Tommy Banks, the star who helped others shine

Tommy Banks, at home anywhere, but mostly at his piano.

The show always started the same way. At the top of the clock – 7 p.m. on Wednesday – there was a jazz fanfare, a flourish of trumpets and saxes and a drum roll, as the title flashed across the screen. The audience in the studio began whistling and applauding, just as the CBC voice-over announcer, Larry Langley, introduced the show.

“From Edmonton,” he called out enthusiastically, “It’s Tommy Banks Live!”

Just off-stage, out of the range of cameras and microphones, the two writers of the weekly show – Colin MacLean and I – used to stand, joining the audience’s applause in anticipation of the next hour of live-to-air television. Inevitably, as Tommy entered the studio to acknowledge the studio audience’s applause, either Colin or I anticipating the start of another show would lean to the other and say rhetorically, “Does TV get any better than this?”

Why Citizenship Week?

The Banh family fled from Vietnam in 1980, was detained on an Indonesian island, but among thousands of other Boat People was eventually given refuge in Canada.
Thirty years ago, Canada and Canadians extended a hand of welcome to thousands of Boat People fleeing Southeast Asia.

It was an act of blatant intolerance. Mia, a factory worker originally from Asia, had been warming her lunch-break meal in the microwave oven in the staff kitchen. It had been the only comfort she was allowed, since her factory job was menial and since she lived with a son who slept all day and stayed out all night. Suddenly, she faced a factory foreman, who found the aroma of her homemade food offensive and he posted a sign on the front of the microwave to point that out.

“No foul-smelling food allowed,” was all the note said.

Gretzky at 50

The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, as seen on a hockey collectors' card in the Edmonton Oiliers' heyday during the 1970s.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, as seen on a hockey collectors' card in the Edmonton Oiliers' heyday during the 1970s.

All last week, they remembered his 50th. Hockey commentators waxed eloquent. His on-ice peers remembered their brushes with him as teammates or opponents. Most columnists had at plenty of anecdotes about his goal-scoring prowess, his record number of records and his so-called sixth sense on skates. Well, I was there for his 50th too. Not his 50th birthday. I was there to witness the final seconds of the game of games:

“Anderson gets it to Gretzky. He’s got the open net!” shouted Rod Phillips, the Oilers’ play-by-play announcer that night. “Will he shoot? He does. He scores! He has broken the record. Wayne Gretzky’s 50th goal in 39 games. Gretzky has done the unbelievable.”