“I thought ‘Well, I’ll be here for a couple of years.’ That’s what everybody thinks, but then you sort of get entrenched a little bit in the community.” – Gord Barnett
Longtime CTV Prince Albert cameraman Gord Barnett is leaving behind his gear.
Barnett was only a few months short of his 45-year work anniversary when he announced his retirement. In spite of his decision, he says he’ll never forget not just the local stories he was able to capture, but the ones that sent him across Canada and even the world.
“It’s funny. It’s not as difficult as I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“It felt right, and once that decision was made it actually was like a load sort of lifted off because that’s a bit of a milestone in your life. You graduate high school or something like that and you’ve got a plan because you know you want to get a job and that sort of thing, but retirement, you’re going into an unknown.”
Barnett’s love for shooting video began in high school at a local cable company in the town of Saint Marys, Ont. He was the designated photographer.
Seven youth received a government grant, which allowed them to run the cable station for a summer and put together half an hour news programs. The group got creative with their equipment, lining the walls with egg trays because they’d absorb the sound.
“My mom was head of the maternity hospital at the time and so she would get permission from the moms to announce the births, so that was my segment,” he said with a laugh.
In the spring of 1975, Barnett had resumes lined up for jobs in Winnipeg, Prince Albert, Red Deer and others.
“I was going to do the loop, and then a couple days before I was going to head out I got a call from Prince Albert saying ‘Can you stop by next Monday?’” he said. “I still remember five o’clock in the morning my dad coming out to send me off in the car loaded with food and clothes.”
Barnett said his mother was born and raised in Prince Albert. When her dad died, however, she and her mom moved to back to Ontario—where her mom was originally from. Barnett naturally had his eyes on the city.
“(I) got out here on a Sunday, interviewed on a Monday…started on Tuesday,” he said.
That was April 28, 1975: “I can’t remember things that happened two days ago, but I have that date sort of burned into my mind.”
“I thought ‘Well, I’ll be here for a couple of years.’ That’s what everybody thinks, but then you sort of get entrenched a little bit in the community. A lot of the people I was working with were about the same age. We had slow pitch teams, hockey teams, and then I met my wife at that time on a blind date and ended up raising two great kids here.”
His initial job at CTV was in the control room.
While the CTV Prince Albert newsroom currently has two reporters and a cameraman, at that time, they had five people shooting. Barnett ended up supervising them, assigning teams of cameramen and reporters.
Several years into his CTV career, he remembers the sports director getting them a gig with the Prince Albert Raiders.
The Edmonton Oilers had allowed a camera crew on its bus, so the sports director thought they should do the same.
“I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to convince the Raiders management at the time to embed us, the two of us, on a west coast trip with the Raiders. Literally travelling on a bus with full access to the dressing room, everything,” said Barnett.
In about 2003, Barnett said he was involved in a project where WestJet and SaskIndustry wanted to show people how important the province was to people across Canada.
“They sent us to 10 cities across Canada in 10 days and it was quite literally shoot in the afternoon, go to the hotel, next morning get on a flight, you’re in the city,” he explained. On one assignment, he was at Toronto’s CN tower interviewing a chef who used ingredients like bison and mustard from the land of the living skies.
He also travelled twice to Europe with Nelson Bird, who at the time was with Indigenous Circle. The first time he went to Holland with a group of Saskatchewan veterans, and the second to France for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge with École St. Mary High School students.
“Touring Holland, that one was kind of neat to me because we were at one cemetery. I knew my uncle was buried there and so there was a couple little breaks but it was pretty busy and I still hadn’t found his stone…one of the veterans found out afterwards and they were getting ready to leave and they said ‘Nope, we’re not leaving until Gord finds his stone,’” said Barnett.
“That was pretty special, but it was also special seeing the way they were treated over there. They were heroes…It was an amazing experience, very eye-opening.”
These work experiences have inspired Barnett to travel more now that he’s retired—particularly to destinations like Scotland, Ireland and back to Holland. He said he also wants to explore more of Canada.
“I’ve been luckier than most camera guys that I know. I have no injuries. I know cameramen who have had to have knees replaced, hips replaced or they’re shoulders are banged up. When we first started, we were carrying like 50, 60 pounds of gear,” he said.
Recently, explained Barnett, reporters for CTV Prince Albert come and go within about a year. This means Barnett has mentored several within over 44 years with the company.
“It was a bit of a challenge. Usually this is their first or second job, so they just ramp up to speed and they’re gone,” he said. He explained this kept up his enthusiasm on the job, especially with annual events like the winter festival or the exhibition.
“It seemed each one would come in and approach it at a new angle, so it was like doing it for the first time. It wasn’t like ‘Oh, boy. This is the 25th time I’ve covered it.’ There was an energy, it kept the energy level up because of the enthusiasm of the reporters.”
His job was more than doing the camerawork for the reporters—he’d often be helping them with who to contact for a particular story or showing them where the hospital or City Hall are located, for example.
“Prince Albert’s a great place to be. I mean, Saskatoon’s an hour and a half away. You’re not in some totally isolated place, plus you’re next to the forest and the parks,” said Barnett.
Even though he’s retired, Barnett said he’ll still have chances to get behind the camera with plans to do some freelance work.