Writing has been a lifetime obsession of Ewart Walters. He has published a monthly community newspaper for the past 27 years and recently completed his 261-page autobiography To Follow Right: A Journalist’s Journey which was recently launched in Ottawa.
A large part of the book is dedicated to Walters’ work in the media with the weekly Public Opinion that folded in 1962, the Jamaica Gleaner, the Jamaica Daily News with which he worked from its inception in 1973 to 1976 (the publication ceased in 1983) and his own Ottawa monthly, The Spectrum.
Walters started The Spectrum in August 1984 after leaving the Jamaica Foreign Service, having served five years as Counsellor in Ottawa and a year in New York as Consul.
“It took me about eight months to get a job when I returned to Canada as a landed immigrant,” said the 71-year-old Walters. “I sent out over 120 resumes and received just four interviews which did not lead to jobs. I said I have skills and I knew how to start a newspaper from scratch because that was what I did with the Jamaica Daily News. I thought about starting a Canadian version of Ebony magazine, but when I did the research, I didn’t think that would work so I decided to start a paper.”
In launching the newspaper, Walters provided Blacks and other visible minorities in Ottawa with a voice, a face, credibility and respect that were long denied them by the dominant daily media.
“The newspaper has served the community and the city very well,” he said. “There have been a number of incidents over the years that, if we did not give publicity to, would have been buried. Most ethnic groups have their own languages and customs while we possess the languages of our former oppressors. In a sense, the newspaper has become the centralizing institution for the community.”
Walters said his passion for writing was fuelled by his mother’s storytelling and an insatiable thirst for reading.
“We did not have radios or televisions back in my day,” he said. “I read all of my school’s library books with the exception of one. When my father returned from Kingston (the Jamaican capital) on Saturdays at around 5 p.m., he brought back a book that I would finish in about four hours.”
Walters’ autobiography also addresses his lifelong observation of Jamaican politics, the growth of popular Jamaican music, events during his six years as a diplomat in Ottawa and Canada’s emergence as a track and field power led by several Jamaican-born athletes.
The book’s seed was sown a few years ago while Walters was a senior advisor on Access to Information & Privacy in the office of the president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). In that post, he processed the relevant pieces of legislation to respond to requests for government-held information.
“It was normally a full-time occupation but, for some reason, I received just four requests that summer,” he said. “Seated before my computer day after day with no files, I began setting down my earliest memories and the result was the foundation on which this book is built.”
The prize-winning journalist, who retired from the federal public service last year, graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University in 1968 and a Masters from the same institution 11 years later. While at Carleton in the 1960s, he became the first Black editor of the university’s weekly student newspaper, The Carleton.
Walters has been recognized for his extensive professional and community service with the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Commander conferred by the Jamaican government last year, the CIDA 2003 Employment Equity Award and the 2010 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dreamkeepers Award for service to the community.
To Follow Right: A Journalist’s Story is Walters’ second book. Last year, he launched Sugar Boy which examined the life of late Jamaican politician and Cane Farmers Association president Cedric Titus who died in a vehicular accident in 1969 at age 54.
The Toronto launch for Walters’ latest book will be held on August 17 at A Different Booklist, 746 Bathurst St., starting at 6 p.m.