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Bruce Hutchison

BRUCE HUTCHISON (who died on September 14, 1992, aged 91) enjoyed such eminence as a journalist that he conducted editorial policy for three months every summer from a wooded retreat on Vancouver Island.


Until the 1960s, Hutchison did not even have a telephone in his cottage at Shawnigan Lake and had to call his office front a local gas station every morning. Yet he was successively co-editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, editor of the Victoria Times and editorial-page editor of the Vancouver Sun – a reflection of his prestige as a classical Liberal pundit. Hutchison's admirers included the Prime Ministers Mackenzie King, Louis St Laurent and Lester Pearson as well as a large readership which relished his homespun prose, redolent of a rural Canada of which they often knew little. He liked to recall that when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor he was pruning cherry trees, and that he was digging an outside privy when offered the editorship of the Victoria Times. It was not without significance that one of his best-loved articles was an account of the death of a 500-year-old Douglas fir near his house.


A survivor of an age when journalism was firmly rooted in literature, Hutchison also wrote fiction. In the 1930s, he contributed to Saturday Evening Post and Colliers and even produced the script for a poor Hollywood film, Park Avenue Logger (1937). He wrote a novel about journalism during the war, The Hollow Men (1944); a collection of sunny tales, Uncle Percy’s Monaerfitt Town (1981); and a novella, The Cub Reporter Learns a "Thing or Two (1991). Some of his funniest stories appeared in his syndicated weekly column "Loose Ends," which portrayed his eccentric alter ego Horace Snifkin and the cockney Mrs. Alfred Noggins, who was drawn on an ignorant neighbour.


William Bruce Hutchison was born at Prescott, Ontario, on June 5, 1901, and brought up at, in the British Columbia interior, when horses were still tied up outside the crowded bar. All Liberals were "swine" and his father was an unsuccessful estate agent. At 16, he went to work for the Victoria Times, where his first scoop was the shooting of a visiting Chinese prime minister, which was confined to the back page.


At 20, Hutchison began to cover the B.C. Legislature, and five years later, he was sent to Ottawa, where the duel between the incisive Tory Arthur Meighen and the obscurantist Liberal Mackenzie King was reaching its climax. But after a few months, he married Dorothy McDiarmid. who was to bear him a son and a daughter, and returned to British Columbia. from which he never moved away permanently again. He built a home outside Victoria and maintained a summer camp in the south of the island which, even at the end of his life, a visitor could only reach by a short forest path or by canoe from around the point.


While Hutchison was content to write for local papers, he was also in demand for special assignments in Ottawa, New York and London. The most unusual of these came in 1940 when he was sent, ostensibly, to cover Wendell Wilkie's presidential campaign but really to drop in on local newspaper editors to explain why Canada was involving North America in the war. Hutchison was then asked to aid the war effort by writing The Unknown Country (1943), a charming if ill-organized work which endeavoured to show Canada's diversity and independence.


The next Year he became one of the three co-editors of the Winnipeg Free Press which entailed supervising the country's most powerful editorial page; but after a few months he escaped back to the West Coast to be, purely, a writing editor. His postwar assignments included broadcasting for the infant television service, interviewing the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor and covering the 1953 Coronation. He watched the Royal procession from Canada House in Trafalgar Square but, just before his deadline, found that the room with the telephone was locked. In desperation he climbed out onto the parapet and crashed through a window to reach it.


Hutchison wrote an account of the Fraser River, a survey of Canada's prime ministers and an unduly benevolent account of Canadian-American relations. His most commanding work was The Incredible Canadian (1952), a discreetly admiring, though unflattering, portrait of Mackenzie King. The biography drew on a diary kept by Senator "Chubby" Power, who had resigned from the government during the 1944 conscription crisis. After its publication, Hutchison was given a considerable scoop when St Laurent arranged for him to speak to an anonymous general who said that the governments hand had been forced by the Canadian Army Board's threat of rebellion — a claim later hotly disputed.


While Hutchison raised the standards of editorial comment at the Victoria Times and the Vancouver Sun, he also attracted strong criticism. The Social Credit Premier W.A.C. (“Wacky”) Bennett accused him of being "a menace to good government," while readers complained about his failure to follow slavishly the local Liberal line. Younger colleagues muttered about an editor who rarely came near the office, but he was well briefed by a host of visitors who, apart front a host of political luminaries from prime ministers downwards, included the American diplomat George Kerman and the film star James Cagney. The photographer Yousuf Karsh once gave some peremptory instructions to Hutchison's odd-job man and was so embarrassed on discovering that this was the province's Chief Justice that he plunged into the lake fully clothed.


In The Unfinished Country (1985), which took a somewhat darker look at contemporary Canada, Hutchison concluded that he had been right one-third of the time.


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