The many local ties to "The Greatest Canadian" were highlighted in a book that was launched in Weyburn recently. "Tommy's Team: The People behind the Douglas Years" is a biographical book that focuses on the individuals that helped former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas before he became the "Father of Medicare," including Eleanor McKinnon, Norman McKinnon and Tommy McLeod - all former Weyburnites.Co-authors of the book, Dr. Stuart Houston and Bill Waiser spoke to a group at the Tommy Douglas Centre on June 22 about the story they began writing two years ago. The book contains 36 biographies of people that supported Douglas before and during his time in office.
The pair recently attended their first book launch in Saskatoon where former Saskatchewan Premiers Roy Romanow, Allan Blakeney and Lorne Calvert were in the audience. Houston said he was just as proud to have former Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) MLAs Kim Thorson and Ron Wormsbecker in the audience at their second book launch in Weyburn.Both authors have acquired an advantageous perspective on Douglas and the history of Saskatchewan due to the research they did for their previous books. Houston wrote "Steps on the Road to Medicare: Why Saskatchewan Led the Way" and Waiser penned "Saskatchewan: A New History."Both authors agreed that their book would give people a new perspective of Douglas."There had to be people who did the deeds and dreamed the dreams besides Tommy Douglas and these are their stories, too," said Waiser."It's an important story because of the people and it started out with Eleanor McKinnon," said Houston.Born in Weyburn in 1912, Eleanor was the second daughter of McKinnon's Department Store keeper Norman McKinnon. Eleanor eventually secured a job as secretary to Dr. A. D. Campbell at the Weyburn Mental Hospital. This is where Douglas first admired her talents, during one of many visits to the hospital in which he performed a sermon for patients.In fact, according to Houston, one of the first calls that Douglas made after being elected as Premier in 1944 was to Eleanor, hiring her for the position of his private secretary. One of his first appointments went to his old Weyburn friend Tommy McLeod, who was named the CCF party's economic advisor.Houston said that once at the Legislature, Eleanor became Douglas' gatekeeper."People had essentially unlimited access to the Premier," said Houston. "The Legislature was a zoo!"When Douglas began delivering his "fireside chats" over the radio airwaves, Eleanor responded to the hundreds of letters that poured in."Tommy read her answers and wrote a personal inscription on every letter," Houston said."This has never happened before or since that the public had such access to a Premier. The people of Saskatchewan felt empowered."At least, that was the impression he got after interviewing Eleanor, and he felt that he must tell her story.Eleanor's father Norman contrasted Douglas in many ways. A staunch Liberal, Norman never supported Douglas politically but he was instrumental in recruiting Douglas as pastor for Calvary Baptist Church in 1930. Norman would even preach the Sunday sermon for Douglas when he was away. He also ran the church's Sunday school."There are so many stories of the personal help given to people and all this happened in Weyburn, Saskatchewan," said Houston. "Weyburn should be very proud of how the career of Tommy Douglas began in Weyburn."Houston was recently interviewed for a documentary by two film makers from the United States. The film, "Canada Health Care: Socialism? Or Just Plain Good Sense?" will focus on the history of Canadian Medicare and Douglas.The filmmakers were in Weyburn last week interviewing local people with direct and indirect ties to Douglas.