necessary to produce Smithers’ first newspaper, the Interior News (still publishing today), Coyle, a do-it-yourselfer, was a man who relished a challenge. After he designed the prototype of the modern egg carton, he sold his newspaper in 1918 and moved to New Westminster to mass-produce his product, eager to make a fortune. It was not to be. Coyle ran low on funds, sold his patent and died in New Westminster, so un-sung that his name does not appear in the first edition of the Encyclopedia of B.C.

Coyle’s little-known story emerged after Mark Forsythe requested his province-wide listeners to submit nominations for the 100 Greatest British Columbians. Suggestions from the public were augmented by invited submissions from provincial experts to complete Forsythe’s second book project.


[BCBW 2005]

The Trail of 1858: British Columbia’s Gold Rush Past

Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson of CBC Radio’s BC Almanac build books like folks in Saskatchewan used to raise their barns. It’s a community affair and everyone is invited to pitch in.

To recognize the province’s 150th anniversary as a modern political state, former Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo, herself a history enthusiast, has provided the foreword for their latest illustrated omnibus, The Trail of 1858: British Columbia’s Gold Rush Past (Harbour $26.95), with contributions from dozens of experts and so-called ordinary citizens.

There were indeed strange things done in the midnight sun, and in the Cariboo gold rush. Even though John “Cariboo” Cameron had helped establish the first cemetery for Barkerville, he offered $12 per day and a bonus of $2,000 (approximately $33,000 today) to any man who would help carry his deceased wife Sophia’s coffin from Williams Creek to Victoria.

The blizzard-ridden, 36-day ordeal enabled Cameron to temporarily bury his beloved in Victoria. After amassing his fortune at Cameronton in the Cariboo, he returned to Victoria with $300,000 worth of gold ($7.5 million today) and took Sophia’s body by ship, around South America, to be buried in her hometown of Glengarry, Ontario, thereby honouring her dying request.

Hurdy-Gurdy Girls. The Old Douglas Trail. The arrival of the Commodore, bringing black residents from California. The Chilcotin War. Cataline, the Cariboo’s best-known packer. Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie. Those infamous camels, imported but never used. The paternalistic autocrat James Douglas. Stagecoach driver Stephen Tingley. Joseph Trutch, who constructed the first Alexandra suspension bridge in 1863. Herman Otto Bowe and the Alkali Lake ranch.

It’s all packed into one mother-lode. Some of the history nuggets uncovered include a photo of Nam Sing, the first Chinese miner in the Cariboo, the peacemaking Chief Spintlum of the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson), the ‘miner’s angel, Irishwoman Nellie Cashman, a lifelong prospector and spinster who travelled by dogsled north of the Arctic Circle, as well as Richard Wright’s introduction to the ‘poet/scout’ Jack Crawford.

It turns out that Scotsman James Anderson, often described as the Robert Service of the Cariboo Gold Rush, had some competition from another stage performer, Jack Crawford, a long-haired U.S. army scout who was a theatrical partner of Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok.

After Buffalo Bill drunkenly shot Crawford during one of their shows, Crawford took his own Wild West show north to Barkerville and Victoria. In 2004, Richard Wright and Amy Newman revived Crawford’s reputation with a stage show called Campfire Tales of Captain Jack Crawford at Barkerville’s Theatre Royal.

Statistically, it was easier to find gold than a non-Aboriginal wife. The two “brides’ ships” sent from England in 1862-63 did little to adjust the gender imbalance. Jean Barman’s contributions include a short essay on the shortage of European-born women in the Cariboo gold fields.

“I never saw diggers so desirous of marrying as those of British Columbia,” commented one observer.

Given that few miners could afford to send money to bring over an English girl or a Scotch lassie, they invariably appraised potential Aboriginal partners in terms of White notions of beauty and dress. Barman has retrieved some stanzas from “The Maid of Lillooet,” written in 1862, to make her point.

Her elastic bust no stays
Her raven tresses flowed
free as wind;
Whilst her waist, her
neck and her ankles small
Were encircled by bandlets,
beadwrought all.
Her head as the wild deer’s,
erect and proud,
To superior beauty never
Like the diamond sparkling
in the night,
Her glistening black eyes
beamed with light…

Net proceeds from the sale of The Trail of 1858 are being directed to the British Columbia Historical Federation.


[BCBW 2008] "History" "Gold Rush"

B.C. goes to war
Excerpt 2014

"From the West Coast to the Western Front" by Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson

It is one of the better-kept secrets of BC history. Not only did BC purchase two Seattle-built submarines in 1914. We went on to build submarines for export to the Russians at a hidden factory at Barnet in Burnaby. Nothing remains of the factory now other than a creek named in its honour, but in its heyday, safely concealed beside the CP rail line on Burrard Inlet, the British Pacific Construction and Engineering Company was a going concern.

The man behind the company was James Venn Paterson, the same man who headed the Seattle shipyard that sold two submarines to Premier McBride on the eve of the Great War in 1914.

Burnaby seems an odd place to build submarines for the Russian Navy. And the story is a strange one. Our allies, including the Russians, were anxious to buy submarines wherever they could find them. The Americans could build them but couldn’t sell them directly without contravening their own neutrality laws. So Paterson’s Seattle shipyard started looking for ways to build subs to their own patented specifications in Canada. To keep the business, they set up the British Pacific Construction and Engineering Company at Vancouver. The company then found a quiet stretch of shoreline in Burnaby where they could build subs without attracting attention.

The site was closely guarded and the crews sworn to secrecy. And the work started. The design was good and the subs were built to be dismantled and shipped by rail or sea to customers who could then reassemble them closer to the theatre of war where they were needed.

“The works are surrounded by a high barbed wire fence,” a secret report stated, “...and search lights are being erected on the machine shops. There is a military guard of nine men there loaned by the Military, and already five submarines are laid down and well underway.” Over two hundred men were soon at work and that grew to over 450 working day and night shifts.

Russia was the first paying customer. It needed subs to defend itself against the German Navy and its Turkish allies in the Baltic and Black Seas. European shipyards couldn’t help, and the Russians were advised to see Paterson, who was glad to assist. The subs were to be shipped to Vladivostok, and then to travel by Trans-Siberian rail to Petrograd where they would be assembled for service in the Baltic. Three subs were shipped in December 1916. Eventually five would reach Russia.

As if getting submarines across Russia wasn’t complicated enough, in 1917 Russia was shaken by revolution. The submarines were caught up in the chaos as the Russian Imperial Navy crumbled away.

“Their careers were brief,” wrote historian William Kaye Lamb in BC Studies (Autumn 1986).”The AG-14 was lost with all hands in 1917, and the other four were all scuttled early in April 1918 at their base in Finland to prevent them from falling into the hands of the advancing Germans.”

If you want to find one of the Burnaby-built submarines, you might try travelling to the Baltic Sea. In June 2003 a diving company found the AG-14. The team was actually searching for a missing Swedish DC-3 that was shot down by the Russians in 1952 over the Baltic. They recovered the plane and also located the AG-14, missing since 1917.

It turns out that the captain of the AG-14 was none other than Antonius Essen, the only son of the Russian Admiral Nikolai Essen, head of the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet. Admiral Essen died suddenly of pneumonia in 1915. His family received another shock when son Antonius went down with his crew when the AG-14 hit a mine two years later.

(The Essens were actually ethnic Germans who for two centuries served loyally with the Russian Imperial Navy. Seven family members had been awarded the Order of St. George, Russia’s highest military decoration).
Back in Burnaby our submarine industry dreams came to an end when the Americans entered the war in 1917. Freed from the constraints of neutrality, submarine manufacturers could move back across the border. The secret Barnet factory was dismantled, leaving little behind but bits of wood and rusty metal.

Forsythe to leave CBC at year-end
New Story (2014)

The Globe & Mail has reported on October 21, 2014:

After 30 years with the CBC – 18 of them hosting the province-wide show B.C. Almanac, Mark Forsythe is retiring from the public broadcaster. His retirement was announced Tuesday; his final show will be Dec. 24. The new host of the program will be Gloria Macarenko.

Mr. Forsythe said what he will miss most is the relationship the open-line broadcast show fostered every day with listeners. He called the decision to retire a tough one, but said the time felt right to hand over the reins to someone else.

“I don’t want to belabour the CBC funding woes, but that’s kind of where it’s come to for me,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “Basically, we don’t have the resources for me to prepare a daily provincial broadcast that I think listeners are entitled to. That’s what it comes down to. If I don’t have the heart to do that, then I should probably move on [so] there are opportunities here for other people, younger people behind me.”

In April, CBC/Radio-Canada announced plans to cut 657 jobs to meet a $130-million budget shortfall.

Since joining CBC Radio in Prince Rupert three decades ago, Mr. Forsythe has made lasting memories of travelling around B.C., telling a range of stories that reflects the province back to itself, he said. These include broadcasts from Duncan, where the Cowichan Tribes First Nation struggled with a spike in suicides; wildfires in Salmon Arm, Lillooet and Barriere; and Adams River during a peak salmon run.

“I feel gratitude for the good years I had at CBC, the opportunities that they gave me,” Mr. Forsythe said, adding that he will take some time to consider future endeavours such as writing, photography and working with non-profit organizations.

Ms. Macarenko, who will continue to host Our Vancouver and The Story from Here in addition to B.C. Almanac, praised Mr. Forsythe as a “wonderful listener” and strong interviewer.

“I’ve marvelled at the way he keeps the show on course and on topic while dealing with a lot of unknowns, which can happen in any one of those calls that comes through,” she said.

Ms. Macarenko said it is too early to say what the show might look like in the new year, but she doesn’t anticipate it will change dramatically. “It’s been a formula that has been successful,” she said. “I think it’s familiar, it’s in-depth, and the regular listeners know what to expect from that hour between noon and 1 o’clock.”

Lorna Haeber, director of programming for CBC Radio in British Columbia, said Mr. Forsythe is fondly referred to as “Mr. B.C.”

“You would be hard-pressed to find anybody who has travelled to more corners of this province and has explored it, is inspired by it, who cares about it and he takes that really seriously. Journalistic integrity is just a hallmark of everything he does and I think that permeates the show and the work that he does.”

Ms. Haeber said Ms. Macarenko, who until recently was the host of the local CBC TV newscast, was a “great fit” for B.C. Almanac. “I think that she has all of the qualities that listeners come to expect of a host on B.C. Almanac in terms of the journalistic integrity, the depth of knowledge about issues important to British Columbia, and she’s a really great communicator so I think people will just enjoy being able to phone up and engage with her.”