When I met with CBC’s Metro Morning host, Joe Cote, and traffic reporter, Jim Curran, in 1987, the atmosphere was one of on-air madness at the Cabbagetown studio in the former Carlton movie house on Parliament Street. Cote informed and entertained early morning Radio 740 listeners with interviews, commentaries, late-breaking news and human interest stories, while Curran guided drivers with up-to-the-minute road conditions. The traffic reporter had already been on the job for seven years before Cote landed as a CBC reporter at city hall in 1976, fresh off an 11-year gig in television and radio in New Zealand. That stint had taken the University of Western Ontario grad into southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, to the Antarctic, Australia, Africa and Britain. After filling in as host at CBC for everything from Reach for The Top, to The National and As It Happens, Cote made the Metro Morning chair his own in 1979.
Curran and his wife had been living in the Beach for a year and a half in ‘87; Cote was moving from Balmy to Balsam, his fourth address since arriving back on Canadian soil.
At the Beacher Café on a recent August afternoon, the two, who still collaborate on writing and editing projects, are relaxed as they sip tall lemonades in front of a breezy window and fill in the past 27 years.
“In 1992, my wife was posted to Malta as a management consultant advising the island’s government on admission to the EU,” says Cote. “I left Metro Morning, went with her and taught journalism and English at the University of Malta. And I helped set up a campus radio station.”
Upon their return in 1994, Cote went back to CBC – at the new Front Street location – hosted Ontario Morning for five years, then officially retired. “Early retirement has given Sharon and me the chance to share time together in the garden, do cryptic puzzles, and play golf,” he says. But it hasn’t all been just fun and games in their own backyard. “We’ve travelled to every corner of the world and I’ve written a lot of travel pieces for The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.”
In 2001, the Cotes left the Beach. That didn’t last long, though. “As empty nesters, we went to Lorne Park in Mississauga, but we missed the city and this,” he says looking out the window. “So we came back in 2005 to Silver Birch.”
In 2009 and 2010, they taught English to first year students at Guangxi University in Southern China and published a book, China Bound, about their experiences. Then they volunteered in Germany and Spain to help executives improve their English. “There were lawyers, doctors, diplomats, farmers and business owners,” he says. “The sessions were held in a Black Forest hotel in Bavaria — that was 2012, and last winter at a resort near Salamanca in Spain.” Between the week-long teaching programs, the couple rented apartments in Seville, Cordoba, Jerusalem and San Sebastian. “It sounds extravagant,” he says, “but a tiny flat in Europe in the middle of winter is very affordable.”
Curran, who still lives in the Beach with his wife Wendy, has been on travel assignments to Korea, Japan, and Northern Ireland, has holidayed throughout Europe and Canada, and lately enjoyed southern Florida. “Getting away in winter is a great thing when you have the time,” he says referring to retirement, which began in 2012.
As much as he values his far-flung sojourns, it would seem from his charismatic tales of travelling on railway track motorcars here at home, that those excursions rank near the top of his favourite journeys. Formerly used for track inspection, as many as 25 of the privately owned, two-passenger motorcars organized by Track Motorcars of Ontario rumble through scenic countrysides. Curran shoots the excursions, edits, writes and voices the narration, adds music and graphics, and produces a documentary for rail fans. “The last three excursions have been on the Ontario Northland Railway,” he says. “Last year, in five days, we travelled 650 km from North Bay to Kapuskasing and back.”
In July, he recorded an interview with 92-year-old pilot, George Weber, a Mennonite who was not willing to take up arms during the Second World War and became a reconnaissance pilot in an unarmed Spitfire. That interview will be displayed at the National Air Force Museum in Trenton and the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope near Hamilton.
Soon, Curran will be creating one of his renowned stained glass windows for CBC’s Sounds of the Season silent auction in December. “That garage Joe helped me build in ’87 became a workshop for stained glass windows,” he laughs. “It’s full of good intentions — antique clocks for restoration and woodworking projects I’ve been saving until the right time. That time,” he announces, “has arrived.”
Well, maybe after his next dinner with Cote and his wife, his big family reunion, his work on the Board of Goodwill and a trip to New Zealand.
Lorie Murdoch wrote a series of articles under the Persons of Note banner in 1986 and 1987. She is following up with some of her subjects in a column which appears occasionally.