In an era when daily sports writing was becoming increasingly factual and statistically oriented, Jim Taylor successfully fused wit, sarcasm, and creativity while frequently posing the most overlooked question in sports journalism: “What if?” In doing so, he became one of the most beloved and respected voices in BC sport, often better known and more entertaining than many of the sub-par teams, athletes, and events he covered.
Few writers attained such popularity and longevity writing on events that spanned the sporting spectrum from the drama of the BC Lions first Grey Cup victory in 1964, the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series, or the Vancouver Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl championship to the ridiculous Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield ear-biting fiasco in 1997. In between, he presented philosophical discussions to the reader on why Donald Duck wears no pants and what if the Lone Ranger kissed a girl. Tough subjects were tackled as well that inevitably tugged on the heartstrings.
Beginning with his first column for the Victoria Times-Colonist on senior men’s softball that he was forced to rewrite 11 times to serving as the preeminent columnist for the short-lived weekly sports magazine Sports Only in the mid-1990s, Taylor grew to be an anticipated part of many British Columbians’ everyday lives. He noted that the public came to expect his opinions, his wit, and above all, his humour on a daily basis.
“If I wrote four really tough ones in a row, we’d get calls,” he said. “‘Why isn’t Taylor makin’ me laugh?’”
After starting at the Times-Colonist in 1955 for a decade and returning for a short stint after a brief period at the old Vancouver Times, he moved to the Vancouver Sun for 13 years and then to the Province for 17. After moving on from the Province and the shut down of Sports Only a year later, he wrote a nationally syndicated column with the Calgary Sun for six years, choosing to retire in 2001 rather than move to Calgary and leave behind a lifetime of memories on the West Coast. By that point, he had written over 15,000 columns and penned at least twice as many radio commentaries.
In his written wanderings, Taylor crossed paths with many of Canada’s most important sporting figures and writers of the past fifty years. He wrote books on Wayne Gretzky, Rick Hansen, Jim Young, Igor Larionov, Dan Kepley, Greg Moore, Jim Coleman, Matt Dunigan, Dal Richards, and Bob Lenarduzzi in addition to three column collections. As he often said, “Fifteen books. Not too bad.” Some of his best work ever might be on the CFL Traditions DVD series. He singled out walking with Walter and Wayne Gretzky reminiscing about the days on the backyard rink before Wayne’s final NHL game in New York in 1999 as his favourite memory.
Taylor cited the legendary Jim Coleman and humour writer Eric Nicol as the two biggest influences upon him in developing his own unique style. While working alongside Coleman and standing on the sidelines with Nicol watching their kids’ soccer games, Taylor “went to school” soaking up the wisdom these two fine writers possessed and learning to perfect his own craft. As he related in 2005, Nicol once advised him that, “Nobody can write five great columns a week. Two will be garbage. But it’s got to be the best garbage you’ve got in you that particular day, ‘cause if you don’t do that, three will be garbage.”
It was a piece of advice Taylor never forgot, even when, for instance, he had eight minutes to get his column on the Tyson-Holyfield fight in under the deadline “and every second guy in the crowd has a gun.”
It had to be good and it had to be 1st edition. No exceptions.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
For a more in-depth look at Jim Taylor’s career, please see the January 2019 Curator’s Corner feature article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/7670/