MACDONALD, W.A. "Bill"




Author Tags: Fishing

W.A. "Bill" Macdonald's Trout Tales & Salmon Stories (Oolichan Books, 1994) has been described by its publisher in 1994 as: "a nostalgic collection of some of the best stories, articles, and photographs from the life's work of Bill Macdonald - master fisherman, outdoor writer, philosopher-conservationist, and a former director / producer for the National Film Board of Canada. During his life Bill Macdonald has written and published well over a thousand articles and stories. In each one his love of fishing and the natural world comes bubbling through. His enthusiasm for angling is infectious; his knowledge of the sport, from the simplest handlining tackle to guided expeditions, prodigious. In Trout Tales & Salmon Stories Bill Macdonald shares some of his most memorable fishing trips. He gives advice on tackle, equipment, and fishing techniques suitable to the time of year and the species of fish sought. The majority of these stories and articles were written in the late forties and early fifties. Many were first written at the urging of the late Ted Trueblood when Ted was fishing editor for Field and Stream magazine in New York. However, all of Bill Macdonald's pieces are as timely today as when they were written. Every reader will find in these pages a refreshing tonic against the ills of our age and a thousand reasons for donning their chest waders, dusting off their lines, sharpening their hooks, mossing down their creels, packing up their rods, and heading into the great outdoors to go fishing." Macdonald was living in Surrey when his first book was published at age 86. He turned 87 in July of 1994.

[BCBW 1994] "Fishing"

W.A. "Bill" Macdonald (1907-1999)
Obituary



Outdoor writer W.A. "Bill" Macdonald, 91, passed away at Surrey, B.C., on 20 February 1999. His first story appeared in Hunting and Fishing in Canada in 1932, starting a career in writing, film production and public relations that spanned over 60 years. Although he held public relations directorships in various high level offices with the federal government in Ottawa, Ont., Macdonald was best-known to the general public for his hunting and fishing articles in "The Big Three," and for films he produced with such legendary angling personalities as A.J. McLean, Ted Truebood, Hugh Grey, and Charles Ritz. In 1955, Bill originated, wrote and hosted a series of 95 live, half-hour television programs about recreational fishing on CBOT Ottawa.

After his retirement, Bill Macdonald returned home to Surrey in 1978. He became a popular contributor to BC Outdoors and BC Sport Fishing, with stories about his early days of hunting and fishing in BC. He was profiled in BC Outdoors in April 1992. He was made a Life Member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada in 1984, and in 1986 received the prestigious Pete McGillen Award for service to OWC. His book Trout Tales & Salmon Stories was published in 1993, and the following year it won first place in the OWC book writing awards. He is survived by his wife Norma, daughter Linda, and son David.

- by Bob Jones


BILL MACDONALD: A PROFILE
Article April 1992



by Bob Jones

Some of the most popular articles appearing in BC Outdoors are nostalgia pieces written by Surrey resident W.A. "Bill" Macdonald, in which he describe his travels and fishing experiences throughout British Columbia during the early 1900s. Thanks to the ability to recall names, events and dates with amazing clarity and detail, his vignettes are historically correct, interesting, and most important from a reader's point of view, highly entertaining. The appearance of his articles are guaranteed to produce positive telephone calls and letters to the editor.

Perhaps Bill's most interesting story began when he was born in 1907 at Millet, Alberta, where his father was the CPR agent. The family moved to Vancouver in 1910, and when he was five, Bill discovered fishing at Kitsilano Beach. "Off Rogers Wharf at the foot of Balsam Street," he recalls. "I caught a perch, and from then on I had the fishing bug. There was Turner's Boat Works in Coal Harbour, and several marinas where we used handlines to fish for greenling and sea perch.

"My chums and I eventually branched out and fished up Trafalgar Street to 33rd Avenue, and over toward Arbutus Street in Vancouver, to what became Quilchena Golf Course and is now a shopping centre. A creek about three feet wide came out of the hillside and crossed the open land to the west. We caught hundreds of 5- and 6-inch trout there -- young steelhead, actually -- but we didn't know that.

"As we got more adventuresome, we fished Still Creek at 13th Avenue and Renfrew. It's still there, but now it runs through culverts almost all the way to Burnaby Lake. When I was about 12, we started going to the Brunette River, and when we got bicycles, we made all-day trips to the Nicomekl and the Serpentine.

"We went to the Capilano and Seymour rivers, Lynn Creek, Mosquito, Brothers, and Cypress creeks, and all across the north shore of Burrard Inlet. Our days were spent going to school, then fishing at every possible chance."

In 1928, Bill went to Seattle, Wash., to study journalism and advertising at the University of Washington. After the stock market crash in 1929, he returned to Vancouver and worked in the advertising field, then started a series of jobs in sales.

Shortly after he and Norma were married on December 3, 1932, his first story -- First Time Out For Ducks -- was published in Hunting and Fishing in Canada. That was also about the time his interest in shooting 8mm movie films developed.

In 1938, Bill approached the B.C. Government Travel Bureau to suggest his writing and filming skills might be useful for promoting tourism. He was hired as a field officer and became a special travel assistant to Hon. W.J. Asselstine, the Minister of Mines, Trade and Industry. Part of his job was to chauffeur the MLA about the province, and wherever their travels took them, Bill usually found time to fish or shoot a few grouse. His job also involved making 16mm tourism promotion movies, then taking them on lecture tours throughout the western U.S.

After the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Macdonalds ended up in Ottawa, where Bill worked on the National Film Board "Canada Carries On" series, and civilian morale films. When hostilities ended in 1946, he stayed on as producer/director for Travel and Natural Conservation films.

That same year, Bill contacted the president of Field & Stream to propose sharing the costs of making fishing films, which could then be distributed throughout the U.S. by the magazine. A contract was signed to make two films a year over a three-year period.

A contract clause called for one member of the magazine's editorial staff to star in each film. The first, "Atlantic Salmon," was shot on New Brunswick's Miramichi River. Bill recalls, "Hugh Grey, the editor, was on camera, trying unsuccessfully to catch a salmon. In the meantime, I was off camera hooking salmon, so they filmed me. I was supposed to be directing, but ended up in the movie. However, Hugh finally caught a dandy, making everything official.

"Later that year, we filmed 'Speckled Trout Across Canada,' from the Ottawa area to Jasper, Alberta. Ted Trueblood starred in that one. He was a very fine fellow to work with -- a great fisherman and a great storyteller. After spending two weeks on Lake Nipigon, we discovered none of the film was any good because our camera shutter had been malfunctioning.

"Ted could only stay another week, so it looked like everything was dead in the water, but he said, 'Well, why not make a pike film?'

"Pike?" I replied. "Pike are considered 'snakes' up here."

"He grinned and said, 'They're trophy fish down south, Bill. They love 'em because they're big and feisty.'

"In three days we made a film called 'Great Northern Tackle Busters.' We must have caught and released 80 fish averaging 10 to 15 pounds, and one went 25 pounds. That turned out to be a real miracle film -- it was the most popular one in the Field & Stream library.

"We finished the speckled trout film the next year with Al (A.J.) McClane, the fishing editor. He was -- and still is -- a good writer, an excellent fisherman, and a fine storyteller. I enjoyed being with him.

"We also made 'Canadian Smallmouths,' then started on a muskie film. However, we didn't get 'Mighty Muskie' finished because we couldn't get one of 25 pounds or more, which the Americans considered essential.

"The following year we made 'Coho on the Fly' at Campbell River, then went to Port Alberni to film 'Spinning for Steelhead and Silvers' on the Stamp River. We made that with Al McClane and his friend, Charles Ritz.

"'Mighty Muskie' was finished the following year with Hugh Grey. We topped that one off with a 38-pounder, which was later released."

Bill had continued writing for various magazines during this period, and in 1948 became the fishing editor for Forests & Outdoors, a relationship that lasted for 10 years.

When the government cut the budget on outdoor films, Bill left the film board to work at the Ministry of Resources and Development. Later, after becoming director of information services and public relations, he transferred to the Ministry of Public Works.

Three major projects Bill vividly recalls working on were the Trans-Canada Highway, the 1957 visit to Ottawa of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, and the blasting of Ripple Rock.

"When somebody was required to look after public relations for the five-day royal visit, I got the nod. As a result, Norma and I were invited to the reception at Rideau Hall. As we went through the receiving line, Prince Philip stopped me and I was introduced as 'Mr. Macdonald, who is in charge of public relations for your visit.'

"Prince Phillip said, 'And what do you do?'

"'I work for the department of public works' I replied, not realizing that 'public works' meant 'sewers' to the English.

"Later, I was asked to stand by in case Prince Phillip wanted to ask questions about outdoor activities in the area. When the Governor General's secretary introduced me as a 'local expert' on fishing and hunting, Prince Phillip looked at me and said, 'But you said you were with the Department of Public Works!'
"That was so remarkable. He'd met 400 people that evening, but he remembered me -- probably because I was the only sewer worker!"

In 1954, Bill sold CBC-TV on the idea of doing a weekly television show called "Let's Talk Fishing with Bill Macdonald."
"King Whyte's outdoor show came on right after the national hockey games on Saturday nights. When the hockey season ended, King headed for his summer cottage and my show started a week later. It was a half hour -- live. We had a lot of fun doing them, and it was very successful."

In January 1958, Bill was assigned to cover Ripple Rock, which was scheduled to be blown up in April. "It was an underwater mountain at the southern end of Seymour Narrows, north of Campbell River. It came within nine feet of the surface at low tide, and the currents were so turbulent that large ships were often smashed against the rocks, and the whirlpools were so large they sucked small boats right under. During the 75 years records had been kept, Ripple Rock wrecked about 185 vessels, and claimed 109 lives

"Attempts were made to blow it up from the surface in 1943 and 1948, but both failed. The 1958 attempt was made by driving down a shaft in Maude Island, then tunnelling over to Ripple Rock and honeycombing the entire area with more tunnels. These were stuffed with over 2 1/2 million pounds of explosives, which were connected by several miles of electrical wiring for the detonation."

At 9:31 a.m., on April 5th, 1958, it was Bill's voice that started the countdown. "Twenty seconds, 15 seconds, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, fire! Nothing happened. About four seconds later, a huge bubble formed, then with a tremendous burst upward for 10,000 feet, the whole top of Ripple Rock was blown off and lowered to 47 feet below low tide. It was the largest non-atomic blast ever set off.

After Ripple Rock, Bill resigned from public works to become CBC's Director of Public Relations for the Prairie Provinces. This required a move to Winnipeg, which ended his television show after 96 programs.

Their stay in Winnipeg was short-lived. In 1960, Bill became CBC's national director of public relations in Ottawa. Three years later, he was loaned to the Canadian Centennial Commission to help develop ceremonial programs and events for the 1967 Centennial. When the celebration ended, Bill became director of the CBC Historical Archives until he retired in 1975.

With their son and two daughters grown and on their own, the Macdonalds bought a motor home. As they travelled extensively throughout Canada and the United States, Bill wrote articles and produced radio travelogues about their wanderings. Finally, in 1978 they settled in Surrey.

Tragedy struck 10 years later, when their home was consumed by fire. Bill received relatively minor burns to his neck and arms, but his wife was severely burnt over 25 per cent of her body. Although the prognosis looked grim for Norma, who was 78 at the time, she amazed everyone by making a rapid recovery.

Although the Macdonalds escaped with their lives, a lifetime collection of mementoes and photographs were lost, including copies of Bill's television shows. However, rather than dwell on past losses, Bill prefers to live for the present and plan for the future. Heart surgery in June, 1991, slowed down his output for a few weeks, but he was soon back working on his current pet project: creating public awareness of the need for accessible fishing areas. "Places like Dundarave Pier, 25th Avenue, Marine Drive, and open spots up and down the West Vancouver shore where we fished off the rocks. There are probably still places along those same areas where it could be made possible for people to go fishing.

"In 1912, when I was five, I recall fishing with my father and uncle off the then brand-new White Rock pier. It was excellent for flounder, tommycod, sea perch and crabs. Now, a breakwater across the end blocks it from the deeper water, so it's no good for serious fishing. They should build a 200-foot extention over the breakwater to access the deep water, then make it available for fishermen.

"When Norma and I travelled on the southern Atlantic and Pacific coasts, we often encountered public fishing piers that were either free, or charged a small fee for people to fish from them. Seattle has one, as do Campbell River, Comox, and Dease Island Slough. There should be more, because it would provide people with more opportunities to fish -- which we need."

Bill Macdonald admits that when he started writing on a manual typewriter in 1932, he never envisioned still being at it 60 years later. Now nearing his 85th birthday, the tall, silver-haired writer continues putting in time at his word processor, recording tales about those early days in the great outdoors. There is little doubt that readers of BC Outdoors hope he continues for many years to come.

[Bob Jones / BC Outdoors]