As one of the three founding fathers of CanoeFM, Don Cameron’s legacy will live on through the airwaves of Haliburton County’s non-profit radio station.
Cameron passed away Jan. 17 following a three-year battle with bowel cancer. He was 88.
His association with the Highlands stretches back more than 50 years. He and wife, Joan, relocated to Ontario from Alberta in 1969, settling in Whitby. Looking for a weekend escape from the city, they purchased a cottage on Redstone Lake in 1971. It was love at first sight for the Camerons, who relocated to the community permanently in 1988, purchasing a property on Sunnyside Street in Haliburton.
While living in Whitby, Cameron spent a lot of time on the road travelling for his job as a corporate executive. This is where his passion for radio really took hold, according to Dave Allen, a close family friend.
“Don was a big citizen band radio guy. He just loved it. He would get on the line and talk to truckers about the traffic going back and forth and plan his daily routes that way,” Allen said. “When he moved up here, he found there wasn’t much frequency, not many people on the lines, so that kind of started something within him.”
He struck up a conversation with Dave Sovereign, whom he met at the Haliburton Curling Club. The two spent years discussing the possibility of bringing a radio station to the County. In 2001, they brought another Highlands resident, Jack Hewitt, onboard and the trio got to work on turning their dream into a reality.
CanoeFM was incorporated in 2001. Cameron and company then spent more than two years fundraising, creating a longterm vision, and figuring out logistics. The first official broadcast came July 8, 2003, with Cameron getting his way in having The Impossible Dream by Andy Williams broadcast as the station’s very first song.
Jack, who, really, brought this impossible dream of starting a community radio station in Haliburton County to life,” Allen said.
Greg Roe was one of the first people through the door when Canoe opened its office on Mountain Street. He had seen an ad stating a new community radio station was coming and was looking for volunteers to run regular shows. He helped to launch ‘It’s only Rock & Roll’, which remains on air today.
Roe said there would be no CanoeFM if not for Cameron. “Donnie really was the ‘in the trenches’ guy that first year. He was in there seven days a week and was always the first person you called if there was a problem,” Roe said. “At one point or another, he held every job title at Canoe. He was the defacto operations manager when things started, but he also helped with sales, and with the shows. I even saw him cleaning the washroom a few times.”
Allen was one of Canoe’s first paid employees, joining the station as a sales rep in 2003. By then, Cameron had taken a step back, though his commitment to the station never waned. Whenever there was a problem with the frequency tower at Eagle Lake, for example, Cameron was the first to respond, often with Allen in tow.
Allen recalls one time, in 2005, when the pair were returning from a fix. Their vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. While OK, the shock of that shared experience brought the two closer together. After a tornado leveled his Lake Kashagawigamog cottage in 2006, Allen moved into the Camerons’ basement apartment. He eventually bought the property in 2017 after Don and Joan moved to a condo overlooking Head Lake.
“Don and I developed such a great friendship over the years. I’ve said it before, but I wouldn’t have the life I have today without Don and Joan,” said Allen, who will be one of the speakers at Cameron’s funeral.
CanoeFM manager Roxanne Casey only worked with Cameron for a short time before he retired from his ‘second job’, but noted his presence still reverberated around the station up until his passing.
“Every time we made a decision, I would think, ‘I wonder what Don thinks about this’. I’d quickly find out because he was always texting or emailing about different things,” Casey said. “This is a sad day for the radio station, and a sad day for Haliburton County. To lose another of our founding members (Sovereign passed away in 2007) is tough. These guys built a radio station from the ground up, and did it so well that we haven’t had to make too many changes these past 20 years
“Don’s legacy will live on with every song, every show, every broadcast,” Casey added.
A private in-person gathering will be held for family and close friends Jan. 28. People can attend virtually on Skype at 2 p.m. a link can be found at the Haliburton Community Funeral Home website. Donations can be made to Haliburton Highlands Health Services in Cameron’s honour.