Monday, January 17, 2011

A little retrospective on dad

One of dad's complaints from his extended hospital stay has been a lack of entertainment. He really can't abide TV, and would much rather watch videos of shows he likes. But he still hasn't taken that bold leap into the 21st Century and acquired a DVD player, so all of his videos are on VHS tape. (Could have been worse: could have been Betamax!)

For his birthday, then, we bought him a personal DVD player with built-in screen and have loaned him a stack of DVDs to get him started -- things he'd like: Victor Borge, Shakespeare, John Pinette -- and I realized I could take the video transfer system I recently bought to transfer videotape from our Hi8 camera to the computer and burn DVDs of his favorite tapes.

And in the process, I came across a film clip that encapsulates, in about 3-1/2 minutes, the essence of dad's work as a TV producer.

As well as some of the mundane assignments, like producing sports, news and public affairs programs, dad produced a string of "outdoors" shows. There was "Game Country", with Paul St Pierre -- the basic huntin'-shootin'-n-fishin' show -- "The Outdoors", with Bob Fortune, known through the 50s and 60s in Vancouver as "The Weatherman" for his nightly appearances on CBC News with his blackboard map and oversized chalk; and "The Open Road", which featured the travels of Ches Lyons, a BC Parks official who shot a lot of 16mm footage of his adventures in BC's backcountry. There was also "The Web of Life", with Dr Ian McTaggart-Cowan, talking about science and nature.

Dad's idea of an outdoors show had nothing to do with huntin'-shootin'-n-fishin'. I don't think he's ever defined it, but I'd define it as the interaction of man and his environment: living with, rather than overpowering it. As an evangelist, I'd take it a step further, towards understanding God's creation and the amazing responsibility and trust He's placed in us to take care of it.

In the early 60s, dad launched a new show that intended to do that, and more or less married the concepts of the last three. KLAHANIE is a Chinook word (Chinook is an extinct dialect of English, French and local native Indian words, which was the trading language of the west coast about 100-150 years ago), meaning "The Great Outdoors". Much of the material was shot by amateur cinematographers, and masterfully edited together by CBUT's finest -- including Fran Rayner, Bill Burns and Don Cummings -- and knit together with studio interviews with the guest and the host -- at first Fortune, later Don White, and occasionally Lyons as well as a number of staff announcers.

KLAHANIE pre-dates and in fact pre-saged "The Nature of Things", "Man Alive", and anything by David Attenborough, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, National Geographic or anything on the Discovery Channel. It broke new ground for viewers, and the fact that it ran for 13 seasons indicates the viewers were more than willing to go there.

If anyone wanted to know the essence of KLAHANIE ... I'd say this film clip sums it up. Dad has always been intrigued by movement and setting it to music (he had an unrealized dream of dressing Gordie Howe in something that showed his physique and filming Gordie skating, capturing the muscle definition and movement), and he got this idea to get footage of a horse and rider and set it to the KLAHANIE theme music, Virgil Thomson's "The Plow That Broke The Plains". So he tasked film photographer John Seale to go out to Maple Ridge to shoot the film. The result was a team effort -- as credited in Don White's voiceover at the beginning -- of concept, film and editing.

I get a wistful feeling from watching this. Not only does it show a simpler time and a link to my childhood (I used to cheer whenever I saw "Produced by Andy Snider" on the closing credits), but it occurs to me that this lovely bucolic location is probably buried under condo developments now.

One other personal note: when the CBC Pioneers Association held a party in 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of CBUT going on the air, they showed a selection of clips from the station's history. This was used as the finale. I remember how dad just beamed at the thought, and how the people at the party enjoyed talking and interacting with him as CBC producers, staff and talent. All my life, I'd seen dad in the shadow of my mother, and he was proud of being known as "Mr Dorothy Davies". Finally, he was getting a measure of recognition for his own work.

I realize I'm probably shattering the Copyright Act by posting this clip, so let's enjoy while we can.


  1. I'm so glad to have found this, thank you so much for posting it. For unaccountable reasons I woke up this morning thinking of the Klahanie theme music I used to find fascinating as a child. I couldn't actually remember how it went but I had a haunting memory of having loved it. I didn't hold out much hope but embarked on a search (being a little vague even about the name of the program) and eventually found my way here. I didn't recognise the music at first and was a little disappointed, until the time signature changed to 3/4 and the unmistakable flute-answered-by-banjo passage started. Magic! I have now lived in Australia for more than half my life, a long way from CBUT and any other cultural references to the late 60s and early 70s in Canadian television, and why this little residue of a memory should suddenly have popped up with such urgency is a mystery. More mysterious, and amazing is finding this!

    1. Please pardon the delayed reply -- I didn't have the "notify of comments" feature switched on and only saw it because I was writing to a Klahanie fan and wanted to look up this posting. I'm very glad to have found your comment and am sorry it's taken me 2-1/2 years to reply.

      "The Plow that Broke the Plains" still gives me shivers ... and this film only accentuates that -- especially right at the end, with the horse and rider going off into the mist.

      By the way, the date on your comment is about 2-1/2 weeks after dad passed away (June 3, 2011).

      I'm coming to Australia for my stepdaughter's wedding in December. I've literally waited all my life (minus 5 years) to go there -- can't wait.


  2. Hello Drew.

    My name is Greg Shea. I live in Lake Cowichan, but grew up in Vancouver where my addiction to CBC began. Bob Fortune was a hero for me as a lad. I almost went into meteorology at UBC because of him! Today I finally managed to talk to Colin Paterson in the CBC Archives in Vancouver.
    There are two programs I would dearly love to see again, the first is Klahanie which emphasized BC and was like seeing a video show that Beautiful BC magazine captures in pictures. The other show is This Land. I would like to see if CBC would release a DVD collection of Klahanie (and This Land) programs. They aired when videorecording was in its infancy.
    Given that this is the 75th Anniversary of CBC and that the radio has released Voices of BC,
    a wonderful collection of interviews with BC pioneers, wouldn't it be great for this to happen.
    Have you seen this?

    I attended a maple syrup event in Duncan last spring and no one seemed to know about this!

    Colin said that there will be copyright problems as many of the shows were independently produced, and that CBC Archives in Toronto probably has most of the programs, but I really would like to see this happen.

    I will volunteer my time, as a retired teacher, to promote this. As a member of two historical societies, Kaatza and Cowichan, I know the word could be spread quite easily. Visiting retirement homes would also be a possibility.

    Thank you so much for the work you are doing in that area of downtown Vancouver. I have a very dear friend, Brian Tate (musician), who lives in Strathcona with his lovely wife Patricia.

    My contact info:

    I would love to come and see you. Colin has also said to drop by. Time waits for no man, and I know that waiting will cause us to lose opportunities. So many people have passed that I wish I had met!

    P.S. Colin challenged me to come up with a list of programs I would like to see again. Do you know if such a list of 13 years of shows exists?

    Thank you so much!


  3. Hi Drew, I have just been re-reading the story of my Grandfather George Tocher "Wild Man of the West" that was written by Bob Fortune. I remember (I think?) watching Grampa and Bob on Klahanie, but when I asked Bob about it years ago, he thought it might have been destroyed somehow. That's when he gave me the written story that I have now. Do you know if there might be any copies of that show around anywhere?
    Thank you so much,
    Cathy Tocher

  4. Bob Fortune was my hero growing up..."just a skiff, of snow..."

  5. This is a wonderful find for those of us who grew up watching Bob Fortune as our favourite weatherman and later, Klahanie. I wonder when this clip was made, and who was the man on the horse? Was it Bob himself?

    1. (A little late on the uptake, here: apparently the "notify of comments" mode was switched off ...) It wasn't Bob on the horse: in fact, I don't know who it was. The sense I got was that was someone John Seale, the cameraman, knew ...

      The clip dates back to about 1971, I fancy -- around the midpoint of Klahanie's run.

  6. And here in late 2015, now aged 60, I too woke up with klahanie theme in brain, insistent to google it before I do anything else. We watched the show religiously as a family - same with hourglass with bob fortune as weatherman. After graduating I became a weatherman and once saw our hero Bob F. In the atmospheric environment
    Office on Hastings street looking at a weather instrument. I believe now that this show in part influenced the course of my life,
    Doing things such as bird surveys et al to this day.

    1. Somehow, I didn't see that you'd posted this comment, so I apologize that it's taken a year and a half to respond. First, thank you for sending the comment and I know dad would have been delighted to know the impact the show had. So many of the CBC brass didn't "get" Klahanie and couldn't understand why it was popular. At the end of the day, though, I think dad knew that the show wasn't for the "brass", anyway .... all the best ... Drew