As long as he could remember, Neil McKenty was interested in writing. A teacher in grade school gave him a key piece of advice: “Find something to write about.” And he did.
At 9, he won his first oratorical contest, no doubt helped by his mother, Irene, a talented teacher.
His father, Arthur, owned a hardware store in the small town of Hastings, Ontario.
At 15, Neil signed on as a stringer for the Peterborough Examiner whose editor was Robertson Davies. He covered village council meetings, sports events, accidents, runaway horses, lawn bowling and Sunday afternoon teas. He was paid 10 cents a column inch.
He and his cousin bought an old Dodge car for $30, patched the leaky gas tank with bubble gum and put a big sign marked PRESS on the windshield. He learned about politics, prices and world affairs while sitting with the farmers on bales of twine around the glowing pot-bellied stove in front of nail kegs in his dad’s hardware store.
While studying with the Jesuits, he got one a master’s degree in history and another in communications from the University of Michigan.
In 1967, his biography of controversial Ontario premier Mitch Hepburn won the centennial prize for best biography.
I met Neil on a Toronto dance floor in 1971. At the time, he was finishing a three-year stint with the Foster Foundation, working with the Kennedys and Brian O’Neill of the National Hockey League to bring the Special Olympics to Canada.
He was looking for a new challenge. He found it.
Two weeks after our honeymoon, we moved lock, stock and barrel to Montreal.
Neil did his first editorial at CJAD hardly knowing where Peel and Ste. Catherine were.
With one part-time paycheque and no car, we explored this fascinating city by bus in all kinds of weather.
One bitter January day, we were waiting on a street corner near the Botanical Garden.
We decided then and there you had to join the Montreal winter or freeze to death, so we bought skis for $49 a pair at Eaton’s and slithered around Angrignon Park.
A member of the Laurentian Lodge Ski Club took pity on us and the result was some memorable friendships, including Jackrabbit Johannsen, and a book, Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club, which Neil turned into a best-seller.
Skiing Legends of the Laurentian Lodge Club is available as an ebook through Amazon. All proceeds from Neil’s books go to scholarships for young journalism students. More details, stories, photographs and comments at neilmckenty.com Some CJAD tapes will soon be added.