Reflections from an Argus alum
By: Jim Mason, 1976 Argus Sports Editor
For a school without a journalism program, Lakehead has churned out a newsroom full of employees for the Canadian media industry.
Admittedly, we’re talking a miniscule sample size here.
And, with full disclosure, I’m in that late 1970s’ sample.
I was a first-year economics student at Lakehead who somehow wrangled an invitation to try out for the school’s basketball team in the fall of 1976. My athletic claim to fame was never being cut from that team that would play in the CIAU (now U Sports) championship final that season.
Ten minutes into the first practice, I destroyed an ankle and ended up carting a cast around the Oliver Road campus for seven weeks.
That piece of plaster was a goldmine, leading to many a conversation, including several with young women.
Them: “So, you’re on the basketball team then?”
Terry Smith, a young man who was in every one of my classes that semester, heard the story.
“So, you like sports,” he said. “Ever thought of writing about it? I’ve been named editor of The Argus for next year. I’m looking for a sports editor.”
That’s the complete transcript of the interview.
The job, including a small pay cheque, was mine.
My high school English teachers are still shaking their heads.
Same for the economics teacher.
They’re joined by the basketball coach.
My first assignment was accompanying entertainment editor Bob Klanac, an old pal – we’re still friends – who wrote record reviews for The Argus while we were in high school. We interviewed Rush in a post-concert locker room at the Fort William Gardens.
We were right at home, considering our window-free Argus offices were in converted showers — aqua ceramic tile and all — in the basement of the school. Between the pinball room and the janitors’ closet.
Save for compiling the popular concert listings for Duluth and Minneapolis, I pretty much stuck to my beat at The Argus.
Some things don’t change. Hockey and basketball were the big sports on campus, but there were also wrestlers, swimmers, soccer players, several coaching changes and a student referendum on athletic funding to write about.
Lakehead’s teams played league games against schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and many an exhibition tilt versus colleges from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Karl Subban was an all-star on the basketball team and Henry Staal was a Lakehead hockey player. Both have multiple sons in the NHL today.
The Argus moved up a couple of floors, in what’s now known as University Centre, but has since been sent back to the basement showers.
Lakehead’s a different place today:
Pinball has long lost its bounce.
There’s now a full-time campus bar, The Outpost. No more commutes to The Crest or The Uptown for a table-full of draughts. Both establishments are long gone, anyway. (It can now be said that we were well served at school. The Argus had a fridge fully stocked with ice-cold, locally brewed Doran’s products, long before craft beer was a thing. And the back stairs swept us up to The Agora to see Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLauchlan and Jesse Winchester in concert.)
The school teams were the Nor’Westers – named for the majestic mountain range that welcomes flights into Thunder Bay International. Think Colorado Rockies and Avalanche. Sorry, I don’t know what a Thunderwolf is. And who added gold to the classic blue and white uniforms?
Lakehead jumped east, to Ontario University Athletics, several seasons ago. The hockey team has moved from the quaint confines of the Port Arthur Arena to those Gardens and replaced senior and minor pro clubs as the town team. The basketball squads still play out of the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse, a facility that has stood the test of time but is now dwarfed by the adjoining Hangar. All across the street from the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital, where the drive-in theatre was, right?
Lakehead now has a medical school and a law school. And more than three times as many students studying on the shores of Lake Tamblyn as there were 40 years ago. Back when we needed computers the size of a Chevrolet Caprice to do half of what today’s phones accomplish.
And that unofficial journalism school tucked in the Lakehead basement?
Out of that former shower room would exit reporters, editors, ad managers, photographers, salespeople, compositors, public relations experts, spokespeople and creative types who would go on to work in news organizations, corporations and the public service. From British Columbia to Southern Ontario. From one-stoplight towns to big-city dailies.
Maybe Lakehead does have a journalism program.
Thank you, Argus.
Jim Mason is a Thunder Bay native, Lakehead University graduate and former Argus sports editor. Following a 36-year career at newspapers in Northwestern Ontario and the Toronto area, he is director of communications for the Ontario Junior Hockey League and tour manager for Jason Wilson Music.