Monday, June 14, 2010

Keen at Kittiwake

Journalist who dogged the fat cats finds peace at Kittiwake
The Edmonton Journal
Tue May 10 1994
Page: B1

Eddie Keen is the hero of Alberta's outsiders. Eddie is also the greatest Alberta journalist from the generation born during the Depression.

He was one of my childhood heroes. I grew up listening to CHED, as did every kid in the Edmonton area in the '70s. There was no MuchMusic; CHED was it if you wanted to hear Top 40 hits.

The station had a strange mix. Along with Trooper and Peter Frampton, it offered up deejay Wes Montgomery's stories about carousing with Tom Wilkinson, and, four times a day, Eddie Keen.

Eddie was never a friend of the Kleins and Pocklingtons. He stood up for people on welfare, not the upper class. He resisted the urge to become respectable. He cared only about the opinion of his wife Shirley and his own ideals.

Eddie is 61 now. If he hadn't made a habit of kicking the establishment's butt, he'd likely still be working in the media. But Eddie gave his last editorial on CHED radio three years ago. He wrote his last newspaper column for the Edmonton Sun in December. He says his days were numbered at the tabloid after he compared the Klein government's policies to Bosnia, calling them "economic cleansing."

"Of course, The Sun is the premier and the Reform party's chief cheerleaders," he says. "What I was doing wasn't going down well, so I was sent on my way for political incorrectness from The Sun's perspective."

Eddie lives northeast of Edmonton at Kittiwake, his farm near Smoky Lake. He and Shirley are working hard to turn Kittiwake into a bed and breakfast retreat for artists, writers, academics and anyone else looking for peace.

"I don't even think about the city," he says. "Isn't that strange?

"I get the papers every day. I used to devour them and I'm sort of now saying, `What the hell is the relevance to my life up here?' "

Eddie is returning to his rural Alberta roots. He was a St. Paul boy who dreamed of being a Mountie, a railway engineer, a doctor, a lawyer and a priest. As a high-school student, he started up a campaign to rid St. Paul of "smut" - not Playboy, but Sun Bathing Annual.

He was a Catholic convert. As a young man, he spent time at a monastery. Later in his career, he would be derided for having a missionary complex. He doesn't mind. "I don't think there is anything wrong with being a missionary for good."

He worked for The Journal from 1953-70. He started as a hot-shot cop reporter. He roared around the city in a red Volkswagen with a police radio. He would sometimes get to a crime scene before the police arrived. He wore a trench coat and carried a starter's pistol for show.

Eddie became a court and legislature reporter, then city editor. He says he wasn't a good editor - too impatient, no taste for administration.

He also wondered about the paper's coverage. "I kept thinking that what we were doing was irrelevant, covering press conferences and speeches in the legislature and all this stuff. To me, we were missing something. But I couldn't articulate it and I didn't articulate it until I got on to the radio. And then I knew what was wrong. There are people living in slums and the slum landlords are getting away with it. People are being screwed with the car market and in business and there's political corruption and nobody seems to be talking about it or care."

At CHED, Eddie wrote about bribes in local politics, police beating up people, and car dealer ripoffs. Most of all, he named names. The establishment called him flippant and sensationalistic, but CHED's teenage listeners became Keen zealots. They were enraptured by this rare adult who said what they already knew to be true, that the powerful ran things and the little guy got bashed around a lot.

"I tried to be totally honest on the air and this is what shocked everybody," Eddie says.

When The Sun came to Edmonton, Eddie became its local voice. But his work was always best on the radio.

"I'm not a good writer. I'm a storyteller, but you're not going to find a phrase that echoes through time coming from me. You're going to hear very plain talk.

"You're not Hemingway or somebody on the radio. You're just having a chat with somebody over coffee."

Many journalists suck up to the powers that be. Eddie was one of the few who blasted them and wasn't interested in their side of the story.

"As far as I'm concerned, a slum landlord doesn't have a side of the story," he says.

Once, Eddie was hammering away at a crooked car dealer. He had just got off the air when the phone rang. The sweet little voice of an eight-year-old girl said, "Mr. Keen, I am (the car dealer's) daughter. Is my daddy a crook?"

"Do you love your daddy?" Eddie asked.

"Yes, I do."

"Then you just listen to your daddy and don't pay any attention to Eddie Keen."

Eddie Keen is the answer to anyone who says this province doesn't have a heart.

He was the champion of the outsiders in this province who fought against not only the harsh elements, but also an ornery establishment. He helped people no one else would touch.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there Eddie, my name is Vivian, I called you in the 80's about my brother Patrick who was a minor, wrongfully locked up in Westfield juvenile to lighten my mother's load, where they performed electric shock therapy on him, wondering if you could contact me or send me a copy of this story you wrote at