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Journalist and TV personality Gordon Sinclair

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He was brash, ornery, uncompromising, and occasionally uncouth - yet none of that stopped him from becoming one of Canada's best-known celebrities. Loud in both dress and personality, Gordon Sinclair first rose to fame in the 1930s as a globetrotting journalist for The Toronto Daily Star. Later stints as a popular radio host and a panellist on CBC's Front Page Challenge extended his celebrity into the 1980s. In this CBC Television clip Pierre Berton and author Morley Callaghan take turns eulogizing -- and criticizing -- their feisty friend who has just died at 83.

During his 62-year career in the media, Gordon Sinclair became known for both his curmudgeonly manner and his outspoken views. A relentless self-promoter, he transformed his singular style into a lucrative career which spanned some 50 books, a popular radio program and a plum spot on the longest running show in the history of CBC Television. Equal parts loved and loathed, many of Sinclair's most outrageous comments continue to live on more than two decades after his death on May 17, 1984.
• Gordon Allan Sinclair was born to Scottish immigrants on June 3, 1900, in Toronto. After dropping out of high school in Grade 8, he worked a variety of odd jobs including farm hand, bank clerk and lithographer's apprentice.
• At the age of 21, Sinclair landed a job as reporter at the Toronto Daily Star.
• In 1929, he impressed his editor by going undercover to report on life inside a hobo jungle on the city's waterfront.

• The story launched Sinclair's career as a roving reporter. Over the next decade, he travelled the world for the Star and filed stories from exotic, far-flung locations.
• Those stories were collected into a series of travel books, including Loose Among the Devils and Cannibal Quest. The books detailed his encounters with Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong and run-ins with cannibals and deadly snakes.

• In 1942, Sinclair began hosting a news show on Toronto radio station CFRB, and soon left the Star to dedicate himself full time to the show. His opinionated broadcasts became wildly popular, and made him the most listened newscaster in the country.
• At the peak of his popularity Sinclair claimed to be making $750,000 a year.

• Over the years Sinclair developed a unique, and instantly recognizable style of dress which included plaid blazers and loud bowties. His personal style was memorialized in his Toronto Star obituary: "Years ago a colleague on the Star stared in wonderment as Sinclair passed in fawn trousers, purple sports jacket, pink shirt, yellow tie and green porkpie hat with a red feather. 'There struts success,' the man said."

• In June 1957, Sinclair made his TV debut as a panellist on the CBC quiz show Front Page Challenge. Over the years he became infamous for asking guests questions about their personal finance or sexual matters.
• Sinclair was a regular panellist on the popular show until his death in 1984.

• On June 5, 1973 Sinclair read a spirited defence of the United States during his radio show. The rant against anti-Americanism was prompted by the Watergate controversy and the financial woes of The American Red Cross.
• The editorial was reprinted in newspapers and magazines across North America.


• A recording company taped a version of the rant with deejay Byron MacGregor sitting in for Sinclair. Titled Americans, it entered the Billboard Top 40 chart on Jan. 12, 1974, and stayed there for nine weeks, peaking at No. 4.
• Sinclair recorded his own version, titled The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion), which sold 400,000 copies.

• The two versions sold a combined 3.5 million copies.
• In May 1974, Sinclair donated his profits from his single, amounting to $200,000, to the American Red Cross.
• In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, The Americans was resurrected on the internet and provoked new interest in Sinclair.

• Despite the acclaim from the U.S., Sinclair was a diehard nationalist. In his 1966 book, Will The Real Gordon Sinclair Please Stand Up? he said despite his many travels, "Canada is my homeland... there is no place like it."
• "Here I was born, here I will die. Here I've made some mark, however small."
• Sinclair died on May 17, 1984, at a hospital in Toronto, after lapsing into a coma. He had suffered a massive heart attack the day before.

Also on May 17:
1756: The Seven Years' War begins when Britain declares war on France. The war results in the British conquest of New France.
1939: King George the Sixth and Queen Elizabeth arrive in Quebec City. Their cross-country tour is the first visit to Canada by a reigning British sovereign.
2000: A team of University of Alberta doctors announces it has successfully transplanted human pancreatic cells into eight severely-diabetic patients. The patients begin producing their own insulin immediately.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: May 17, 1984
Guest(s): Pierre Berton, Morley Callaghan, Wally Crouter
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Dan Bjarnason, Eve Savory
Duration: 4:42
Photo: Gordon Sinclair, Front Page Challenge (1969) CBC Design Library

Last updated: March 5, 2014

Page consulted on May 15, 2014

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