THE RIMMER HATED COGNAC. RUM AND Coke, stingers, gin and tonics, whiskey; now those were drinks. But as a reporter on assignment in Paris in 1967 at a sidewalk cafe; on the Champs-Elysees, Rimstead dutifully followed in the path of his idol Ernest Hemingway and ordered cognac. In fact, Rimstead often found himself doing things Hemingway had done: fishing off the coast of Bimini, reporting for The Toronto Star, fighting a bull in a bullring. And after the action was over, he, also like Hemingway, delighted in portraying his manliness. For example, after a bull gored him in the leg, Rimstead told an observer, “I kept picking at the scab to try and get a real good scar. But the damn thing kept healing up.” Even on paper, the clear, short phrases of Rimsteadese resemble classic Hemingway. No wonder, since both men came of age in an era when women were wives not journalists, when drinking with the boys was serious business and when reporters hunted for good times as hard as they hunted for scoops-sometimes harder.
The Rimmer was a classic, old-style newsman who had a gift for the craft of journalistic storytelling. When he took notes-which was rare-it was on a matchbook, which he’d lose or absently toss in the trash. His violin-shaped briefcase carried a bottle of scotch, not paperwork. If there was a deadline to miss, he’d miss it; a round of drinks to buy, he’d buy it; an excuse to be irreverent, he’d take it. At the Toronto Men’s Press Club, his adventures were spun into the boozy folklore hard-living reporters loved. Unfortunately, he didn’t have Hemingway’s self-control whenever he had an opportunity to try to write a novel, which was something he claimed he always wanted to do. He could not restrain himself or be restrained. That was both his blessing and his curse. The upside was that he became a respected sportswriter, a magazine writer and a columnist the likes of which Canada has rarely seen. The downside was that he could never toast to his success with just one drink.
Fred Ross says that if Rimstead were alive today, there’d be no one like him. An old friend and former Toronto Starsenior editor, Ross worked with the Rimmer at The Kingston Whig-Standard and The Globe and Mail. He believes Rimstead, like Hemingway, had a special gift that would transcend any era. Never mind that today’s newsroom is drastically different from that of Rimmer’s heyday. Never mind that his work habits would no longer be accepted. Never mind that most of his supporters are no longer in positions of authority. “If you’re a painter of pictures with words, you’re always going to be a painter of pictures with words,” Ross says. While this may be true for Hemingway, Ross is wrong about Rimstead. If he were still with us, he might still be able to paint colourful pieces, but he’d have trouble finding an art dealer.
In the early days, however, there was always someone to write for. By the time he was 30, Paul Rimstead’s words had appeared all over Ontario. As a young reporter he’d zig-zagged from The Elliot Lake Standard to The Sudbury Star to the Whig to The Toronto Star. By 1966, he was at the Globe. At that time, ties were four and a half inches wide, the help wanted ads were divided into male and female positions and Paul was specializing in sports stories. Very good sports stories;ones that were getting noticed. There was never an ordinary game summary or dry trade update with his byline on it. No sir. Paul Rimstead wrote about the crowds at different stadiums. Or he wrote about the home-cooked food a sagging hockey team was served. Denis Harvey, former editor at The Toronto Star, says the story of the game was minor to Paul. He looked for the people stories, the characters, the strangeness. Then clearly, cleanly, he wrote so that their personalities climbed off the paper. “Without question, he is the greatest sportswriter this country’s ever seen,” Harvey says.
Which is why when Harvey took over The Canadian Magazinein 1966, he recruited Rimstead to be sports feature writer. Rimstead was rewarded with pieces like “The Goal That Death Was Watching,” about a dying minor-league hockey player who left his sick bed to score a last heroic goal.
“March 4, 1967-It was 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 11, and in a few minutes the Hershey Bears would skate out on the ice to warm up for their game against the Providence Reds.
They sat there now waiting, shifting uneasily as the tension built. Coach Frank Mathers paced nervously, wondering, perhaps, if he had made the right decision.
The game itself wasn’t worrying them. The Bears, storming along in first place in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Division, didn’t figure to have much trouble with the last-place Reds.
Yet, even the hardest veteran felt soft inside. Some of them said a prayer in silence
“Hey, you guys!” boomed Bruce Cline, an assistant captain, “Looks like we got a rookie with us tonight.”
Bruce Draper, wearing number 21, smiled, embarrassed, as his teammates laughed with the release of tension.
It was a preview of one of the most dramatic moments I have ever seen in sport-the night Bruce Draper came back. It is a story of courage and a young man’s faith in God.”
Rimstead’s tale of the young man’s brave fight before he succumbed to cancer wasn’t just a reader-pleaser, it made Harvey cry. “You could just see that person,” he says. “He had a wonderful eye for drama.” Of course, getting the Rimmer to actually produce his stories was another matter. Next door to the magazine’s office on Toronto’s lower Yonge Street was the Victoria Hotel. Harvey would book Paul a room, close the door and say, “Paul, you’re going to sit there until I get a copy out of your hands.”
Paul just didn’t have it in him to be concerned about deadlines. They were for the Serious, the Organized and the Reliable. He was an Adventurer. When the Rimmer was born in 1935 in Sudbury, his grandfather misunderstood his mother’s orders and registered him as “Napolean Rimstead” in the church and government logs. It was quickly corrected, but it started him off on a fittingly comedic foot. His family would later move to a farm in Bracebridge, where Rimstead would spend three years in the 10th grade because he couldn’t stop disturbing the class; he says the teacher eventually passed him because he “printed good.” He never bothered finishing Grade 11. At 16 he fled Bracebridge in search of adventure. A series of short-term jobs followed, one of which was as a Fuller Brush man when Hurricane Hazel hit southern Ontario in 1954. A few years later, he landed at his first job at the North York Enterprise.
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