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culture

Vintage Toronto Ads: Tiny Bennett Wants You to Unpollute

But what the outdoor columnist wanted was an exit from the Telegram.

Source: the Telegram, April 24, 1971.

Today’s ad appeared to be the bright beginning of a newspaper campaign designed to raise awareness among Torontonians, especially younger residents, about the environment. What idealistic youth could resist doing their part to build a better world by tracking their own efforts at helping Mother Nature, or by wearing an “I unpolluted” button as proudly as Telegram pitchman John “Tiny” Bennett wore the conservation badges on his jacket?

While Bennett wanted people to join the “unpollute” campaign, he soon decided he no longer wanted the Telegram. Since joining the paper in the late 1950s, Bennett, whose nickname derived from his 6’6”, 250-pound frame, had served as a man-on-the-street reporter, covered environmental conferences, and offered cooking and wine-making tips. But it was his outdoors column that he took pride in, as it allowed him to share his love of nature. “He helped countless newcomers to the outdoors discover its secrets,” noted the Sun in 1978, “and was never too engrossed in his activities of the day to stop and give advice, practical help, or encouragement. His patience, particularly with children, was boundless, and the knowledge that they would one day enjoy outdoor life as he did was the sufficient reward.” Despite having a syndicated column, making various media appearances and writing half-a-dozen books, by 1971, Bennett’s annual take-home pay from the Telegram had dropped $1,000 from what he earned five years earlier. When he requested a raise, the result was a memo that, according to journalist Jock Carroll, “was so insensitive his wife cried when she read it at the kitchen table.” Bennett quit and had the memo framed.

The campaign only lasted one summer, as the Telegram ceased to care about anything when it folded in October 1971. Bennett joined other former Telegram staffers at the new Toronto Sun, where he revived his column. Upon his death in June 1978, the Sun reminded readers that “In his columns over the years, he told how he made his own candy and ginger syrup, studied snakes and plants, and was a bird watcher and nudist.” The weekend following his passing, Bennett’s column space featured a short tribute accompanied by a picture of a fisherman striking a Bennett-like pose with fine catch. This seemed a fitting final honour for Bennett, who traced his love of the outdoors to the gypsies who showed him how to fish as a child in his native England by using special herbs as bait. Bennett reflected that “they taught me nature.”

Additional material from The Death of the Toronto Telegram and Other Newspaper Stories by Jock Carroll (Richmond Hill: Pocket Books, 1971), and the June 15, 1978 and June 18, 1978 editions of the Toronto Sun.

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