The downside of social media is that sometimes you find out bad news on a computer screen, that perhaps should be heard first privately. Such was the case last week in the passing of northern icon, Ben Meisner.
Sadly,Ben fell ill during an ice-fishing trip in Winnipeg and never made it back home to Prince George,cancer taking the man whose strong word and booming tones earned him the affectionate title of ‘ Voice of the North’.
Despite being born and raised just north of the city,I never knew Ben personally when I actually lived in the city, but I do recall my father having a choice word or two occasionally in reaction to something Ben might have said or written. That’s how Ben was. You might not agree with him, but he would tell it like he saw it and be damned with your reaction.
Several years ago, somehow Ben found my site and started reading some of my work. He contacted me, we had quite a chat and he invited me onto his show for the first time. We talked about how I started blogging and why, and although we disagreed on a lot of things, it was clear he deeply loved my hometown as much as I did.
I also had the pleasure of joining him live in his studio on one visit back home, for a longer on-air conversation about the city of Prince George, and my impressions after being gone for so long.
Ironically this visit coincided with an event that raised the ire of many PG residents – and the wrath of Ben. Former mayor Sherri Green had her media rep send Opinion 250 a note saying she would no longer comment,answer his questions or reply to him,his show or publication. ( not that she did in the first place, but putting it in writing spoke to her inexperience and naiveté as a politician)
The ensuing Free for all Friday- a regular feature on Ben’s radio show- was epic. It was classic Ben, no holds barred and full of thunder.
Ben and his colleague Peter Ewart held Sherri Greens feet to the fire her entire term- she declined to run in the last election and lost the federal Conservative nomination as well.
Many in the city will also recall how Ben was a force to be reckoned with in the north – his vociferous opposition to the Kemano Completion Project stands testament to this . I was pleased to see a write up on this by Charlie Smith over the weekend:
“When I heard that veteran Prince George broadcaster and writer Ben Meisner had died at the age of 76, it brought back memories of the battle against the Kemano Completion Project.
Meisner, along with former CKNW talk-show host Rafe Mair, played pivotal roles in the defeat of Alcan’s plan to divert massive amounts of water from the Nechako River in the early 1990s to produce more aluminum at its smelter in Kitimat.
It was one of the most controversial industrial projects in modern B.C. history, ranking up there with the Northern Gateway pipeline.
The Nechako is a major tributary of the Fraser River fishery. During that time, government and nongovernment scientists issued gloomy forecasts about the impact of Alcan’s plan on the Fraser River salmon runs.
Environmentalists, led by Burnaby resident Mae Burrows and Greenpeace’s Catherine Stewart, worked extremely hard to educate the public about complicated issues such as the effect of lower water levels on river temperatures and the resulting impact on fish mortality. First Nations also became heavily involved in the debate.
Meisner served the province well by wrapping his mind around all of this and passing this information along to his listeners of his radio show and readers of his newspaper columns.
The controversy, which was largely whipped up in the media by Mair and Meisner, led then-Opposition leader Gordon Campbell to condemn the project. Then-premier Mike Harcourt sought a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, which issued a damning report leading to the cancellation of the project.
It can be argued that through his diligent efforts as a journalist, Meisner helped save Fraser River salmon runs for a generation. How many of his peers in the business can make a claim like that?”
I liked and respected Ben, and on the occasions we talked his greeting was always: ” Hey kiddo…”
I’m sad I didn’t get to see him again before he passed. Whether you agreed with his politics or not- and many did not- I know Ben loved Prince George and wanted to do right by the city. And he did.
I’m hoping the city finds another voice as loud as Ben’s- it’s a great city with a lot to offer. But even if they do, no one can replace Ben Meisner as the Voice of the North. He was one of a kind.
My condolences to all who knew Ben; his friends, family and colleagues.