Gone Fishing

Northern Ontario has long been a fisherman’s paradise. With thousand of freshwater lakes and rivers, many in isolated locals, there is world-class fishing to be found all over our region. Most residents have “dipped a line” at least once in their lifetimes. The sport is not for everyone—”boring” and “monotonous” are common complaints—but, for those it sets its hook in, fishing can become a passion. Aficionados describe fishing as “serene” and “revitalizing”. There must be something to their claims because this one-time weekend hobby is now a multi-billion-dollar industry.

North America sees thousands of fishing tournaments run every year. There are even several TV networks dedicated to it. Fishing TV and WFN (World Fishing Network) show fishing. All. Day. Long. Non-stop. In Canada we make due with Outdoor Life where fishing merely dominates their programming. Amidst a handful of hunting and camping show are these fish-focussed gems: The Dimestore Fishermen; Roadfish; Jokers Wildd Off the Hook; Lindner’s Angling Edge; and BC Outdoors Sport Fishing.

That’s a far cry from the modest timeslot given The King Whyte Show. Debuting in the 1950s the 15-minute-long program, airing after CBC’s hugely popular Hockey Night In Canada, featured the host—a former radio broadcaster and WWII veteran—travelling the length and breadth of our nation to fish and hunt on camera…all while conducting interviews.

King Whyte, Addie Sweezey, Al Snider (l-r) at Shoo-Fly Lodge. Mile 45 west of Capreol. May 31, 1955. “The finest fishing for big speckled trout in Ontario.”
Out of Doors appeared in the Toronto Star and Sudbury Daily Star

Born in 1911 as James John Patrick Whyte, young Jim was raised in Montreal but also spent time in Winnipeg before travelling through the U.S. He changed his name on the advice of his vaudeville agent, Jim sounded “too common” and an entertainer at the time needed something more memorable. He became King Whyte in 1930, performing under that name for the first time in Reno, Nevada’s Granada Theatre on December 8th as the 19-year-old company lead in the King Whyte Players’.

Performing throughout America, King found success in live theatre but eventually made his way into radio. There his audiences grew as he climbed from small stations up to medium. That career was peaking when, in 1939, King Whyte—then of Zanesville, Ohio—became the first radio announcer in the country to join the war. Military duty meant more voice work for the Canadian and, again, his dedication and natural talent pushed him through the ranks.

1943 saw King Whyte assigned Liaison Officer at the Directorate of Public Relations. The he worked to “to facilitate the despatch, transit and delivery of overseas still pictures and motion picture film.”  By June 1944, King was ordered to C.M.H.Q. in England there he took over narration of Canadian Army Newsreels.

“THE VOICE – The owner of the pleasant new voice, the commentator for the Canadian Army Film Unit Lt. King-White, who crossed the pond over three months ago and has been recording on our behalf ever since. Back in America King-White was well known in South Western United States and Canadian radio circles prior to enlisting and joining Public Relations at NDHQ. (The Viewfinder – Prod. 1 – 30 August 44 – Page 3 – Roll 13)

Ever the keen observer, King Whyte wrote home often and, following the war, his letters were gathered into a book entitled, appropriately enough, Letters Home. As a journalist he covered many important events in the war and was amongst the first newsmen to witness the atrocities performed in Nazi concentration camps. A happier moment is recorded in the following excerpt:

Letters Home – May 5, 1945 – Somewhere in Germany – Well, the war in the west is over. Yesterday I was the only Canadian (correspondent) present when field Marshal Montgomery met with the German delegates and signed the papers of unconditional surrender. It was a wonderful sight. You will see it in the newsreels—I was standing beside the camera. The day before, I went forward and shook hands with the Russians. A chap by the name of Larry Solon and I were the first correspondents to make contact.”

Following the war King Whyte, long an avid sportsman, turned his passion into profession with CBC TV and the eponymous The King Whyte Show. At the time King was a columnist for the Toronto Star with his “Out of Doors” and a commentator on CBC radios “Ontario Sportsman” program. Featuring short films and brief interviews about hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor sports The King Whyte Show broke ground in the television industry in ways both big and small. (Numerous films featuring King Whyte are available in the CBC archives and Library & Archives Canada.)

King Whyte refused to rest on his laurels and used his growing fame to raise funds for the less fortunate, attending dinner functions throughout his later career that benefitted charitable causes. He was especially keen to help First Nations children and arranged for donated skates to be given to many remote communities after seeing several children taking turns sharing skates while playing on a frozen lake during one of King’s frequent northern tours.

His presence at banquets and shows increased their draw and it didn’t take long for sportsman organizations to advertise his name—often featuring “King Whyte” prominently in full-page ads, such as the one below: 

It was at one such banquet where King Whyte, still hale at only 51, would unexpectedly pass. Dying of heart failure while dining at Le Relais, a resort lodge in Quebec’s Laurentide Park, it proved a sad ending for such an active man. There can be no doubt, however, that King Whyte made the most of his time. 

The King Whyte Show is still fondly remembered and the program, though long gone, shapes sportsman TV to this day. Its host made his way across Canada, passing through Capreol by train en route to moreremote destinations, bringing the eyes of a fascinated nation with him.

Posted on: June 19, 2022, by :