Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Book Review
In The Black: My Life

By B. Denham Jolly

An edited version of this review appeared in Huffington Post today

In the Black, a new autobiography by activist businessman and radio pioneer Denham Jolly, is going to have members of Toronto's white community seeing red. It might have Black Lives Matter soldiers taking names and making notes.
"To the white readers of this book, I have to stress that for Black people the basic and continuing infringements of our rights are not mere distractions. Canadians like to congratulate themselves over our diversity, but … " Denham Jolly told me when we talked about his early days in Toronto. Quoting from his just published book, he explains that discriminatory policing (from carding to driving while Black) "remain part of our day-to-day life and cast a long shadow over it."
From time-to-time over the past four decades, Jolly and I have crossed paths. He doesn't remember me, but I will never forget him. Handsome. Imposing. Strongly Opinionated (he writes that Toronto Mayor John Tory should be impeached for going back on his campaign promise to the Black community to end carding in the city). When we first met I was on a Joe job that took me to FLOW FM, (his radio station – Canada’s first Black owned radio station)to pick up a donation for the Caribana festival. Before my coat was off, or had taken a seat, he told me what was wrong with the annual street parade and what should be done to fix it.
I can't recall his exact words but I am sure it had something to do with how Canada's establishment was "fucking over" the volunteer driven Canadian Caribbean street extravaganza. "Tons of cash is handed over to the Art Gallery of Ontario and to the National Ballet, which generates 1/84th the amount of economic activity that Caribana brings to the city (of Toronto). But government support to Caribana continues to be minuscule compared to what is given to the National Ballet. It (Caribana) is the greatest cultural event in the city."
I have supplied PR support to North America's premiere Carnival festival on and off for almost 20 years and his Toronto radio station FLOW - Canada's first urban (industry term for Black) station - had pledged to the Canadian Radio and Television Commission when he got his first broadcast license, that he would support Caribana and other worthy community events. He was true to his words for as long as he owned FLOW.
Other encounters? Now and then I’d pick up celebs staying around the city, including his Days Inn Hotel, and escort them to FLOW. Carnival performers, Caribbean chefs and Black authors – there was an endless line of famous people wanting to be interviewed by on-air staff including talent show host Farley Flex and CP24 anchor Nathan Downer.
I lived a couple blocks from him in Cabbagetown and often saw him on the street. I guess if he hadn't sold them off, I might one day soon end up staying in one of his nursing homes.
" I am not a literary man, I couldn't have written this book without the help of journalist Peter MacFarlane," he told me. " I think of myself as a serial entrepreneur and this book is very much about business ... my business."
Jolly is a highly successful man.  Born in Jamaica he came to Canada 60 years ago to study at Guelph's College of Agriculture.  He went on to study at the Truro Agriculture School and finally Montreal's McGill University. He felt, and with justification, that there were more opportunities and less cultural striation in Canada in the Fifties than in colonial Jamaica.
When he graduated from McGill the government told him he had to leave when his student visa expired. He returned to Jamaica to do research on the ackee plant and to save enough money to apply to immigrate back to Canada! His triumphant return to the Great White North only happened after a chance encounter with a Canadian High Commission employee at a Jamaican rum party!
One of his first jobs in Toronto was teaching high school by day in the poshest part of town (Forest Hill), and managing his just acquired boarding house at night in a not so posh ‘hood’. He acquired property, lived frugally and his fortunes grew!
He moved briefly to Sault St Marie to teach science. In the Soo he met a young white nurse, moved back to Toronto with her and married.  Jolly continued to acquire rooming houses. He also branched out into nursing homes and medical testing facilities.
He modernized the business of nursing homes not just in Toronto and Mississauga, but in Texas as well.  Jolly soon also became the publisher of the iconic, but now closed, Black Contrast Newspaper.
Almost everything he touched did well, except for his brief career as a Fuller Brush salesman ("I ended up with a closet full of brushes"). He even owned an ill-fated Caribbean sailing ship - the not so Jolly Dolphin.
His burning desire to own a radio station that would play Black music and be the voice of the Caribbean Canadian people was a 12-year chunk of his life. He blames political interference and white privilege for the setbacks he had to overcome before FLOW went on the air back in 2001.
According to In The Black, Liberal politicians were publically supportive of Jolly’s radio station dream, but behind closed doors worked against him to help the CBC and other stations get the licenses he sought.  "Liberal politicians are dishonest, they told me I was going to get a license but gave it away to a country and western radio station," explained to me. "Campaign left and rule to the right – they made Mulroney look good"
His business smarts came from his Father Cappy (short for Capital) Jolly. Cappy gave his son Duddy-Kravitz-like advice which he follows to this day  - "Don't work for anyone but yourself. And buy property."
The book is frustrating in that Cappy plays only a minor role in this story. We don't know much more about Cappy, nor his four sisters and brothers, nor his wife Carol, their daughter Nicole and twin sons Michael and Kevin.  His divorce is a single paragraph and there is scant reference to Janice Williams, the new love of his life.

 B. Denham Jolly

Odd for a very private man involved in the communication business to say so little about himself in this - his self titled life's story. It is an autobiography where I suspect the author has kept out all the juicy parts of his 80+ years on the planet. We never learn what is beyond his passion for the world of  business. The curtain is only lifted when Jolly talks about issues of race and equality in Toronto and the people he fought the good fight with - former Minister of State Jean Augustine, Violet Blackman, Caribana’s Charles Roach and Dudley Laws.

It makes for interesting reading to see just how many activist causes Jolly dipped his toes in. He started the Black Business and Professional Association and was a vocal member of a seemingly endless string of action groups and committees.
He talks about demonstrating against the police when a mentally disturbed Black man, Lester Donaldson is shot by an officer in a Toronto rooming house. “After the demonstration, a number of us, including Charlie Roach and Jean Augustine, went to a meeting called by Dudley Laws to launch a new organization, the Black Action Defense Committee.”
“BADC,” he writes, “was formed to fight against this sort of police killing.  I was named with fifteen others as part of the founding group, but in this case the moving force really was Dudley Laws.”
“ Sure, there probably is a file with my name on it,” said Jolly when I asked if the police investigated him as much as they did Dudley Laws. “In 1991 the police were clearly obsessed with nailing the hides of uppity Blacks to the wall.”
“BADC marched to the US Consulate on University Avenue (in Toronto) to underline that you could find the same brutality against Blacks in Canada that we had seen in the U.S.”
As time passed Jolly’s time was spent more in keeping his radio station socially responsible than in marching in the street. He was named to the YMCA and the Toronto International Film Festival and he was cited for his cultural contributions when he won the Black Media Pioneer Award and the African Canadian Lifetime Achievement Award.
--> Two months ago, just as ECW Press was publishing this autobiography, the city of Toronto honoured the man by naming a new road Jolly Way. Located near the southwest corner of Midland and Ellesmere Avenues, the street is meant to be a tribute to a man who hasn’t always been happy in Canada but has always been loud, proud and forever Jolly! 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

What Makes Charles Pachter Tick?

What Makes Charles Pachter Tick In A Trumpian World?

By Stephen Weir. April 5, Huffington Post
Too bad Winston Churchill never met Canadian artist Charlie Pachter. The British WW2 Saviour of the Nation might not have given up on aging liberals so quickly when he reportedly opined that "any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains".
If you work in the Canadian Art milieu you have will have met Charlie Pachter and seen his work. His huge Canadian Flag Paintings, The Queen on a Moose, the Pope nose-to-nose with a Moose, the Canadian Moose on a Hudson Bay bag, Hockey Legends. And, of course, Trudeau - younger and elder please.
Charlie Pachter with his Canadian flagpaintings
He is one of the most recognized contemporary artists and best selling authors, in part because of his passion to use Canadian icons, symbols and faces in the creation of his quirky masterpieces. He is 74-years old searching for meaning in this conservative Trump era world while his paintings and sculptures are rooted in the egalitarians ideal of Yorkville and the 60's.
Because of my involvement with the Canadian culture industry I have known Charlie for almost 20 years. We meet at events - from retirement parties to his own book launches. Now and then I work on projects involving the artist himself. I helped promote the gifting of his iconic Painted Flag canvas to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection five years ago. A year later I worked with filmmaker George Socka to record the artist and author Margaret Atwood talking about their collaboration in the publishing of an illustrated poetry book. ("The Journals of Susanna Moodie " was a poetry book Atwood wrote in 1970.  Almost 30 years later Charles created silkscreen art pieces based on her poems for a limited edition reissuing of that original Atwood work.)
I have aged with Charlie. And we both bemoan that some of our contemporaries have gone over to the Dark Side - anti-Muslim leanings, anti-Immigration rhetoric, anti-anything involving the redistribution of wealth.
Charles Pachter (l) delivers a painting to PAMA. 
His partner Keith Lem and art expert Tom Smart (r) are honour guards! 
Photo by Weir.
On January 1st, Charlie did his own wealth redistribution by donating to the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA) in Brampton, Ontario. It wasn't a piddling gift. To date he has given 56 works of art - two paintings, 52 prints, one sculpture, and one limited edition Pachter/Atwood book that we filmed the pair talking about a few years ago.
Those donated works of art are now on display at PAMA at a show that Charlie calls What Makes This Country Tick? The exhibition says as much about Charlie's progressive ideals as they do about his artistic expression.
"I have spent nearly five decades of my work trying to explore the Canadian psyche," he told me, again on tape. " I see us as the world's last best hope. Canada is a safe haven. Canada is inclusive. Canada is tolerant. We are the luckiest people on the planet. We should never take our freedom for granted."

It is free to see What Makes this Country Tick because of the generosity of the Sikh Heritage community. Charlie's show shares space with three exhibitions installed to mark Sikh Heritage Month in Ontario.

Charlie is in love with the juxtaposition. "In fact we are all immigrants. I am the grandson of poor immigrants who came to Alberta in 1915, I made up the name of a new group because in school the official teaching was that Canada was made up of first nations, French and English, but they left out a fourth group that I made up an acronym: Peeved - Practically Everyone Else Vaguely Ethnically Defined "
"I am very proud of my roots," he concluded. "Now at the age 74 (I find myself) thinking back on how I spent a lifetime trying to figure out Canada's ethos. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?"
The answer from a liberal hippy who is aging wisely? Well that is What Makes This Country Tick!