This issue of the Jewish Heritage Connects looks back at an interesting piece of our community’s history, highlighting Ed Parker, a Jewish journalist and public relations officer born in Winnipeg in 1918. Photos from our treasured collection illustrate this snapshot from our commuity’s history.
ED PARKER (1918 – 1988)
Ed Parker’s memoirs titled, I Didn’t Come Here to Stay, portray an individual who sought to control his destiny by tapping into his seemingly limitless reservoir of creativity, intellect and ability to adapt to the circumstances and situations that presented themselves through the course of his life. In the words of Harry Gutkin, “Ed was a true product of Winnipeg’s North End, during the golden years of its flowering, when it gave Canada many outstanding personalities. Ed Parker was among the select group of its external creators and disturbers”. It is true that Ed Parker was a product of the North End, but it is also true that he left the North End to explore new possibilities, to expand his horizons, to make a difference in the affairs of humanity.
I first came across Ed Parker’s name by happenstance; I was going through the archival collection of the Jewish Heritage Centre seeking information on a research project (the subject of which presently escapes me) when I came across files of materials on and by Ed Parker. These reflect the breadth and range of Parker’s activities that speak to a cosmopolitan spirit steeped in the dynamism of a secular humanist perspective that recognized the extent to which his Jewish identity was enriched by an appeal to the universality of the human condition. I was particularly intrigued by his credentials as a journalist, but it must be emphasized that though in many ways journalism gave shape to Parker’s moral and intellectual fibre, it was only one aspect of his life’s work. Some time later as I was reading Lewis Levendel’s informative and entertaining history of the Jewish press in Canada, the name Ed Parker was mentioned as a columnist of the English section of the highly influential Winnipeg Yiddish paper, The Israelite Press.
For those of you who have never heard of Ed Parker, and for that matter, for those of you who have, a brief overview of his life and achievements is worth recounting as it can serve as a lesson in the art of adaptability and in the power of that human trait known as confidence, which Ed Parker exuded with great self-assurance and in measured doses. More than anything, Ed Parker, by force of personality, carved out and negotiated his unique identity by trying to establish his own rhythm, his own space in an all too cluttered and hectic world. Ed Parker mastered the art of creating and fine-tuning his value system to turn life’s challenges into opportunities.
Ed Parker was born in Winnipeg in 1918 to Rose (nee Perlmutter) and Harry Parker (Pachter). He and his brother Morten, with whom he developed a close relationship, grew up in the North End on Alfred Avenue; his memoirs are replete with names, businesses and institutions that were to fashion an exciting and historically consequential Jewish cultural milieu. The I.L. Peretz School, Talmud Torah, Miller’s Book Store, Shapira’s Photo Studio, Grosney’s Delicatessen and the Queen’s Theatre are just a few examples. His father had a long and productive relationship with The Israelite Press where at various times he was a theatre reviewer and operated the paper’s linotype. Famous Yiddish actors such as Molly Picon, Maurice Schwartz and Jacob Ben Ami would often stop by and visit Harry Parker. A family friend, Sam Berg, who Parker described as an “exciting personality” and whose greetings were effusive and delivered with merriment, founded the Western Jewish News in 1926.
Ed Parker’s foray into journalism began in the late 1930s with the aforementioned stint as English language columnist with The Israelite Press and in 1939 he became editor-in-chief of The Manitoban, the campus newspaper of United College. Later he would free-lance with the Winnipeg Tribune, Montreal Star and Ottawa Journal.
Parker’s journalistic prowess came in handy in numerous high-level positions. In 1944 he became press secretary to Saskatchewan’s CCF government cabinet. He also served as publicity officer for the Federal Ministry of Munitions and Supply in Ottawa, and in 1948 became the founding director of the School of Graphic Arts (Department of Journalism) at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. After Ryerson, Parker became Publicity Director for the Rio Tinto Mining Company’s uranium complex at Elliot Lake, Ontario, a position which he held for several years and in 1962 he formed his own public relations company. In addition, he scripted numerous CBC radio programs and taught creative writing at York University.
With great determination and reflective of a curious mind and eclectic interests, Parker explored other avenues of work. In the 1940s he was instrumental in creating recreational programs for the Ottawa Civil Service and the government of Saskatchewan; with the latter he served as Deputy Director of the Adult Education program. It is worth noting that in Saskatchewan Parker worked with former Winnipegger Dr. Cecil Sheps, a senior health department officer. Sheps convinced Parker to place an ad on the dangers of venereal disease in the government’s recreational program magazine.
The final word goes to Ed Parker’s spouse of thirty -three years, Ilene:
Ed’s image of himself was as a creative innovator. He loved the English language, the spoken word. His ideas came best conversing. One could almost see this chemistry occur when he spoke, and new innovative ideas would pop out. It was the creative process in action, sheer ‘magic’…His own performance standards were high. He drove himself, often becoming his worst enemy. When Ed sensed his energy waning, he decided to pull back in gradual stages from the public relations practice. Wanting always to give his very best, he gradually withdrew from the public scene, when he felt this was not achievable.
Levendel, Lewis. A Century of the Canadian Jewish Press: 1880s – 1980s. Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1989.
Parker, Ed. I Didn’t Come Here to Stay: The Memoirs of Ed Parker. Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History, 1993
Parker, Ed. Archives of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, JHC 393/394