Harry E. “Red” Foster (1905-1985)

Harry E. Red Foster

Year Born: 1905

Year Died: 1985


Foster, Harry E. “Red” (1905-1985)

Harry Foster was one of broadcasting’s great promoters and showmen and the founder of Foster Advertising Limited. He was also one of Canada’s great humanitarians.

Harry was born in Toronto to Daniel and Helen Foster. In 1924 he went to work for the T. Eaton Company, then for an uncle, in sales. He had a passion for sport and was involved in playing, coaching and managing. On the side, he started selling advertising on sports programs which he wrote and printed.

Wrestling and radio were becoming popular and Harry brought the two together. On April 11, 1931, he made his first live broadcast from a wrestling match at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena. It was carried by CKNC Toronto which was owned by the Canadian National Carbon Company, which also owned Eveready Batteries which sponsored the show. That was the start of a new era in radio in which every sports event was soon tied to sponsorship. Harry sold the ads on his shows, wrote the copy, printed the programs (he even bought a company that made the printer’s ink), did the commentary and read the commercials, frequently from the rooftops or rafters.

In November, 1931, he claimed the first coast-to-coast football broadcast. It originated at Molson Stadium in Montreal from where it travelled to CKGW Toronto and on by phone lines to Vancouver and to Sydney, N.S. Three years later he broadcast the Grey Cup final from Toronto to a full network. The same year, Harry incorporated as The Harry E. Foster Agencies Limited.

Harry introduced and anchored newscasts at five minutes to noon on CFRB Toronto, aimed at mothers preparing lunch for their children. Noon was a cheap time for commercials. The newscasts became fixtures even after he dropped out. In 1937 he bought the first mobile studio and public address system. Soon he had three.

In 1944, Harry E. Foster Agencies Limited became Harry E. Foster Advertising Limited. The agency provided both programs and their sponsorships. Harry’s writers wrote the shows and he hired rising stars like John Drainie and Lorne Greene to act in them. Men in Scarlet, based on real RCMP stories and starring John Drainie, won the broadcast industry’s Beaver Award in 1945 for best commercial children’s radio program.

Harry organized the first televising of a Grey Cup game for the CBC in 1952. He organized coverage for CBC-TV of the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver and the Grey Cup final that year. In 1955, the CBC outbid the private industry and started its own sports coverage. After that, Harry’s agency concentrated on advertising and promotions rather than programming.

In 1973, Harry formally transferred ownership of Foster Advertising to a group of long-term employees, although he remained chairman until 1976.

Harry’s younger brother, Jackie, had Down syndrome and was blind. It was Harry’s idea to launch CFTO-TV Toronto in 1961 with an 18-hour telethon on behalf of the mentally handicapped. In retirement, he devoted his life to helping charities.

The first Special Olympics in Chicago in 1968 were the result of the research of Dr. Frank Hayden of Toronto into fitness among the mentally disadvantaged. Harry took care of Canada’s participation and supported the games until they became established in Canada.

Among Harry’s many awards were the Medal of Service of the Order of Canada, an honorary doctorate, the Kennedy Family Award, an Ontario Special Achievement Award, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, a Broadcast Executives Society Achievement Award, and a B’nai Brith Humanitarian Award. He was inducted as a builder into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1998, he was remembered by Canada Post with a special stamp.

When he died, he left his wife, Kathryn “Jimmie”. She was a long-time sweetheart he married in 1939. She was badly injured in a riding accident in 1946 and they had no children.

Paul E. Lewis wrote a 1994 biography “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Harry ‘Red’ Foster”.

Written by Jerry Fairbridge – April, 2003