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Allan Fotheringham (1932 – 2020)

August 24th, 2020

Journalist and author, Allan Fotheringham died in his Toronto home on August 12 at the age of 87.

He wrote a well-read column on the back page of Maclean’s magazine for 27 years and became known for his mon mots and biting nicknames for the powerful and wealthy. It was said that most readers of Maclean’s read the publication from back to front because of the popularity of his column. It led Fotheringham to title a collection of his columns from the magazine, Last Page First (Key Porter 1999).

Some of his famous quips, often called “Fothisms,” include: “The Jaw That Walks Like a Man” (for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney), “bland on the outside, comatose on the inside” (Ottawa), “the Narcissus of the West Coast” (Vancouver), and “The Excited States of America.”

When Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta, Fotheringham described him as “a former TV reporter who resembles a badly-dressed bowling ball.” And as Toronto’s landmark building, the CN Tower was being built, he wrote that the city was in the grip of a “pathetic phallusy.”

Fotheringham’s cleverness got him a mention in the U.S.A.’s Time magazine as “Canada’s most consistently controversial newspaper columnist…a tangier critic of complacency has rarely appeared in a Canadian newspaper.”

Allan Fotheringham, Ubyssey editor, 1950. UBC Archives

Although he lived most of his later life in Toronto, Fotheringham got his start in B.C. where he was editor of The Ubyssey while attending UBC. He joined the Vancouver Sun as a sports reporter in 1954 and became a columnist in 1968.

Fotheringham lived in London, England, Ottawa and Toronto where he did post-graduate studies, and he travelled to more than 90 countries, including the Soviet Union and China. Fotheringham was also a columnist in Washington for five years, covering the Reagan and Bush administrations.

He won many awards and recognitions including a Southam Fellowship in Journalism in 1964, the National Magazine Award for Humour in 1980 and was the first winner of the National Newspaper Award for column-writing. Inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in 1999, he received the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award at the Jack Webster Awards in Vancouver in 2002.

Fotheringham delivered the annual Bruce Hutchison Lecture at the 22nd annual Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt in 2004. He has also received an Honorary Doctorate for letters from the University of New Brunswick.

Fotheringham’s 1972 collection of Vancouver Sun columns, Collected and Bound (November House 1972) contained profiles with the likes of Chief Dan George and Mayor Tom Campbell during the turbulent era when Vancouver’s counter-culture was on the rise.

He provided the text for The World According to Roy Peterson (D&M 1977) and published several other titles after he left B.C.

He began writing his regular column for Maclean’s magazine in 1975 but he didn’t move to eastern Canada until a falling-out with Vancouver Sun management in 1979. He joined CBC TV’s Front Page Challenge as a panelist in 1984.

Despite living in Toronto, he long maintained a residence in British Columbia.

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