By Emily Stonehouse
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
And to run where the brave dare not go
These were the opening words for one of the first songs that aired publicly on Canoe FM in 2003; The Impossible Dream, selected by Canoe FM founding father, Don Cameron. A founder, a teddy bear, a major supporter of the Haliburton Highlands; those are some of the many terms used to describe Cameron, who passed away peacefully on Jan. 17 at the age of 88. “If it wasn’t for Don Cameron, there would be no Canoe FM,” said Dave Allen, the sales specialist at the station.
In 2002, a hyper-local radio station in the Haliburton Highlands was nothing more than a dream. “There were a lot of naysayers,” said Greg Roe, host of It’s Only Rock and Roll on Canoe FM. “It took a long time for us to be accepted in this community.’
Despite the red-tape and backlash from the town, three strong-minded mavericks powered through to follow the dream; Dave Sovereign, Jack Hewitt, and Don Cameron. “It was really the perfect combination,” recalled Roe. “Dave taught broadcasting for years, Jack was the business guy, and Don, well, Don, was the hands-on, ‘let’s do it’ kind of guy.”
Cameron became a Haliburton Highlands full-time resident in 1988, after he and his wife, Joan, spent many summers cottaging on Redstone Lake. He was not only heavily involved in the radio station, but also the curling club, Haliburton Legion Branch 129, and local activities such as swimming, fishing, and playing music.
Despite settling into the highlands for his retirement, Cameron would often spend seven days a week at the radio station. “He would do everything, he had his hands in every single part of the radio,” said Roxanne Casey, the station manager at Canoe. During the early days, the technology of the radio was slightly more unpredictable than it is now, yet this never deterred Cameron. “I know for a fact that if our signal went down at 3 a.m., Don would be driving up to the tower in Eagle Lake to fix it, that’s just who he was.” said Roe.
Roxanne Casey shared that she met Cameron in 2003, when she first set foot in Canoe to record a commercial for a previous job she held. “I remember going to speak to Don while I was at the studio, and just saying how great the whole set-up was,” she said, “shortly after, he called me and asked me if I wanted to do my own show. I was so nervous, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I remember him saying to me very clearly, ‘you can do this.’” Casey went on to host the show Women, Weeds, and Wisdom for many years before she became the station manager.
Dave Allen has been with Canoe FM for 20 years in October. “Without Don, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be in the area,” he reflected, after sharing that he moved to the Haliburton Highlands in 2002, in an attempt to leave the hustle and bustle of the GTA behind. Allen and Cameron became friends after Cameron offered him a job at the station. “I was working in a cottage care job, and I was covered in mud when I went into the interview because it happened so quick. When Don offered me the job, he said ‘you can have the job, but do you have any other clothes?’” Allen chuckled. He reflected that many decisions that played into the role he now has in the community are a result of the consideration and kindness shown to him from Cameron; including his job, where he lives, and his friendships in the place he now calls home. “I was lucky to know him, and honoured to call him a real friend,” Allen said.
When asked about Cameron’s impact on the community, Casey, Allen, and Roe all said the same thing: a passion for the Haliburton Highlands, and a heart in Canoe FM. “He really believed this could happen,” said Roe, “and he made it happen.” In the public statement Canoe FM issued in light of Cameron’s passing, they said, “Canoe FM would not be the station it is without the hard work, dedication and love of Don Cameron.”
Don Cameron dreamed the impossible dream, and the Haliburton Highlands are all the brighter because of it.