Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Peter Newman at the Belleville Club
Peter Newman told the near-capacity audience at the Belleville Club last Thursday that the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company weighed sixty-eight tons. They were shipped from London, England, to Winnipeg. He is a bit of an authority on those manuscripts. He spent ten years with those files, as he was composing the history of the Company.
Newman was born in Austria in 1929, and moved to Canada prior to the Second World War. Hogtown became his home, and he immersed himself in studies at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto. He then began his most illustrious career in journalism.
To try to list his main accomplishments would be utter folly. He has sold more than two and one-half million books, primarily non-fiction, often dealing with Canada’s political and financial leaders. In 1975, he published The Canadian Establishment, following years of observations and notes about the power brokers across the country.
But it was in 1959 that he found his niche for writing about Canadians. His book, Flame of Power: Intimate Profiles of Canada’s Greatest Businessmen, launched his career in the book world. He began his writing career as a humble ink-stained wretch with the Financial Post. He edited for the Toronto Star, then moved to McLean’s, and still writes a column for the weekly magazine.
To say that he has annoyed a few politicians in this land over the years would be an understatement. John George Diefenbaker was crushed when he faced Newman’s Renegade in Power: The Diefenbaker Years. His 2005 book, The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister, severely damaged Mulroney’s political career.
Now an octogenarian, he revels in the opportunity of chatting with a few friends about his life, and his work. He helped raise significant funds for the new Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County at the Club. He pressed the point that archives are the key to the scribes who write the history books.
More than anything, he enjoyed telling mischievous tales from his own past, intermingled with untrue jokes about his friends. An example: In his latter years, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau visited Israel. He was most impressed with a cemetery there, and called Prime Minister Begin to enquire about availability. Begin told him there was room, but that it was expensive.
“How much?” asked Pierre.
“A million dollars,” replied Begin.
“That’s a bit steep,” answered Trudeau. “After all, I’m only going to be there three days!”
Yikes! At that point, I realized that little is sacred with Peter C. Newman.
He took a little shot at Bill Clinton. At his trial, Clinton had a problem. He was asked to “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” he could not decide. He thought they were three different things!
He addressed the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. A Canadian soldier found a genie in the sands near Kandahar. The genie granted him one wish. The soldier asked for a good map of the country, so that he could better understand the mountains, and valleys and local terrain. The genie thought it was a simple wish, so he told the soldier he could have another more grandiose wish. The soldier replied, “In that case, because of all the bloodshed, I want peace in the world.” The genie paused, then added, “We’d better get that map out again.”
With his sparkling wit, great timing, and enormous stockpile of Canadian history and affairs, Newman can entertain. And it was thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance. He now makes his home in Belleville, and we are the better for it.
June 14, 2011.