Robert Lansdale

As a press photographer during the 1950's Robert Lansdale MPA HLM of Etobicoke, ONT., was assigned by the Toronto Star to shoot the first Grey Cup game ever played in Vancouver, British Columbia. All the film was processed in a makeshift darkroom under the stadium with pictures wire-photo'd immediately to Toronto for that day's editions. By the time the game was over and all the dressing room activities had been covered, there was only an hour left before Bob was scheduled to catch a plane back to Toronto. Getting to the plane on time was no problem, but taking all the negatives with him to make original prints for the Monday papers WAS a problem.

"There before me," says Bob, "was a sink full of very wet 4x5 negatives and we had no possible chance of drying them fast enough in that make-shift darkroom. Well, they had to go with me so we started scouting around for ideas and materials. I finally bundled them in thoroughly-wet blotters which was then wrapped in bread loaf wrappers and candy packages that I found up in the stands. The flight to Toronto was an all-night milk run that stopped at every city across the Western Prairies. This stretched-out schedule could mean a mass of stuck negatives by the time we got to Toronto, so at every stop I ran for the men's washroom and filled several wash basins to separate and rewet the films. This created quite an attraction as curious patrons in the rest rooms learned of what I had in the bowls. They started asking all sorts of questions about the game and I ended up giving an illustrated lecture in every men's washroom from Vancouver to Toronto. By the end of the flight the films were still OK, were thoroughly washed and were DEFINITELY ready for drying."

Bob was dispatched to cover the Springhill Mine Disaster in Nova Scotia. It was the Fall of 1956 with the long vigils at the minehead - cold, miserable and fatiguing. To seek respite one of the reporters, Robert MacDonald, took advantage of the waiting ambulances by slipping inside for a snooze on the inviting stretchers. The engine was kept running to be ready for any emergency, so, with the warmth and comfort, the reporter was soon fast asleep. But the back door was left ajar and the engine fumes soon filled the interior with carbon monoxide. Luckily, one of the drivers checked his vehicle and found an unconscious victim. So it was the reporter who was the first victim to be rushed to the hospital.

On that same assignment reporter Edwin Feeney felt ill, complaining of chest pains to his heart. He was immediately rushed to hospital and admitted for observation. By chance, he was bedded in a ward where mine victims were also located. It became a regular schedule for fellow reporters to visit their stricken compatriot so that Feeney could slip us the interviews he had extracted from his roommates. Feeney even convinced mine victims to have their pictures taken. Ruse or not, Bob recalls that the same 'illness' overcame other reporters when it was convenient to get interviews from hospitalized victims.

When Bob worked for Federal News Photos in Toronto, an agency of press photographers, he was always given the task to replace blown electrical fuses, something that happened all to often at night when the offices would be thrown into pitch darkness. Fellow photographer, Bill Russell, hated to touch anything electrical and persistently declined when anything of that nature needed repair. One evening when the fuse blew, Bob chose to be stubborn and resolutely downed tools to force Bill to, once-and-for-all, face reality and change the fuse. Bill denies the story but....! The electrical panel was housed in a small eerie closet and into this Bill gingerly stepped, lighting his way with matches and timorously fiddling with the errant fuse. It became quite a pantomime as each match burned low, scorching Bill's fingers, then much scrambling in the dark to light another and continue with the extraction. Of course, everyone relished his predicament. Suddenly Bob was inspired to fiendish devilment and at the precise moment that the new fuse was inserted into its socket Bob grabbed up his strobe flash and fired off a blast of light. Fuse and match flew into the air with a yelp exploding from Bill as he imagined a rush of electricity tearing through his body. He never touched a fuse again. And guess who had to change them all from that time onwards?

"A beer store clerk had been killed during a robbery in Toronto and the papers played the story for some time. It appeared to the police that it might have been an accidental shooting with a ricocheting bullet hitting the victim. The papers appealed to the gunman to give himself up. Phil Jones, reporter for the Globe & Mail, received an anonymous tip that the killer would meet him on a specific evening at Dufferin and St. Clair Avenue. Bob recalls, "At the appointed hour Phil, in his regulation reporter's raincoat, was waiting discreetly by the specified lamp-post. But mysteriously, the tip had been leaked to all the other papers and parading in the passing crowd were at least half a dozen of Toronto's recognizable press photographers. All were carrying shopping bags with their Speed Graphics and flash equipment hidden inside. I was determined to record this scenario somehow so I hid my camera in a cardboard box and carried it to a vantage point on a streetcar safety island. I set the box on the ground, ostensibly to tie my shoelace but slipped out a false panel and grabbed a time-exposure. Well, it turned out to be a false alarm and was, more likely, a prank by a fellow reporter. After several hours waiting and parading we all adjourned to a restaurant to lower our disguises. That's when Phil admitted he enjoyed watching the antics of his fellow pressmen trying to be invisible. We all tripped back to the scene to restage and photograph our memorable adventure as under cover agents."

While on assignment in Europe, Bob got a rush message to join the Marilyn Bell crew at Calais as she made ready to become the youngest person to swim the English Channel. Recalls Bob, "The swim was sponsored by the Toronto Telegram and I was received with cool reservation as most of my assignments identified me with the rival Toronto Star. On the morning of the swim, all our luggage was ferried out to the main boats. I stripped down to pants and shirt then sent my shoes, money and passport out with the bags. I was just starting to use a strobe flash and many feared a short circuit could surely electrocute me while wading in the water. But the kick-off went well as Marilyn headed out to deep water and I returned to the beach to await pickup by the last shuttle. All the boats gradually disappeared over the horizon and I finally realized that I had been forgotten -or unceremoniously dumped. Left behind with no money and no passport I was in a real predicament. The hotel staff eventually took me into their care and made arrangements to find running shoes. All stores were closed for Sunday and they could provide only a pair that was a full size too small. In mid-afternoon just as I was heading for the ferry to England, a launch came skimming over the waters and landed at the beach. Dorothy Howarth, writer on the Telegram team, had been sent back for a jar of Lanolin grease to fend off the jelly-fish that were stinging Marilyn. I was only a secondary thought but was included on the return trip back to the plodding swimmer. I finally I joined the marathon swim when it was three quarters complete. In a way, I was lucky as most everyone was sea sick from the rolling channel waters and sun burned by the hot overhead sun. I didn't stay there long as I was dispatched to a stretch of beach at Dover under the high chalk cliffs where the Captain predicted our young Canadian swimmer should land. Again, it became a waiting game and I watched the flotilla sweep back and forth with the flowing tides. But patience did pay off as Marilyn came crawling up the beach practically at my feet. My new fangled strobe paid off handsomely as I quickly cranked off shot after shot while others fumbled to reload their flash bulbs. It wasn't until I got back to Canada that I saw the papers for the first time. As the forgotten photographer I had run off with the photo coverage; I had the start... enough of the middle... and the finish."

"Press photography in the city can be boring at times but you never know when you'll be thrust into the midst of an exciting news break. On a cold wintery Saturday I was sent scurrying to a farm in the Caledon area where it was reported a youth was holding the police at bay with a loaded gun. It seems that the youth's parents attempted to sell a pet horse and the boy had chosen to protect his closest friend. Radio reports described a berserk youth firing at the police. By the time I arrived the squads of police, who had unsuccessfully searched the house and barn, had decided to play a different game. They departed leaving only one officer in the home with the parents. Star reporters soon invaded the home to interview the parents and enjoy the warmth of the fire. I joined them there but our solitude was upset when a reporter yelped, 'He's coming round the back!' We all jumped to the window to see for ourselves and were surprised when the young man burst through the door at our backs, threatening us with his rifle. Reporter, Ron Laytner, skipped out the front door and ran half a mile to a gas station to phone in the latest development of the story. He made the last edition for the weekend with headlines that screamed of Star reporters being trapped by the armed and berserk youth. Meanwhile, the boy ordered everyone out of the house; so we quickly grabbed our gear and exited to the driveway. We dragged out our departure hoping to calm the youth and gain something for the paper. He seemed calm enough, so I asked if I could retrieve my fur hat from the house, since it was so bitterly cold. He agreed and as I headed into the house I quickly changed the lens on my camera to a telephoto and started knocking off shots showing the youth aiming the rifle at the officer, his parents and the reporters. But Russell Cooper of the Toronto Telegram had been out in the barn, doing his own sleuthing and, at that very moment, snuck up from behind and overpowered the youth. I was out the door in a mad dash to record the policeman and the Tely reporter wrestling the youth into submission. In quick order the youth was bundled away, the story was over and I was heading back to the darkroom to process the dazzling photos I knew I had captured. When the Monday papers hit the streets, the Star's front page carried a king size photo of the youth being wrestled to the ground along with the story of Star reporters being threatened at gunpoint. The Tely lacked the dramatic picture coverage but blazed a headline across its front page: 'TELY SAVES STAR REPORTERS'. Someone at the Star must have felt that the Tely deserved to win full laurels in this particular battle and when the second edition hit the street my picture was ALSO on the front page of the Tely and the headline had been squelched. Some one, high up, must have sent the picture over as a token of acknowledgement. I will say that there was real danger during that confrontation as I recovered a bullet in the snow where they had apprehended the youth."

Scooping the opposition was sitting in the lap of the Tely when two bank robbers chose to come out of hiding to get a meal in a Markham restaurant. The Tely photographer, relaxing in the restaurant, recorded all the action as police pounced on the robbers and unloaded bundles of money from inside their shirts. Recalls Bob, "Assigned late to the story by the Star I was dismayed to hear that our side was scooped and it would take a miracle to produce equivalent coverage. At the police station the two arresting officers agreed to be photographed with all the money tumbling out of a box. With some coaxing, they went one step further and agreed to illustrate how they pulled the money from the robbers shirt with myself substituting for the criminal. Another Star photographer took the exposure while I covered over my face. Later on, we were able to grab shots of the robbers being led down a hall for an identification lineup. When processing the films I noticed that a photo of one of the robbers would fit exactly into the dummied up shot of me being searched by the police. We made two prints and easily stripped them together. Although no one ever admitted to fakery, the Star ran the better set of pictures covering that particular news story."

"Somehow you remember stories , not by date, but by the new equipment you've just started to use. I had just bought my first Hasselblad camera, plus a 240mm telephoto lens, when I was sent to Ottawa to cover the visit of President Eisenhower to Canada. I was in the side balcony of the House of Commons to photograph Mr. Eisenhower as he addressed the House. After the first five minutes there isn't much different to record so I was searching for anything else of interest. Along the top of the wall is a sculpted frieze that runs around the whole room. At the far end of the Chamber, it changed into a little balcony, decorated with two giant winged cherubs. There, in the arms of the carved innocents, were two CIA bodyguards with high power rifles. I swung round my Hasselblad with the telephoto and snapped off two exposures then returned before the other photographers caught on to my scoop.The Star ran the two pictures across an inside page: Eisenhower speaking at the dais beside the snipers and their guardian angels!"

PHOTO CREDIT: Unknown: Back in the press days when we were young. Taken at Churchill, Manitoba during Canadian Army exercise.

Links to Robert Lansdale online:

Back in the press days when we were young.  Taken at Churchill, Manitoba during Canadian Army exercise.