From Order of Canada recommendation for Donald C. Brinton (2016)
His Professional Career spanning more than 40 years
Donald C. (Don) Brinton received the Order of Canada in 2016, in recognition of his truly outstanding service to the development of Canadian broadcasting across the country and particularly in his commitment to the local community and arts organizations in each of the western provinces in which he served throughout his distinguished career.
The Order of Canada was a fitting recognition of Don’s pioneering work in Canadian broadcasting at the national, regional, and local levels in a career that spanned 40 years. Don’s passion for the arts was reflected in his commitment to community service on numerous Boards over the years and the key roles that he played in developing the local arts communities in every city where he lived. Don’s 40-year career reflects his talents as a performer, producer, and senior executive in all four of the western provinces.
Born and raised in Alberta, Don graduated from the University of Alberta and started his broadcasting career in 1950 with a summer job at CFYK Radio in Yellowknife, NWT – the “Voice of the Golden North”. Bitten by the broadcasting bug, in 1951 he moved back to Edmonton and joined CFRN Radio’s news team.
In 1954 he stepped across the hall to the newly minted CFRN-TV, the first of four television stations that Don would help to launch. His was the first voice heard on CFRN-TV when the station signed on, on Sunday, October 17, 1954. Don was an integral part of the historic launch of television for the first time in central and northern Alberta, uttering the first transmitted words that introduced CFRN-TV to Edmonton: “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO CFRN-TV, AT THE SIGN OF THE TOTEM POLE, CHANNEL THREE, EDMONTON”.
During Don’s tenure at CFRN-TV he was the co-host of the popular Noon Show, exhibiting his talent for performing in many skits and musical segments. In fact, Don met his wife Lois of many years, who passed away in 2011, through producing her father’s lumberyard commercial “live on air” where Lois was the young star of the show.
In the local arts community in Edmonton, Don became involved in live theatre as both an actor and producer, helping well-known actor/director Jack McReath start up Walterdale Theatre. In his community service dedication, Don aided the promotion of the Yellowhead Highway, an important route for the economy of the City of Edmonton. He was also very active with the early development of Klondike Days, Edmonton’s major summer festival that continued for more than 20 years. Don also spent several years on the executive of the University of Alberta Alumni Association and serving during that time on both the University Senate and the Board of Governors.
In 2004, CFRN-TV had its 50th Anniversary. Don and some of the old gang were invited to the party!
After many years helping to build the new CFRN-TV in Edmonton, in 1964 Don was enticed to Saskatoon to become Vice President and GM for CFQC-TV. Here his passion for providing local programming to reflect the community continued. Don developed the public affairs program Big Q Country and was also one of its regular panelists.
Under Don’s watch, CFQC-TV implemented other local programs including open line health and legal programs and the Higgins Report on provincial politics, a sharp new approach to local political programming.
During his tenure at CFQC-TV, the station received Canada’s “Station of The Year” award from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters on two occasions – in 1970 and 1972. As part of his community role, Don devised and implemented the Louis Riel Day, featuring events on the banks of the South Saskatchewan river at Diefenbaker Park. The Louis Riel Relay Race, a major focus of the day was designed by Brinton, and featured teams that raced on horseback, on foot, and swan the river, reminiscent of the earlier days of the Saskatchewan Metis. The Right Hon John Diefenbaker attended and officially opened the park during the inaugural event.
However, that was not the first time these two men had met. In 1962 Don produced “Face The Newsmen” in Edmonton where Diefenbaker was the guest. Don continued to support the arts in his new community, serving as President of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and President of the Mendel Art Gallery.
As a community businessman, Don continued his involvement with the Yellowhead Association, participating in the opening ceremonies for the newly completed Yellowhead Highway that passed through Saskatoon on its way to Edmonton and BC. It was also during his years in Saskatoon that Don became a founding member of CanPro, a national organization of private television stations, English and French.
The Founders Committee, as the original group became known, included representatives from private television stations across the country. They first got together for a two-day meeting in the fall of 1972, to provide the platform for a Festival that would give local Canadian television programming more exposure. Its purpose was to bring together programmers to show their programs and discuss ideas, production problems and solutions - in short to share and improve local programming across the country. The Festival was designated to take place alternately in Western and Eastern Canada and to be held in all sizes of markets.
Don took the next leap in his career in the growing television industry by joining forces with Israel (Izzy) Asper’s CanWest Broadcasting Ltd in 1975. Asper’s successful bid to build a third television station in Winnipeg began a decades-long relationship between Don and Izzy.
As Executive Vice President and General Manager, Don was responsible for starting up the new independent station and in 1979 was appointed President and CEO of CanWest. A cornerstone of the new station, and reflective of Don’s vision, was its commitment to local talent and the promotion of local programs in its schedule.
Acting as executive producer, Don was to spearhead The CanWest Drama Project that ran from 1981 to 1988. CanWest’s vision for the Project was to develop and produce local television dramas that, because of the degree of difficulty and high costs, were largely avoided by Canadian TV stations. These concerted efforts bore fruit and in 1984 CKND-TV received the Rockie Award for “Best Drama Special” at the Banff Television Festival, with its production “In the Fall” based on a story by Alistair MacLeod.
Further, in 1985 the Banff Festival selected the station as the first recipient of the “Quebec-Alberta Prize for Innovation in the Art of Television”. In awarding the prize to CKND-TV, the Banff Festival stated: “As a private broadcaster, CKND has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to Canadian television drama that is locally produced and rooted in the history, literature and culture of its region and of a standard that has gained international recognition”. CKND went on to win more than 75 national and international awards for its productions, and CKND-TV earned itself the title of “Canada’s most honoured station”. Many of the regional producers, directors and talent got their start through CanWest drama initiatives.
Don led the expansion of CanWest from the “single station that could” to an additional pair of stations in Saskatoon and Regina, and then Vancouver by the late 1980’s. The growth of CanWest’s presence in the West was in large part attributable to Don’s tireless work to build a broadcasting company that took pride in its western roots and its western voice. While at CanWest Don served on the Board of the Banff Television Festival and the Academy of Canadian Film and Television.
Don played a major leadership role at all levels of the Canadian broadcasting industry. He served two distinguished terms as Chair of the Canadian Association of Broadcasting (CAB). His contributions to broadcasting were recognized in 1983 when he was named Broadcaster of the Year and Honorary Life member in 1990 by the Western Association of Broadcasters. He received the Gold Ribbon Award for distinguished service to Canadian broadcasting from the CAB in 1987 and was inducted into the CAB’s Hall of Fame, Canadian private broadcasting’s highest individual honour, in 1994.
By 1988, Don was appointed Vice Chairman of CanWest Global Communications Corp., and moved to Vancouver to oversee the transition of CKVU-TV to the CanWest stable. CanWest’s subsequent financial support of Canadian drama, documentary and variety programming in the early 1990’s came at a crucial time for the developing independent production community in Canada, particularly in the West.
By 1991, Don was semi-retired but remained as a consultant to CanWest in its international expansions to Australia and New Zealand. And 1993 found Don back in Alberta as part of CanWest’s bid to open new stations in the province. In recent years, Don was assisting the Royal Alberta Museum with its communications collection featuring Alberta’s broadcasting history.
Don’s remarkable career earned him the respect of his peer broadcasters, government agencies, federal regulators, independent producers and cultural associations. It was Don’s personal mission to help create great Canadian stories and his vision to find ways to develop and support Canadian talent that has been one of the hallmarks of his career and lifetime.
Even in retirement Don founded a PROBUS branch in West Vancouver, a highly successful club for retired business people, and continued to be active in his community.
As well as spending time with family up at the cottage in Sechelt, Don still liked to travel into his 90s, including several family winter getaways to Mexico.
And still playing the harmonica during impromptu family music afternoons on the patio during the pandemic (2020)