Bill Cameron (1943-2005)

Bill Cameron

Year Born: 1943

Year Died: 2005

Cameron, Bill (1943-2005)

Born in Vancouver on January 23, 1943, Bill spent his high school years in Ottawa, and then went to University of Toronto from 1962 to 1965.  During his third year at U of T, Bill’s good looks and developing acting talents caught the eye of a New York agent, who persuaded him to leave his studies and try his hand in the Big Apple. But a dearth of acting work persuaded the aspiring actor/director – and university dropout — to turn to entertainment journalism, contributing freelance items from the New York show business scene to CBC Radio. 

By the late 1960s, Bill was back in Canada.  After travelling in Europe on a Canada Council grant, Bill freelanced for magazines, worked as a columnist and editorial writer for the Toronto Star, wrote features for the Star Weekly Magazine and later served as an Associate Editor at Maclean’s Magazine.  In 1971, as a disaffected researcher on Senator David Croll’s special commission on poverty in Canada,  Bill co-authored a book entitled, The Real Poverty Report,  to counter the conclusions of Croll’s own report.

His first television opportunity came in January 1974, when he was hired by Global-TV, where he worked first as a news writer and later as a reporter for Global News, and then anchor of Newsweek.  In 1978 he moved to CITY-TV to anchor City Pulse Tonight and stayed with CITY for five years. In 1980, Bill met and married his wife, Cheryl Hawkes, who had been assigned by the Toronto Star’s TV weekly Star Week, to pen a profile of him.  The story, begun in August, appeared in the magazine on their wedding day in December. 

By 1983, Bill had had a high-profile parting with CITY-TV and was immediately hired by Executive Producer Mark Starowicz, who brought him on board with CBC-TV’s new national current affairs program, The Journal, first as a reporter and later as producer, and eventually as its final host. He reported for the Journal from many hazardous areas, including Mozambique, Rwanda, the West Bank, Nicaragua and Croatia. 

When the Journal was taken off the air in 1993, many thought Bill might be the next anchor of The National.  It was not to be, however, as the plum went to newscaster Peter Mansbridge and Pamela Wallin.  Bill, instead, moved to CBC Toronto’s local supperhour newscast, CBC at Six, where his work won him a Gemini Award.

Bill’s next move was in 1995, when he moved east to become host of CBC Newsworld’s CBC Morning News out of Halifax.  In 1998, he moved his family back to Toronto to host CBC’s Sunday Report, and a daily current affairs show for Newsworld.  When the network, pleading budget woes, asked him to take a sizeable pay cut in 1999, as a condition of contract renewal, Bill resigned from the Corporation, though he later said he was always a CBC man at heart. He then took his considerable communication skills to a Vice-Presidency with an on-line financial company, Northern Financial.   Life as a corporate communications executive lasted exactly one year and Bill quickly returned to freelancing for magazines, television and radio.

He taught interviewing and journalism skills at Ryerson’s University School of Continuing Education.  Then, in 2003, he was named holder of the Maclean-Hunter chair in journalism ethics at Ryerson, a post he held until his death.  In the spring of 2003, his first novel, Cat’s Crossing, was published and the film rights sold.  He had just completed his second novel, Dent in America, under contract to Random House, when he fell ill for the final time. He died on March 12, 2005.

For three years prior to his death, Bill was one of the main hosts of I-Channel, a digital channel owned by Stornaway Communications.  He continued to write, broadcast and do fill-in work for CBC Radio, including guest-hosting As It Happens.  He also demonstrated a talent for comedy with 13 guest appearances as  the newsreader on the Comedy Network’s Puppets Who Kill.   One of the last pieces of journalism Bill completed before his death was a 6,000-word essay for Walrus Magazine, entitled Chasing The Crab, about his battle with esophageal cancer. 

On hearing of Bill’s death, CBC’s Mark Starowicz offered Canadian Press this glowing tribute: “He was one of the last of the classic journalists. The man was a terrific writer, a terrific correspondent, an anchor, a documentary producer and a documentary director. A lot of people are good at one of those things.  I can’t think of anyone else who’s good at all of those things.”

Written by Pip Wedge – May, 2005