A Tribute to Ken Liddell

Is it odd to develop a connection with someone whom you never met?

Ever since the Alberta Library made the archives of the Calgary Herald available online, I have spent hours going through old editions of the newspapers. Sometimes it is just to browse through random editions to see what catches my eye, other times it is because I am in the early stages of research of a topic and I want to see what has been written about it, especially from a perspective of someone who was there at the time.

More often than not, when I want to learn about a topic I will find Ken Liddell had written about it in his column.

Ken was born in Regina, SK in 1912 and worked in the newspaper industry his entire life, a true “newspaperman”, if I may borrow a term that was acceptable back in his day. Ken started with the Regina Leader-Post in 1930 and then moved to the Edmonton Bulletin in 1949 as provincial editor and city editor.

In 1950, he moved to the Calgary Herald where he started a column called “Furrows and Foothills”. In his first column for the Herald, he started by saying the following:

“It’ll be nice to get out and visit with the folks. Whether they are following the furrows or riding the foothills, there’s a bunch of great people — just folks — in this part of the country. And they have interesting stories to tell of how they got to be what they are.”

And that is how it would go for the next 25 years. Ken’s column would eventually run three times a week and the name “Furrows and Foothills” would be dropped in favor of the much-more-to-the-point “Ken Liddell’s Column”, but the focus would never change during his time at the Herald. His beat would expand to cover all four western provinces but it remained focused on Ken getting out onto the highways and backroads and telling the stories about what he found and who he came across.

In this regard I feel a true connection to Ken. This was a man who essentially got to live my dream and got paid for doing it. He was more focused on the people whereas I am more about the places but that’s because of my introverted tendencies. His medium was primarily the written word whereas mine is becoming more and more about video. Regardless of the tools, the spirit is the same.

It is interesting for me to think about what it would have been like to meet Ken. He was born just a couple of years before my maternal grandfather so they would have been cut from the same cloth. Both of my grandfathers died before I even reached the age of three, so I don’t know what the grandfather-grandson relationship is like, but nevertheless I feel like Ken — through the timelessness of his columns — is like a virtual grandfather to me. “Hey gramps, want to load up the car and head down to Nanton this weekend?”

I had hoped when I started digging into more recent articles about Ken that I would uncover how he lived happily into his 90s and never stopped exploring the world around him. However, it was not to be. I learned that Ken shared something else in common with my maternal grandfather. They both died in 1975 and it seem both deaths were sudden and unexpected.

In 1976 the Calgary Herald and the Travel Industry Association of Alberta established the Ken Liddell Memorial Award for excellence in reporting on the subject of tourism. Any sort of of recent reference to this award did not make itself readily available so I don’t know what became of it. If you have any information, please leave a comment and share with us.

Ken left quite a legacy. He wrote five books and an estimated 5000 columns. I think this line from the article the Herald published about his death says it perfectly:

“We know that our sorrow will be shared by countless people throughout Western Canada in cities, towns, villages, and on the farms and the ranches, for all of those were Ken Liddell’s own special beat. The people and the stories of the West were his love and his life.”

Ken lies in rest in Queens Park Cemetery in Calgary.

Sources:

September 25, 1950 (page 9 of 28). (1950, Sep 25). Calgary Herald (1939-2010) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2252983449?accountid=140093

July 7, 1975 (page 29 of 70). (1975, Jul 07). Calgary Herald (1939-2010) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2258360510?accountid=140093

July 8, 1975 (page 6 of 80). (1975, Jul 08). Calgary Herald (1939-2010) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2258148925?accountid=140093

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/200246472/kenneth-eric-liddell

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