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A career behind the camera a fulfilling one for Yura Monestime

'My start was on the backside of Pierre Trudeau retiring and that infamous walk in the snow.  Meech Lake Accord, Free Trade, national and provincial elections, Papal visit to the shuttle disaster, were all pivotal moments. It was very interesting to be a part of telling those stories'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

It’s the 1980s. There are no smartphones. There is no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or blog space of any kind. Getting knowledge of a big news story happened in only three ways; you heard about it on the radio, you read about it in the paper or you saw it play out on tv.

Yura Monestime carved out a brilliant career by being a part of the latter. For over 20 years Monestime was behind the camera bringing stories to the living rooms across the nation in the early part of his career, and specifically across northern Ontario in the later part, and he recalls being in the midst of that generation where television news really was “must-see tv.”

“Back in the ’80s and the ’90s, microwave and satellites were everything,” he says.  “We would have reporters call in the leads over their cellphones, or you’d hire a helicopter to bring the tape back. Or you would drive in the car and, not really breaking laws, but you would get there fairly quickly.”

Monestime says there really was a competitive nature when it came to getting that story of the day.

“It was to another level without social media. You know we all got along and would go out to dinner and those kinds of things, but in terms of getting the story, the competition was fierce.”

Monestime retells an incident that made big headlines in the nation’s capital.

“I remember one incident where we were up on Parliament Hill and a guy highjacked a bus, drove onto Parliament Hill, and got stuck on the lawn while holding people at gunpoint inside,” he says.

“We were walking off Parliament Hill after Question Period when we saw this bus going by with a whole fleet of police cars behind it triggering an evacuation of the Hill. We jumped in the bush and started recording the event as it unfolded. We recorded footage of the gunman firing a shot through the window of the bus at police, which freaked out everybody.

"We were just about to leave to bring the tape to the newsroom when the police detained us for a moment and requested the recorded tape. While they were having the discussion, we swapped the original tape in the recording machine with a blank tape.  We then ran the real footage immediately as breaking news, those were the kind of things, in terms of competitiveness that we did.”

Hijacked bus aside, being on Parliament Hill was somewhere Monestime always wanted to be and that was mainly thanks to his father. Many people in this area know of Dr. Saint-Firmin Monestime; a trailblazer in the political world as he was the first black mayor in Canada when he was elected by the citizens of Mattawa in 1964.

“I had some big shoes to fill with my dad and his history and with my mother. I had great inspiration from both parents,” says Monestime.

His parents worked hard in Mattawa, a community just outside of North Bay where Yura was born and raised. Dr. Monestime practiced medicine there and in 1976, along with his wife Zena Petschersky, they opened the Algonquin Nursing Home which is still in operation today.

With his father being in the mayoral spotlight, Monestime developed a passion for following politics. “I loved politics,” he says. “I wanted to be behind the scenes of the political landscape, and it was a natural transition to start at a small television station called Independent Satellite News out of Ottawa. They covered national politics for a couple of television stations across the country. Within nine months Global Television noticed me and approached me for a job and the rest was history.”

That decision to join Global Television was one that helped Monestime be front and centre to some of the biggest events, not just in Canada, but around the globe.

“I flew around the world, met Prime Ministers, the Queen, Nelson Mandela to name a few. My start was on the backside of Pierre Trudeau retiring and that infamous walk in the snow.  Meech Lake Accord, Free Trade, national and provincial elections, Papal visit to the shuttle disaster, were all pivotal moments. It was very interesting to be a part of telling those stories.”

Being at Global Television meant being a part of a small team compared to the bigger networks of CTV and CBC, and that’s what Monestime says ignited some of the passion and the drive to get those big headline stories.

He says, "There were times where we would fly all night to get to the United Kingdom and as soon as we would get off that plane, we would be working 15-hour days for seven straight days. Then we would sit back and look at the stories and say man we nailed that. The hair on my arms is standing up right now thinking back to some of those moments where we just compared our stories and we knew we beat the competition. We beat CBC, and we beat CTV and they had huge resources where Global had minimum resources, but we still managed to look really good. So that was awesome, and I know every story was important but when you hit the big international stories and you’re competing against the big boys and girls, that’s the gratifying part of it.”

After an eight-year stint at Global Television in Ottawa, Monestime came back to his home region and started working at CTV in North Bay.

“It just took me a while to shift to another gear, but once I did, I loved covering local news. At the end of the day, whether you’re covering the mayor of North Bay or you’re covering the Prime Minister of Canada, it’s a headshot that you’re still editing. You’re still covering it with background audio, and b-roll. Whether you’re working for CNN or CTV in North Bay, it’s the story that is the most important.”

And the type of news coverage he did he was a little different as well.

“I did this story with a young reporter from southern Ontario who had never been in the bush, had never seen a beaver, had never been in a canoe. Her second story was with me, leaving at five o’clock in the morning, getting into a canoe with me and a trapper, and doing a story on beavers. I will never ever forget that in my life. When he skinned the beaver in front of her, it was just one of those O-M-G moments. I’m sure she still talks about that experience.”

And giving back to young people was what led him to the next phase of his career. In 2005 Monestime went back to his alma mater and joined Canadore College as a professor in the Television Production Program.

“After a while of doing all those stories and gaining all that experience, I really wanted to share,” he says. “The opportunity to teach opened in 2005 and, it felt like a natural transition.”

Monestime taught for close to a decade, preparing young minds for the ever-evolving world of television production and in 2014 he became Interim Associate Dean of Media, Design and Dramatic Arts and is now the Director of Arts, Design and Entrepreneurship. He says that is where he truly feels he can make an impact on another level, not just for the students but for the region as well.

He says, “Developing new academic programs to train future professionals in the film/tv, game design, and the music industry, will help to spawn new opportunities to the north. Hopefully, the game design program will start something special. I think it will be the basis of new technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality coming to Canadore and North Bay.”

And he says, they are off to a solid start with the new game design and music programs starting this Fall.

“It's amazing to see where we are to date,” says Monestime.  “For students to have the opportunity to be a part of experiential learning by participating on a real film production, is gold. To me that is success. When productions like Hard Rock Medical and Carter work with the College to allow our students to gain experience on set, is amazing. I can’t describe the student's reaction when they return to class after being on set.”

Monestime says being behind the camera and doing what he can to give others those skills has been a tremendous journey that he truly cherishes.

“I think I’ve had a blessed life so far to be able to have these experiences and retell these stories. I’ve flown with the Snowbirds; I’ve gone six thousand feet underground. I’ve been in the Rose Garden at the White House and Buckingham Palace. And at the end of the day, it was all done to tell a story. I’ve created a lot of great memories, built great life experiences, and now am thankful to be writing a new chapter at Canadore College.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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