In 1967, when a whale beached in Burgeo, Nfld., and some local residents mistreated it, author and environmentalist Farley Mowat, who was living in the community at the time, raised a very public protest and called for then-premier Joseph Smallwood to step in. It was a problem, and Mr. Smallwood knew who to call to fix it: labour negotiator Ted Blanchard.
It might not have seemed an obvious choice. Why not a spin doctor, or some high-profile schmoozer? But Mr. Blanchard had an incredible reputation for getting things done.
“He considered mediation and negotiation as two different processes with the same aim: bringing people of opposite views to a compromise solution,” said his friend and colleague Vic Young. Those “opposite views” could be expressed by shouts or insults or storming out of rooms, but Mr. Blanchard never lost his calm or his ability to see mutually agreeable settlements.
“So Dad was called to the House of Assembly by [Mr.] Smallwood,” recalled his daughter Kimberley Blanchard. “He was asked, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ He said, ‘Only what I’ve heard on the news, that there’s a beached whale and unfortunately people are not being very civilized.’ ‘We want you to go sort this out.’
“He had to take a plane to Burgeo, and there was a terrible snowstorm. They couldn’t land anywhere near there; he had to walk through a bog with his briefcase and his dress shoes and go find Farley Mowat. They had some discussions, they had some good talks, Dad being the voice of reason. Farley Mowat said, ‘I’ll put you in my book [A Whale For the Killing, 1972].’ Dad thought, ‘I don’t think so.’ And sure enough, when the book came out, he wasn’t there. To him it was all in a day’s work,” she said.
Mr. Blanchard had a broad career and his public service spanned the administrations of Mr. Smallwood, Frank Moores and Brian Peckford. To each premier he was a man who could fix things. While Mr. Smallwood tapped him for the Mowat situation, Mr. Moores referred to him as a genius problem-solver, and Mr. Peckford praised his realistic and timely advice.
From 1973 to 1985, Mr. Blanchard held every executive position in the Department of Labour, up to deputy minister. He then ran for and won a legislature seat and from 1985-1989 was minister of labour and the member of the House of Assembly for Bay of Islands.
All these achievements aside, most of Newfoundland probably knew Ted Blanchard first as a musician, whose career made him a household name. He was playing on radio in the 1950s with the live music shows The Happy Valley Gang (Friday nights on VOCM, 1951-1956), and Saturday Nite Jamboree (CBC, 1958-1969). During this time he released the first commercial recording of Newfoundland fiddle music, Newfoundland Old Time Fiddle Music (1957), together with his long-time musical collaborator Don Randell. The two musicians were also in the house band of the televised variety show All Around the Circle (CBC-TV, 1964-1975). “They were called the twin fiddlers,” said Mr. Randell’s daughter Susan.
These programs were extremely popular and featured the best Newfoundland musicians of the time, such as Joan Morrissey and John White. Mr. Blanchard’s many other musical groups included the Three Strings and Crooked Stove Pipe.
Along with his musical skills, Mr. Blanchard was athletic and was involved with the historic St. John’s regatta as a committee member, coxswain, coach and rower. He rowed in his last master’s race when he was a precedent-setting 78.
He died on May 22, in St. John’s, at the age of 84.
Theodore Alton Blanchard was born in Dec. 12, 1929, in Gillams in the Bay of Islands on Newfoundland’s west coast. As a teenager he worked for Bowaters in various jobs, including as a stevedore. He then entered teachers’ college, graduating in 1948.
He was assigned a sole-charge school in Trinity East and there met Joyce Randell. They married in 1950, and almost immediately suffered a crisis. Joyce was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent two years in the sanatorium in St. John’s. The illness also claimed their first child. But she recovered and they went on to have a family of five.
He worked briefly for the federal government with the Unemployment Insurance Commission, but by 1950 was with the provincial government. His positions included CEO of the Newfoundland Labour Relations Board (1959-68), and working with the Treasury Board in the 1970s where he was a pioneer in the introduction of collective bargaining in the public service. “He had a great influence on improving labour-management relations,” Mr. Young said. Mr. Blanchard served on commissions and committees studying issues such offshore oil, the forestry industry and health.
He essentially retired after his stint in provincial politics in 1989, although he still did some federal arbitration. But he focused even more consistently on music, which had always been part of his work and life. He started playing fiddle at 8, and at 12 worked in a machinery repair company to earn money to buy his first one. As a young teacher in Trinity East he ordered a music course from the United States, and taught himself the proper stance and form.
“He was a top-notch fiddler, and very, very technically correct,” said Ray Walsh, an accordionist who worked with Mr. Blanchard on Jamboree and All Around the Circle. “He was a stickler for the way he held it and every note had to be perfect. He was more a Canadian type of fiddler than an Irish type of fiddler, more like Don Messer or Ned Landry. He didn’t play Irish music, but what I’d call Ottawa Valley, and country and western.”
Mr. Blanchard loved traditional Newfoundland music but was also influenced by the American genres he had learned from playing on the U.S. military base. He received the St. John’s Folk Arts Council Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, and a Seniors of Distinction Award in 2012.
Music was just one of his passions. “He was an avid outdoorsman, very comfortable outdoors, hunting and fishing,” said daughter Kimberley. “He could do the normal things that kids growing up around the bay grew up doing, making nets and snowshoes and barrels. He made several boats. I was amazed there was room in our basement to build a boat because he was a thing-keeper. He would say, ‘One day I might need that.’ He was always resourceful.”
He was also handyman, repairing car engines, TVs and radios. He even built his own house. In the 1950s, he and a group of people got together to gain financing from Central Mortgage and Housing Corp. and created the Enterprise Housing Co-op, which allowed them to help one another construct their homes.
This can-do attitude exemplified Mr. Blanchard’s approach to life. “He was a very positive person, accommodating, a gentleman, a joy to work with,” said Mr. Walsh. “In all the years of All Around the Circle, there was never the slightest hint of a falling out.”
“And he was very dashing, very handsome,” said Susan Randell. “He was charming, always ready with a good conversation and a good joke, and always seemed young and vibrant.”
At his 80th birthday party he played fiddle for six hours, until the party wrapped at 3 a.m.
Predeceased by his first wife, Joyce, in 2002, he leaves his wife, Maureen (née Buckle), daughter Kimberley, and sons Ted, Paul, Craig and Dave.
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