British Columbia

15 Metres Below Hamilton Street: Retiring CBC employee shares secrets of the building

After more than three decades working in the operations department at CBC Vancouver, David Croal reflects on the changes he has seen at the broadcaster since the late 1970s.

David Croal reflects on the changes he has seen since his first day of work in 1977 in Vancouver

David Croal on his last day of work at CBC Vancouver on Nov. 30, 2018. (Jake Costello/CBC)

No one at CBC Vancouver knows the ins and outs of 700 Hamilton St — the corporation's broadcast centre — like David Croal.

At 71, he is retiring from the corporation after starting work in the operations department in 1977.

"All roads lead to Rome in this building. You spend a lot of time, figuring out how you can get from A to B, in the shortest possible distance."

Much of his work at CBC took place 15 metres below street level, turning massive empty studio spaces into everything from World War One trenches, to the set of Reach For The Top.

Reach For The Top was a teen quiz show that aired from 1966 to 1989. (CBC/Alvin Armstrong)

He even took reference photos for the set designer of Fred Penner's Place, which recreated the lush temperate rainforest of B.C.'s South Coast.

"To this day, I can walk through Cliff Gilker Park [near Robert's Creek B.C.], and there are areas that I know were exactly replicated in the studio. Great rock walls, with moss and ferns growing out of them."

Fred Penner on the set of Fred Penner's Place. (CBC)

At the beginning of his career he was one of more than 2,000 people working in the building. Now retiring at age 71, many of the hallways that were once busy with costume designers, directors, and lighting crews, have quieted.

Times have changed

A lot has changed since 1977, when a television special would employ 13 people for the lighting crew alone.

CBC Vancouver no longer produces television specials, outside of news and current affairs, but Croal says the legacy of the shows he worked on remains.

"I don't think people really appreciate the impact CBC has had. The Vancouver film industry probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for CBC, and Beachcombers, and Ritter's Cove, and Red Serge, and shows like that, that we did."

Croal himself, worked as an art director over eight seasons of Beachcombers, and two movie reboots. He describes the experience as "like being paid to go to summer camp."

One of the first rooms Croal remembers walking into is Studio One.

It's a 2,600 square foot room with a rosewood and teak parquet floor, that was once home to the CBC Radio Orchestra.

"To come into this room, and have 75 musicians playing, is pretty impressive" said Croal. "It was a huge loss to the energy of the building when that orchestra left."

Clearing out desks

The orchestra isn't the only thing gone. Croal recalls clearing out desks of his former colleagues, after employees from CBC Radio Two were laid off.

"I forget how many people worked down here, but it was a sea of people working here. And it's now space that we rent out to visiting production companies," said Croal. "When something creative or positive is happening, you can feel it through the building. And that I miss."

David Croal's last day at CBC was Friday, but in October, he was elected as a city councillor in Gibsons. He also volunteers with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue.

Listen to the full story:

With files from The Early Edition 

Corrections

  • The television show Ritter's Cove was misidentified as Raider's Cove in a previous version of this story.
    Nov 30, 2018 7:07 PM PT

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