Meet Noel Taylor: journalist, film and book critic, avid reader, husband and father of four

By Judith van Berkom – 

Step into his home, and you immediately feel welcome – books on the coffee table and side table in the bright living room with fireplace – Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, Jane Wallace Martin’s Dancing with the Uninvited Guest, Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered. Noel Taylor and his wife read a lot and have similar taste in books. They love Nordic Noir mystery novels and Donna Leon’s books set in Venice. Noel is a former news editor for the Ottawa Citizen, a lifelong book critic and the Citizen’s first film critic. His wife worked as a school teacher. Together they raised four children in the Westboro house they’ve lived in for 50 years.

He attributes a lot of the changes in the neighbourhood to 20 years ago when Mountain Equipment Co-op was built and coffee shops and restaurants appeared. Their house is two blocks to the village – they still call it the village – and two blocks from the schools their four children attended, first Broadview Public School and later Nepean High School.

In those days, kids went out to play, he recalls. There was a marshy area where Notre Dame High School is now and the kids played there all day. It was, and still is, a safe neighbourhood and parents seldom worried about their children playing outdoors unsupervised.

Noel immigrated to Canada from Britain with his wife and one child in 1956. Britain was still recovering from World War II, reporters weren’t paid very much, and rationing was still in place for gasoline, clothing and some foods. Brits were lining up to immigrate and Noel said, “why not?” It was a toss-up between Australia or Canada and Canada won out since it was closer to family in Britain.

“I came over first,” he describes. “That gave me time to find a job. In those days you just went. They [Canadians] were getting good, well-trained journalists very cheaply here I discovered. I went to the head office of the Canadian daily newspapers in Toronto and they said you can either go to Sudbury or Peterborough.”

Part of the reason Noel chose Canada was his encounter with Morley Safer, legendary 60 Minutes journalist whom he met in Oxford. Morley was a Commonwealth student at the time, sent to Oxford by CBS News to learn broadcasting. 

Noel chose Peterborough and worked under Robertson Davies, who was the head editor of The Examiner at the time. “I sat down with him and told him I had worked in Oxford and I knew I had the job. He loved everything about Oxford.”

After a year in Peterborough, Noel drove up to Ottawa with his family. He came in November about 60 years ago on Highway 7, which he describes as very isolated, with stretches of gravel road along the way. In Ottawa they had no idea where to stay or where to eat. There were no restaurants. The downtown ByWard Market was just a market, nothing more. The only good restaurants were in Hull and one on Sparks Street.

Noel Taylor in his Westboro home.  Photo by Ellen Bond

In 1959, after Noel had been in Canada for three years, they packed everything up and went back to Britain. He had two children at the time and a job lined up at the BBC, which was gone by the time they arrived by boat in Britain. “I knew I’d made the wrong decision. It’s called the $1000 cure.”

The family lived in Bournemouth and after they had been there for a year, he got a call from the Ottawa Citizen with a job offer. So they came back. Their first house was a small two-bedroom home on Fraser. In 1967, they found their current house in Westboro and have been there since.

Starting as a night-desk editor with the Ottawa Citizen for his first few weeks, Noel worked his way up to the day desk as the editor responsible for world news. After nine years he became chief news editor, the senior editor on the news desk, responsible for making up page one of the paper, selecting the news and deciding where the news would go in the paper. “It was quite a job,” he describes, “very interesting. But…”

The Citizen recently published a series of articles about how people’s jobs have changed over the years. In 1973, the Citizen became the first newspaper on the continent to switch from hot metal typesetting to paste-up. 

“After that, my job changed entirely. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t enjoy it. After a year, my blood pressure was soaring and I said to my boss, I don’t think I can do this. My job had time constraints. I had to make up my mind by a certain time of the day.”

When Noel gave up his job as news editor to write, he became the first film and book critic for the Citizen, which he did for 10 years. “That job for me was bliss. I was meeting interesting people. I liked doing interviews. Writers used to come around promoting their latest book. I interviewed them all,” he says.

“The art of interviewing is conversation. Talk naturally, it’s not question and answer. A good interviewer has a conversation. I’ve never used a recorder. I used shorthand. At 140 words a minute, I can keep up with the average interview.”

Of course, life isn’t just about work, it’s about family, and Noel describes his family as “very close.” 

“One of the best holidays we had was five years ago on our 60th wedding anniversary. We rented a cottage in Maine, just the five of us – no spouses, or grandchildren. We had such fun. I can’t imagine a nicer holiday.”

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