In his earliest days working in the Vancouver Sun sports department, Archie McDonald’s job was to answer the telephone. It rang. A lot.

“Hello, Hillcrest Little League. Hang on, Trout Lake Little League. Be with you in a couple of minutes, Coquitlam. How do you spell the catcher’s name? Not so fast please, I’m new here.”

An inauspicious start perhaps, but nearly forty years as a fixture in the Sun sports department began with his first elevator trip up to the Sun Tower’s fourth floor in 1957 to answer that dancing rotary.

Raised in the small community of Minstrel Island north of Campbell River before moving to Vancouver’s Kingsway and Knight area, he played soccer and lacrosse as a youth, a one-time teammate of a young John Ferguson, future NHLer and BC Sports Hall of Famer. At Vancouver College, McDonald was introduced to boxing, participating in the Bronze, Emerald, and Silver Gloves tournaments. Later, he’d coach the Vancouver College team for several years.

In his second year at UBC, McDonald took a job with the Sun as a summer replacement struggling on the news side for a month before being transferred to the sports department. He fit in immediately, working two summers full-time and acting as the UBC correspondent upon returning to school. After graduating from UBC in 1959, McDonald joined the Sun sports department’s permanent staff.

The Vancouver sports scene was very insular in those days. Most events were local and rarely went beyond British Columbia. The BC Lions were the biggest thing in town. Newspapers were one of the few ways people could get sports information. A major circulation-getter was running the city’s minor soccer schedule. “Things were a lot smaller then,” McDonald recalls.

His first beat was covering inter-city lacrosse with forays into cycling at China Creek Park and UBC basketball and football. Another task was assembling the weekly ten-pin bowling scores. The only journalism school at that time was on the job. McDonald’s ‘teachers’ worked at neighbouring desks, master writers like Dick Beddoes, who dressed as flamboyantly as he wrote, and the effortless Denny Boyd, a lifelong friend who in minutes could craft a near-perfect column.

In 1964, McDonald was assigned the horse racing beat, beginning a lifelong love with the track and its many characters. Twelve years later, he sought a change and covered the 1976 Montreal Olympics, while moving onto the Canucks hockey beat. In 1980, the Sun was searching for a second sports columnist. McDonald landed the job after writing a touching column on jockey Avelino Gomez, killed in a racing accident. For seventeen years after, he averaged four daily columns a week, rain or shine.

The changes he witnessed in the newspaper industry were staggering. From sending typewritten stories by NPR telegram—“night press rate collect”—to heaving around a whirring 20-lb ‘portable’ computer known as “the bubble,” technology marched incessantly on. Local beats morphed into worldwide events. The one thing that remained the same was the pursuit of interesting athletes and their stories.

By the time the Sun had switched to a morning paper in 1991, McDonald was considered one of the masters, perhaps the last of the outstanding Canadian columnists who cut their teeth on horse racing, like Coleman, Dunnell, Frayne, and Proudfoot. The genuine honesty and sensitivity that characterized his work made him one of the most respected individuals in the field. In 1980, he won a National Newspaper Award for a story chronicling the first race of a Hastings Park horse named Front Page Girl. Along the way there were two Sovereign Awards and induction into the BC Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1990 as a builder.

Whether it was watching Harry Jerome at the 1960 NCAA track championships in Oregon, witnessing Johnny Longden win his final ride aboard George Royal at the 1965 San Juan Capistrano or talking magic tricks with Muhammad Ali on a Vancouver park bench, he was there. Over countless Grey Cups, four Olympics, three Kentucky Derbys, and two Vancouver trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, Archie McDonald produced some of the most versatile, balanced, and eloquent sportswriting ever printed in this province.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.