The real story of Newport ’83 was the contest between daring and elitism.
In typical Canadian fashion the elimination of our entry was written off as an inevitable failure which should teach us to stay out of big boys’ games.
It was no such thing.
Canada l’s crew performed daily miracles with equipment that allowed no margin for error and one-eighth the traditional work-up time. Best of all, in all those elimination races when Canada was mathematically out of contention, Terry McLaughlin and his brave crew did not quit, losing their final race by a shivering 19 seconds. Our standing in the semifinals was a most honorable of mentions. To complain about Canada l’s performance is like being disappointed that Terry Fox did not make it past Thunder Bay.
But trimming genoas and grinding winches were only the most visible part of the contest. Behind the duel afloat was the delicate private task of collecting the $6 million required to finance Canada’s entry. The other challengers were backed by individual angels with apparently limitless funds.
Credit for dreaming up the idea of a Canadian challenge and having the nerve to keep striving against increasingly impossible odds goes to Marvin McDill, the Calgary lawyer who created the semimythical Secret Cove Yacht Club to sponsor the Canada 1 campaign. “The America’s Cup,” McDill told Maclean’s last week, “is a combination of human skill, technological expertise, black art and good luck—that’s what makes it such a challenge.”
McDill strained the fiscal resources of western Canadians, not usually noted for their philanthropic impulses, but eventually reached low ebb. To the rescue came four members of the eastern Canadian yachting fraternity who became the main pivots of the fund-raising drive: Cedric Gyles (president of Reed Stenhouse), A.G.S. Griffin (former chairman of Home Oil), Robert Grant (former owner of Overland Transport) and John Lockwood (former chairman of Carling O’Keefe). “It was a magnificent exercise, conducted against odds that oscillated between daunting and impossible,” recalled Griffin, who was manager of the Canadian Olympic sailing team in 1976. “We did it to support a dedicated and skilled crew oper-
ating under severe disadvantages and with the belief that a Canadian entry could become a unifying symbol and was years overdue. Also, we knew that the eastern Canadian yachting establishment would never really have the guts to do it. Marvin McDill and his men from the West may not have known what they were getting into, but they did get it going and they managed to invest the effort with a combination of blind faith and gallantry.”
Griffin and his fellow organizers staged a swift fund-raising drive for $2.3 million, which included $157,000 in $5, $10 and $100 contributions from yacht club members all over the country. Except for Labatt’s, which became a major corporate sponsor, most company treasurers spun their wheels, citing the tough economic climate, and primly raised their eyes heavenward while invoking responsibility to shareholders, which prevented them from
We did it to support a dedicated and skilled crew operating under severe disadvantagesit was gears overdue ’
supporting anything so frivolous as a sailboat. Well-founded doubts about whether or not Canada 1 would ever get to the starting line made fund-raising so difficult that corporate giving amounted to only $390,000. Apart from Labatt’s, the largest corporate givers (at $100,000 each) were Alcan and Carling O’Keefe. The Ontario government threw in $45,000.
Because most of the contributors to the Canada 1 campaign made anonymity a condition of their donation, no complete log of how the money was raised is possible. But a partial tally, from various sources, shows how some public-spirited Canadians rallied to the cause. The largest contribution, a “loan” of $2 million, came from Verne Lyons, the head of Ocelot Industries in Calgary (whether or not that “loan” will eventually be turned into a gift is still being negotiated). The second most generous benefactor was another Calgarian, Harold Siebens, who promised a dollar for every three raised by the Toronto group. It cost him $260,000. James Richardson, of the Winnipeg grain fam-
ily, chipped in $200,000. Michael Cowpland, head of the Ottawa Valley’s Mitel Corp., and his wife donated $150,000, while $100,000 each came from the Calgary-based Christie Foundation, the Syd Kahanoff Foundation and from Howard Webster.
Fredrik Eaton, Galen Weston and the McLean Foundation gave $20,000 each, and 36 individual donors sent cheques for $10,000. This latter group included Irving Gerstein (People’s Jewellers), Frank Bazos (Becker’s Milk), Douglas Bassett (Baton Broadcasting), Joe Barnicke (Toronto real estate), James Crang (architect), Clifford Hatch (Hiram Walker Resources), Douglas Hatch (Bright’s wines), Michael Davies (publisher of the Kingston Whig-Standard), Gordon Fisher (Southam Inc.), Robert Grant (retired director), Lawrence Heisey (Harlequin Books), David Howard (Citicom), Senator William Kelly (CanArctic), Egerton King (Canadian Utilities), Murray Koffler (Shoppers Drug Marts), Radcliffe Latimer (Trans-Canada PipeLines), Leighton McCarthy (Bay Street investment broker), William McLean (Canada Packers), Helen Phelan (wife of Paul Phelan of Cara foods), Christopher Steer (Toronto insurance), Irving Ungerman (promoter), Walter and Duncan Gordon (Canadians) and Hartland Molson, who would have given more but for Labatt’s overall sponsorship. Another $10,000 came from Cavalier Investment Club, a bluechip group of Toronto’s big hitters which meets to compare debt-equity ratios, headed by Alf Powis, chairman of Noranda.
Paul Phelan holds a $291,000 mortgage on Canada 1 and has agreed to make a $100,000 gift if the balance is paid off. The syndicate still faces a $250,000 operating deficit, but not all of the donations have yet been collected.
The success of the fund-raising effort has prompted hopes for a return match. “Of course we’ll be there,” says McDill, the man who started it all. “We’ve already begun to put the pieces together for another shot.” The main concern of those planning a renewed challenge is avoiding the kind of last-minute effort that had to be mounted last year. They hope to have two-thirds of the funds (about $5 million) available from the start. With Conrad Black as host, there is already a dinner list floating around with 70 names on it, all of them with personal and/or corporate fortunes large enough to launch Canada 2.
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