Vladimir (Frank) Prazak: Photojournalist. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Born May 25, 1926, in Prague; died Aug. 23, 2018, in Mississauga, Ont., of heart failure; aged 92.
Vladimir Prazak’s journey to Canada began in 1947, when he abandoned his fishing gear at the border to escape the oppressive Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. He was 21, leaving behind family and friends, and the only way of life he had known. He walked to Vienna, where he was immediately thrown in jail. He narrowly avoided deportation back to Czechoslovakia and supported himself as a mushroom picker under the divided regime in Vienna. From Vienna, he immigrated to England, where he was first put to work in the farm fields and then as a dishwasher in hotel kitchens.
His dream was to immigrate to America and, in 1950, Vladimir booked passage on a boat from England and arrived in New York with $15 in his pocket. In New York, he worked as a short-order cook but decided that his true passion was photography. He saved up for a camera and thus began his career as a photojournalist. The black-and-white photographs that he took in New York, and later in Montreal, were evocative portraits of ordinary people and are still among his best works.
While in New York, he met his first wife, Leona. Their son, Robbie, was born in New York but, in 1953, the family moved back to Leona’s hometown of Montreal. Once settled, Vladimir landed a job that he loved: staff photographer for Weekend Magazine, a weekly supplement that appeared in newspapers across Canada. Assignments took him around the world and the country, from a cattle drive in Western Canada to the last “Newfie Bullet” train. He photographed news makers such as John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau, Bobby Orr, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and many others. A sports writer at the magazine once asked him, “What kind of a name is Vladimir?” But he wasn’t too keen on the middle name either: Frantiskek. So they settled on Frank, and it stuck.
Frank’s claim to fame was his innovative hockey photography shot during the late 1950s and 1960s. He was the first photographer in Canada to put a camera in the net, providing a unique perspective on the energy and essence of the game. He was also one of the first to use colour film in hockey. Around 2,500 of Frank’s photographs from that period reside in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Frank and Leona split up in the mid 1960s and he moved to Nun’s Island in Montreal, where I met him in 1969. There was a 21-year age difference, but Frank was the most interesting and determined person I have ever known. After I met him, he took up running and ran marathons in Montreal, Ottawa and Boston (he carried a camera and took pictures while running the Boston Marathon). In 1979, we moved to Toronto and Frank, now semi-retired, decided to make his own wine, one of them won Best Red Wine in Show from the 1992 Amateur Winemakers of Ontario.
Our son Jason was born in 1979, too, and Frank spent a lot of time with him. He passed along his culinary skills to Jason and coached his junior soccer team. Our two grandchildren, Jackson, 6, and Eden, 2, were the joy of Frank’s twilight years.
Penny Prazak is Frank’s wife.
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