Town Meeting – Arthur Helps



Arthur W. Helps Radio pioneer

b. Nov. 5, 1912, Toronto, Ont.;

d. April 4, 1995, Surrey, B.C.


Director and host of ground-breaking radio show Town Meeting in Canada. An Armed Forces veteran, he was inspired by a similar US broadcast. In 1947, engineered a dual broadcast with the show's US counterpart, with an audience estimated at eight million. A conciliator, he drafted a resolution to invite veterans from Commonwealth countries to celebrate Remembrance Day at the Newton Legion. This led to some Legion members denying the entrance of Sikh veterans wearing turbans. In spite of this setback, Arthur continued to forge ties with his Sikh counterparts. His efforts inspired a successful community building workshop that included legion members and Sikh locals.



Denny Boyd - 1991




Mike Harcourt, citing scheduling problems, declined a BCTV return match on Monday, although he took the day off.


Veteran Canadian broadcaster Arthur Helps, the pioneer who created the enormously popular pre-television Town Meeting in Canada radio series, wrote to Surrey-Whalley NDP MLA Joan Smallwood, begging her to make Harcourt reconsider. Listing the politicians he had given national broadcast exposure to in a quarter-century of public debate (Eric Martin, Angus MacInnis, Grace MacInnis, Joey Smallwood, John Diefenbaker, Dave Barrett, Tommy Douglas, Harold and Ernest Winch) Helps wrote to Smallwood, "In all that time, I never knew the CCF or NDP to back away from an issue and refuse to come to our platform. As it was our wont to say, 'Let the public hear both sides and all sides in the interest of tolerance, justice and reason.' " But Mikey backed off.



July 30, 1990


Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the broadcast of what may be the highest-rated radio show ever to originate in Vancouver.


Back in 1947, a very popular weekly series called America's Town Meeting of the Air came up to Vancouver on the invitation of a Canadian broadcaster, Arthur Helps. Helps - retired, he lives today in Surrey - had been a fan of the U.S. show for years and, with permission, started his own version on CJOR in the fall of 1943. (CKWX had been offered it first, turned it down, and saw it become a local ratings giant.)


The format was simple enough: three or four experts debated a current hot topic and then the live studio audience got to ask questions. Actually getting the experts was frequently difficult. But Helps was skilled and persistent and by 1947 had impressed the American version of the show enough to persuade them to come up for a dual broadcast.


It was heard July 31, 1947, on CJOR, on a network of stations across Canada and on 450 stations in the U.S. The topic was the Marshall Plan to aid post-war Europe.


The audience for that international Town Meeting of the Air was estimated at eight million.






One of Canada's radio pioneers is dead at the age of 83.


Arthur Helps, founder, director and moderator of the extremely popular ground-breaking show Town Meeting in Canada, collapsed Monday morning.


"He was someone who knew how to attract an audience," said his friend Rev. Arthur Rowe.


"I think he set up a very careful debate where people that weren't always popular got to state their opinions. He knew all the politicians of his day."


Helps, an Armed Forces veteran, got the idea for the show from a similar town-hall meeting broadcast in the United States. In 1947 he engineered a dual broadcast between his show and its U.S. counterpart.


The audience for that broadcast was estimated at eight million.


Rowe said the Surrey man remained a moderator and conciliator to the end. It was Helps who drafted the resolution that paved the way to invite veterans from other Commonwealth countries to celebrate Remembrance Day at the Newton Legion.


Some members of the now-defunct legion refused Sikh veterans entry to the event because their turbans were said to contravene a dress code. In spite of that setback, Rowe said, Helps set about forging ties with his Sikh counterparts, befriending them and inviting others to do the same.




Born in Toronto in 1912. Early memories and family background. Family moved to Prairies, father was a missionary for the Presbyterian Church. Father went to work for Columbia Records and sold some of the first musical disc recordings in the Canadian West. Moved to B.C. in the 1920s. Early education in Regina and Vancouver. M.J. Coldwell was principal of school in Regina. Work and the Depression in Vancouver.  Arthur Helps' adventures at sea. Joining the militia. Harsh discipline at sea with the merchant marine. Camaraderie among crew with the British merchant marine. Adventure in the Mediterranean. Return to B.C. Efforts to secure employment in B.C.


Seeks career in the military. Early political interests - was on the executive of the B.C. Young Liberals. Life in the militia. Ian Mackenzie as federal Minister of National Defence. Conditions in the Army. Vancouver and work in the post office. Harsh conditions of working postal routes in Vancouver. Marriage. Attempts to go into business in Vancouver.  Entry into Armed Forces. Life in Point Grey Armed Forces Camp. Helps' conflicts in the Armed Forces. Agitation for pay for soldiers. Helps leaves the Army, attempts to enter the R.C.A.F. but joins the Irish Fusiliers.


Army life with the Irish Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion. Helps attained rank of Staff Sergeant. Was denied service outside of B.C. because of physical impairment. Discharge from Army. History of the idea of Town Meeting of the Air. Vancouver's radio audience in the 1940s. Top stations were CJOR and CKWX. CBC represents a system of thought control.  Broadcasting in Canada was behind the times. Helps favours American institution of freedom of speech. CJOR in Vancouver. The founding of the CBC in the 1930s. Ira Dilworth as regional director of CBC Helps meets George Denny, moderator of Town Meeting of the Air in America. Description of the administration and operation of America's Town Meeting of the Air.


While working in the Attorney-General's department in 1945, Helps assists in forming the B.C. Government Employees Association. Idea behind the Association. Helps claims that the government was quite cooperative with the efforts to form an employee association. Helps' involvement with the Credit Union movement in B.C. Some of the early successes and failures of the Credit Union movement in B.C.


Arthur Helps' politics. Helps ran as a Liberal in the 1953 federal election in Vancouver-Kingsway against Angus MacInnis. He was not successful. He also ran in the provincial election of 1960 as a Liberal in Delta. Was again defeated, this time by the C.C.F. candidate.


 Origins of Town Meeting of the Air in Canada. George Denny persuades Helps to start his own show in Vancouver. The problems in getting the show on the air. Opposition of CBC; negotiations with CKWX; skeptical cooperation of CJOR. First program of its kind in Canada. Discussion of early broadcast regulations. Leon Ladner assisted in raising funds for the program. Support for the program in its early stages was widespread despite opposition from established radio interests. Helps' views on the CBC and opposition to state-controlled broadcasting.  Show had surprisingly high ratings right from the start. How ratings were calculated. Program was broadcast throughout the country. George Chandler, owner of CJOR, and his attitude toward the program. Early history of Town Meeting of the Air in Canada.


Town Meeting of the Air in Canada commenced broadcasting from CJOR in 1943. The show grew in popularity greatly during the early period, 1943-1947. It was broadcast on stations across Canada in every province except Quebec. Cooperation between the show and its American counterpart. It was the first Canadian radio program to carry western opinion eastward. At the peak of its popularity the program was broadcast by thirty radio stations in Canada. Administration and operation of the program. July 31, 1947, America's Town Meeting of the Air comes to Vancouver for a special International Broadcast.  The International Broadcast was aired around the world. It was broadcast from Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. Furor over fact that Dorothy Steeves was one of the Canadian speakers on the program. The federal government failed to provide a speaker for the show. Pressure was applied by Ottawa to prevent Steeves from participating in the program because it was felt that she was not representative of Canadian opinion. Despite all the difficulties, the show was a huge success. The CBC never cooperated.


Lack of CBC cooperation and its effect on the International Broadcast of Town Meeting of the Air in Vancouver. Reasons why Helps does not look with favour on the CBC. Estimated listening audience for the special program was 50 million. Process of obtaining speakers for the regular weekly Canadian programs. Recollection of special banquet for Town Meeting of the Air which was attended by a variety of public celebrities. How topics for the show were decided upon. Topics purposefully avoided. Religious topics. Anecdote about Harold Winch appearing on the program. Anecdote about Colin Cameron and Harold Pritchett almost coming to blows on the show. One of the most sensational shows involved Tim Buck. Problems with the airing of that program. Opposition of the Vancouver business community. Tim Buck was disappointed and upset over how the show was run (he debated on the program with Alex MacDonald) and he subsequently "disappeared". Buck did not appear on the radio again for several months. Topics which were illegal to discuss on radio because of broadcast regulations.


Town Meeting of the Air in Canada was banned by Communist Party of Canada. Helps believes that this was because the CPC did not believe in free speech. Some of the controversial local issues which were discussed on the program. Free speech is the essence of democracy. Helps' presentation to the Massey Royal Commission on broadcasting, 1955.  Helps' criticism of the CBC. CBC's attitude toward Town Meeting of the Air. The CBC is anathema to freedom of broadcasting. Helps discusses the two Town Meeting of the Air programs which were censored.


Helps claims that his own involvement in politics did not affect his impartiality as moderator of Town Meeting of the Air. Political allegiances and personalities. Helps claims that his program greatly facilitated the election of B.C.'s first Social Credit government in 1952. Helps discusses many of the Socred personalities who became involved with Town Meeting of the Air : William Rose, Ralph Chetwynd, Eric Martin, Peer Paynter, etc.  Anecdote regarding W.A.C. Bennett's attainment of the leadership of the Social Credit Party. Anecdote regarding Robert Bonner's appearance on Town Meeting of the Air as a Conservative and subsequent entry into the Socred administration. After 1952, the Socreds rarely appeared on the program. Some other memorable programs.


Story about broadcasting a program from Powell River. Town Meeting of the Air had a tremendous audience in Powell River. The show won an international award for the program recorded there. Helps discusses his travels throughout B.C. and Canada with Town Meeting of the Air.  Helps continues discussion of the history of Town Meeting of the Air as it travelled from coast to coast. Anecdotes about particular shows in St. John's, Newfoundland.


Helps explains why Town Meeting of the Air left the air in 1971. Lack of sponsorship and money matters were important factors. Helps believes that Town Meeting of the Air was going against the trends in radio broadcasting. Censorship of the program made it a difficult show to sponsor.  Television had superceded radio and it helped to eclipse a program like Town Meeting of the Air. CJOR, and the internal politics of the station, did not hinder the program. The achievement of Town Meeting of the Air in Canada.




City Radio Program Recognized – Province May 1/48 p.1


Columbus, Ohio – “Town Meeting in Canada” produced over radio station CJOR, Vancouver, by Town Meeting Led.  Today won the Institute for Education by Radio’s top award for programs presenting public issues.

       The Vancouver program recorded Fridays and broadcast by transcription Saturdays, was among 14 network shows honored by the institute.


City Political Broadcast Banned by BBG Chairman - 1961


A Vancouver radio political broadcast was banned on the weekend by Board of Broadcast Governors’ chairman Dr. Andrew Stewart, although he didn’t know what was in it.

       Today he’ll listen to a tape of CJOR’s Town Meeting of the Air show and decided if it can be used at a later date.

       Arthur Helps, originator of the 18-year-old weekly radio program, called the BBG Ottawa action a violation of the principles of free speech.

       It’s the second time in a year that a Town Meeting show was banned. Last time the show was broadcast on CJOR and stopped by the BBG before it was heard on other independent Canadian radio stations.   

       This time Dr. Stewart was telephoned at home by CJOR officials. He advised them not to use the broadcast. The show was taped Friday night and was due to be aired Saturday. An earlier debate was used in its place.

       Topic of the banned broadcast was “What Are the National Issues Between the Liberals and the Conservatives?”

       There were no Conservatives on the show, Helps said, because at the last minute John R. Taylor, MP., withdrew and no replacements could be obtained from the party.

       Taking part were Liberals Frank Lewis and Arthur Laing and independent Walter Dent.

       Helps, who had been a Liberal candidate in the last provincial election, stepped down as moderator and handed the hob over to CCF-er William Dennison.

       About the BBG chairman’s action, Helps said: “It proves that the rule of equal opportunity for all sides can be used and abused to effect the perversion of free speech.”

       He has done about a thousand broadcasts, he said, and follows only the rule that the program gives the public all sides of an issue and let the listeners make up their own mind.






Ban on radio program “violation of freedom” - 1961


       Arthur Helps, organizer and moderator of the Vancouver “Town Meeting of the Air” radio program, Sunday accused Canada’s Board of Broadcast Governors of violating the principles of free speech.

       The BBG, which regulates all Canadian broadcasting, banned a “Town Meeting” program from the air Saturday.

       The program recorded in advance at a public meeting Friday, was designed to allow Conservatives and Liberals to debate national issues.

       In Ottawa Sunday, Dr. Andrew Stewart, BBG chairman, said only the Liberal side had been given. He said he was to receive a tape of the broadcast today and will then rule whether or not the program may be used.

       Mr. Helps said all available Conservative candidates had been asked to appear on the program but that none was able to do so. Mr. Helps, a Liberal candidate for Vancouver-Kingsway in the recent B.C. election, stepped down as moderator for the program. Acting moderator was William Dennison, CCF candidate for Vancouver-Centre.

       Commenting on the board’s action in stopping the broadcast, Mr. Helps said: “It proves that the idea of equal opportunity for all sides can be used and abused to effect perversion of free speech. It is curious, too, that ours is the only program ever interfered with in this way in Canada and this for the second time.”


Town Meeting Brings Us Credit – Editorial May 7/1948 p.4 Vancouver Sun


       At a time when criticism of radio programs seems to be growing, Vancouver is proud to learn that “Town Meeting in Canada” weekly feature over Station CJOR, has won a top award in competition with many big American networks.

       Mr. Arthur R. Helps produced the first “Town Meeting” forum in Vancouver in 1943, without benefit of radio. Two weeks later the project was continued, this time, with a radio broadcast of the forum discussion, and it has continued with growing popular interest ever since. Under Mr. Helps’ guidance, the influence of “Town Meeting” has spread right across Canada. A dozen or more stations use transcriptions of the Vancouver debate, which is held each Friday.                       

        During these five years, a great number of speakers have discussed a wide variety of subjects of public interest. Stimulated by the broadcast over CJOR, discussion groups in isolated communities study of the subjects debated over the air. Such groups have value, no less than the value of the original broadcast, in creating a better-informed public opinion.

       So, it is therefore a matter of pride for this city, and a matter for congratulation to Mr. Helps and his associates, that the American Institute for Education by Radio has given its highest award to “Town Meeting in Canada”—selecting this radio feature from a large group of programs dealing with public affairs.


Helps Would Work For Coast Guard

invaluable for B.C., says Liberal Candidate in Kingsway


       Formation of a Canadian coast guard was advocated Wednesday by Vancouver-Kingsway Liberal candidate Arthur Helps.

       “It should be similar to that of the United States,” he said in a speech at the Norquay Hall. “Such a service could start with a small beginning, but it would be invaluable in peace or war. It is needed on both coasts.”

       The founder and moderator of Town Meeting in Canada also urged that banks be permitted to loan money for real estate purposed and said he would press for changes in the Bank Act to allow this.

       Canada’s present economic system is playing into the hands of the Communists, declared Vancouver-Burrard Social Credit candidate Peer Paynter.

       “We are obeying the Lenin dictum which says the Communists can wait for the West to spend itself into destruction.” he said. “Their peace offensive will put us in the same position we were in during the Thirties.”








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