CORNER BROOK — From a printing apprentice to a journalist, leader of a political party, to a communications specialist for labour unions and now editor of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ monthly journal the Monitor, Ed Finn has had quite the career.
Finn, 87, a former Corner Brook resident and editor of The Western Star, shares stories from that career in his memoirs, “Ed Finn: A Journalist’s Life on the Left.”
The book was jointly published by the Ottawa-based centre and Newfoundland’s Boulder Publications.
Now living in Gloucester, Ont., Finn started with the centre in 1994 when he was 68 years old. He figured it would be just for five years, but 20 years later he’s still there.
His memoirs were “long delayed” in being written, he said.
“I put it off because I always felt that it was sort of the supreme sign of egotism or narcissism.”
While he was working five days a week, Finn said there was no time to devote to writing, but two years ago he scaled back to three days, just enough time to edit the Monitor, and gave in to the pressure to write.
The book covers more than Finn’s 70-plus years as a journalist. It also delves into growing up in Corner Brook during the Great Depression.
Finn was born in Spaniard’s Bay in 1926 and moved to the city when he was just five years old. He grew up on Howley Road and his father worked as an accountant at the Bowater paper mill.
“Fortunately the paper mill, it was closed for brief periods, but never for more than a few weeks at a time, so my father never lost his job,” he said. “Things weren’t as bad in Corner Brook as they were in other parts of the island. Employment was still pretty high there, so certainly nobody had problems staying alive, eating and having shelter.”
Things were still grim at the time, but he and his siblings weren’t conscious of it.
“There was no deprivation.”
Finn never finished high school and instead ended up working as a printer’s apprentice in the paper mill’s printing department.
“I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping, obviously, to continue my education in university, but it turned out to be the best thing to happen,” he said.
The paper mill would later buy The Western Star and Finn continued to work as a printer. When the paper became a daily around 1945-46 he applied to move to the editorial department, even though it meant a pay cut — the printing department was unionized, but not the editorial.
“I became a staunch defender and supporter of unions ever since,” he said with a slight laugh.
Finn moved up through the editorial department to eventually become editor of the paper, but controversy surrounding the loggers strike of 1958-59 brought an end to his career.
By then The Star was owned by the Herder family and Finn said they “were not in any way inclined to have the strike reported objectively and fairly.”
Finn disagreed and said that was “not my conception of fair journalism.”
He resisted the Herders’ attempts to “skew” coverage of the strike and continued to interview labour people as well as the company.
“I think we were probably the only media there, certainly the only newspaper in the province that reported that strike as it should have been reported,” Finn said.
But then a demonstration that resulted in the death of police officer occurred and the Herders ordered the paper not to continue to cover the union side.
Finn and the rest of the senior editorial staff, including Alex Powell, Tom Cahill and Tom Buck, resigned. He recalls being blacklisted in the media at the time, but it would be far from the end of his career as a journalist.
In his book Finn covers the years that followed that saw him become “a reluctant politician” as leader of the Newfoundland Democratic Party.
He ran unsuccessfully in two provincial and two federal elections during his four-year term.
In the years since leaving Newfoundland Finn has spent time doing communication work for unions, worked as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette and was a columnist for the Toronto Star. He also worked closely with Tommy Douglas helping promote and defend Medicare and served for three years on the board of directors of the Bank of Canada.
Finn plans to fully retire from the centre in April when the last issue of the 20th volume of the Monitor is published.