As were many involved in the “good old daze” of Vancouver media, I was sad to learn of the passing of Ross Kenward, bon vivant and lens-man extraordinaire. I remember Ross well from his days as the most fun-loving photographer the Vancouver Province ever had (not a high bar, mind you….). Then, off he went to TV-land, where he excelled as a cameraman for news and myriad public affairs shows. Along the way, Ross met his life partner, the even more talented (oops…) TV journalist and host, Genevieve Westcott. Together, the high-powered couple took another big plunge in the 1980’s and headed off to Ross’s native New Zealand. I think I’m right to remember one of the reasons might have been that Kiwi TV was still using film, which Ross loved. Former colleague Anton Koschany says Ross used to grumble that film was superior because you could hold it up to the light and actually see what you had shot, versus video tape, which was just a bunch of electrons that didn’t exist at all.
At any rate, our loss was certainly New Zealand’s gain. Both Genevieve and Ross won many accolades for their current affairs work there, including a Best Current Affairs Senior Camera nod for Ross in 2005. He was a staple at TVNZ, assigned to cover stories around the world.
Since news of his passing filtered back to Vancouver, many memories and anecdotes have been unleashed among those who knew and worked with him. Once you met that big, jovial, bear of a guy, with the irrepressible laugh and zest for life, you didn’t forget him. I particularly like this reminiscence from ex-Province photographer John Denniston: “Ross was constantly late for work and the two way radio message from his car, ‘I’m on the bridge’, which we would hear about 15 minutes after his scheduled start, became a running joke, as for a long time the boss assumed this meant the Granville Bridge about two minutes from the office. But we knew it could have been any bridge, say the Second Narrows, the Lions Gate, or even the Pattullo Bridge, all of them a half hour to an hour away depending on traffic.”
(Photo by John Denniston)
Things happened to Ross. Denniston, then free-lancing for the Sun, remembers his first encounter with “Roscoe”. As he tried to focus, the lens fell off his battered, Province-supplied camera. Among Ross’s Myspace postings is a photo of his CBC news cruiser being towed away by Buster’s. And then there was Kitimat.
It was 1976. A whole slew of us media types was there to cover a wild, explosive wildcat strike by Alcan smelter workers. It was big news. The bunch included myself and photographer Brian Kent from the Sun; Ross and Don Hunter from the Province; Brian Coxford and cameraman Rick Hull from BCTV; plus the CBC’s dysfunctional crew, Bruce Cameron and Roy LeBlanc, whose antics caused us no end of gut-wrenching hilarity.
We were all holed up in the same motel, waiting for the Mounties to swoop down on the union’s illegal picket line that barricaded the way into the smelter. As the days passed, with no move by the cops, we bonded, eating, drinking, laughing and having one hell of a good time. But “the lads” had a bit too much of a good time on the Friday night. When police finally swooped down on the line at dawn on Saturday, in full riot gear, they were still asleep. They all missed it. Except for a CBC radio reporter and me.
Events unfolded like a movie. I can still see beams from the advancing fleet of police buses cutting ominously through the ghostly early morning light. The police lined up in menacing rows, banging their shields with their riot sticks. One by one, the sleepy strikers were arrested, handcuffed and bundled onto one of the buses. And not a camera was present. Since that was the only reason everyone was in Kitimat, missing the arrests might have been cause for firing. Much to everyone’s relief, however, the cops stayed around for awhile. Brian Kent and the TV cameramen still managed to get shots of police squads marching up and down the road. I’m not sure the bosses even noticed there was no footage of the actual arrests.
Which brings us to Ross. Not only did he sleep late, when finally roused by the frantic knocking of Don Hunter, he found he had locked his keys in the trunk, along with his camera gear.
By the time he secured a locksmith to open the trunk, several more hours had passed, and he had nothing. Scenes of his demise at the Province must surely have floated through his mind, as Brian Kent filed his dramatic photos to the rival afternoon Sun.
But lo and behold, when Ross made it at last to the smelter highway, the sun high in the sky, police were still parading about. After thanking the great god of photography and kissing the ground in gratitude, Ross proceeded to take shots of every cop that moved. The Sunday Province splashed his photos all over the paper. Did anyone need to know they were taken four hours after the arrests? Sometimes, good guys get the breaks.
As a postscript, and I so love this, Don Hunter expressed his relief to Brian Kent that Ross had managed to get some photos, after all: “That was a close one, mate. Luck of the Kiwis.” Whereupon, Kent reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of exposed film. “I had an extra one for him, if he’d missed it,” said Kent.
I’ve never had more fun on an assignment than that week in Kitimat, my best experience ever with other media on the same story. At the same time, so much other stuff went wrong that we began to call our stay there “the Kitimat curse”. Afterwards, we had T-shirts made up (a large for Ross), saying “I survived the Kitimate curse”.
Ross Kenward, in fact, was so cursed he went on to live a wonderful life, full of accomplishment and richness, loved by all who knew him. Condolences to Genevieve and son Jamie. RIP, mate.