Newfoundland Media Mogul Created New Age “Captain Canada”
by BK Munn
Legendary Newfoundland broadcaster Geoffrey Stirling died December 21.
Trained in journalism, in 1946 the Newfoundland-born Stirling started the St. John Sunday Herald newspaper with $1000 saved from working in his father’s restaurant. Essentially a one-man operation in its early years, the paper grew to a circulation of 75,000 by 1966. Stirling branched out to television in 1955, eventually establishing CJON-TV’s as the first 24-hour tv schedule in Canada in the 1970s with all-night broadcasts of cartoons, early music videos, and documentaries. He started the first FM radio station in Newfoundland in 1977 and repeated the success in Montreal (CHOM-FM), Windsor, and Ottawa. At the time of his death, Stirling had a net worth of $100 million. As the head of Stirling Communications International he continued to operate media properties throughout Newfoundland, including Newfoundland Television, The Newfoundland Herald and CHOZ-FM radio. Famously eccentric, Stirling injected his broadcasts with New Age philosophy, trippy electronic video experiments, and epic-length interviews with political and entertainment celebrities like Joey Smallwood, John Lennon, or any of his Indian gurus.
Stirling also dabbled in politics, first as part of a movement to join Newfoundland to the U.S. in the 1940s, and later, in the 1970s, as a provincial candidate for Smallwood’s splinter Liberal Reform Party.
Stirling’s contribution to the world of Canadian comics came in 1979 with the advent of a group of patriotic-themed superheroes led by the red-and-white-garbed Captain Canada. Writing under the pseudonym Geoffrey Scott, Stirling, along with his son Scott, created and wrote the adventures of the group for a comic strip than ran in his Sunday Herald. The “Captain Newfoundland” strip was drawn by U.S. artist Danny Bulanadi, and was later collected in a Captain Newfoundland comic book in 1981. Created by the mysterious and mystical Captain Atlantis, aka Captain Newfoundland, the group of heroes, which also included the First Nations character Captain Freedom and the Quebec-based Mademoiselle, sought to defend the country from external threats while imparting moral lessons to its young audience along with healthy dollops of Stirling pere‘s own brand of yogic philosophy, conspiracy theories, and New Age beliefs in “pyramid power”, crystals, and more. (All of this was fleshed out in the 1983 graphic novel, Atlantis, and eventually through late night tv appearances by the characters.) Although promoted through the Stirlings’ tv and other media outlets (with Capt. Canada later becoming the mascot of NTV), the Captain Newfoundland comics franchise, perhaps because of its regional emphasis, was not a huge financial success and soon faded from the public consciousness outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, becoming little more than a footnote in the weird history of Canadian “nationalist” superhero efforts.
Stirling was an inductee into the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Royal St. John’s Regatta Hall of Fame and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Although in recent years he spent much of his time at his ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona, where he also owned a radio station, Stirling was laid to rest January 4 in St. John’s. He is survived by his wife Joyce, 5 children, 9 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.