RIP Rafe Mair: thought leader and B.C. broadcasting titan

Some thoughts on today’s sad news of the passing of Rafe Mair, who many will remember from his time as the morning talk show host at CKNW radio. It is said Rafe benefited greatly from a ratings powerhouse that preceded his program, the Frosty Forst morning drive show. However, when Rafe took to the air he would speak his mind, and tens of thousands of British Columbians would hang on his every word.

Rafe Mair with Vancouver Sun reporter Vaughn Palmer (photo uncredited)

Rafe was an accomplished polemicist, who would prepare essays for every program between Monday thru Friday. He spoke with authority, with historical insight, and with the experience of having sat at the Cabinet table for a time in the Social Credit government of Premier Bill Bennett.

Winston Churchill was Rafe’s hero, and one could hear the lilt and inflection of that great orator in his morning editorial commentary. As a political junkie and radio enthusiast, I would tune in whenever I could.

He pushed some boundaries with his commentary, and eventually got himself fired from his highly rated radio broadcast job at CKNW after criticizing the company brass on-air. After a short stint at another station, Rafe turned to internet as his most important venue for sharing his commentary.

When Rafe got his hooks into a topic, such as when he did with anything to do with B.C.’s fisheries, he was a dog with a bone that would not let go. There were times — actually several — when I disagreed with him. In particular, I recall his aggressive stance with regard to Quebec and the sovereignty referendum in the mid-1990s. I chose to call him out on it in a newspaper column I wrote for a small alternative weekly called Terminal City Weekly.

Wendy Conway-Mair and Rafe Mair in their Lion’s Bay homestead

Rafe would have never noticed the piece when it was originally published. He did, however, find it years later when I archived it on my blog. He wrote me an email to take issue with my points. I was so surprised that he contacted me, I nearly fell over myself trying to explain my position. After an email exchange, he invited me to lunch at his favourite eatery at the Vancouver Club to talk about his website.

I dined with Rafe at the Club a handful of times, usually accompanied by his kindhearted wife Wendy Conway Mair. Rafe had a large archive of his newspaper and radio editorials, and wondered if there would be those who would pay to read what he had to say through a paid subscription. The market for subscriber services for newsletters was limited in the early 2000s, but Rafe hired me to update to allow him to use the internet to keep his words alive, in addition to promoting his books.

The website had a small but passionate following. People loved to debate topics of the day, so the core of the website was an online bulletin board, with a “members only” section for subscribers.

Eventually the site needed very little intervention from me, and I gradually became less involved with Rafe’s online activities. I also was working closely with political figures from the Gordon Campbell government that Rafe loved to pillory in his commentary, so the relationship slowly faded.

Rafe had a fire in his belly about many subjects, particularly where he saw abuses of the environment. He would send out email invectives to his contact list by blind-copying us all. I foolishly (in hindsight) replied to him to challenge his viewpoint on run-of-river energy generation. My own research had shown the projects to be environmentally benign to fish stocks. Rafe held a strong view that they were damaging to the river systems.

Website header from circa 2003

His response to me was, shall we say, very strongly worded. He blasted me as being a political lackey. To that point our work together (he had even invited me to his home in Lion’s Bay on a couple of occasions) had been extremely professional and cordial. It was a sudden and deflating end to our relationship, which began as a result of me being a fan of the man’s work.

I did not hold it against him though. Rafe’s mercurial side was well known to me and others. He had made his struggles with depression known publicly over 20 years ago. I am pretty sure he wished he had not hit send on that reply to me.

Soon afterward I was contacted by a group called Commonsense Canadian, run by activist filmmaker and environmentalist Damien Gillis, who had forged a bond with Mair. Rafe eventually became de facto spokesperson for the group, appearing at rallies and other public protests. Gillis’ team wanted my help to transfer to their web server, which I happily aided them with.

Most important to me were the over 1,000 articles by Rafe on the site that would be lost if not imported into his new site. In my view, they represent an important historical record of the past 30 years of B.C. politics. While the pages were not elegantly formatted (they are text-only), I am pleased that the articles are still accessible at It is my hope that these articles are kept online somewhere for future reference.

Rafe was a storyteller, fly-fisher, husband, father and grandparent. He was a complex and sometimes larger than life individual who did not give – as he would say – a tinker’s damn about his critics. He will be remembered by me for his many accomplishments as a writer and a broadcaster. I am thankful for my many conversations with him, and that he allowed me to help preserve his legacy by keeping his extensive archive of written commentary online.