Journalist, author and filmmaker William Weintraub dead at 91

MONTREAL — William Weintraub, a prolific filmmaker involved in 150 National Film Board productions and a gifted chronicler of Montreal during the city’s heyday and decline, has died at the age of 91.

The journalist and author, who died Monday, grew up in the working-class district of Verdun after his wealthy father lost his fortune in the stock market crash of 1929, said longtime friend and veteran journalist Alan Hustak.

In the early 1950s while working at the Montreal Gazette, Weintraub insulted the managing editor of the paper at a party without knowing the boss was in the room.

He was promptly fired.

“(Weintraub) was also trying to organize a union at the time,” Hustak said. “He turned the experience into his first best-selling novel.”

“Why Rock the Boat,” published in 1961, is a cynical tale of a young reporter in Montreal during the 1940s. The book was adapted into a movie produced by the NFB in 1974.

Hustak, who was a Gazette reporter for 25 years before he retired from the paper in 2009, said Weintraub left for Europe after his firing and became a radio reporter.

During that time he befriended well-known Montreal-born writers Mordecai Richler and Mavis Gallant.

“Bill was wonderfully funny,” said Hustak. “He was sentimental, he was an engaging gossip and a first-rate storyteller both in person and in print.

“He was as curious about you as you were about him.”

NFB commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur said the organization was privileged to have worked with Weintraub and to have been part of his “remarkable artistic legacy.”

“For as long as any of us can remember, Bill has been here to capture the life and vitality, the irreverence, the great personalities and stories, in his beloved Montreal and right across this country,” he said in a statement.

Weintraub was viewed in some circles as a sometimes brutally honest historian on the sensitive issue of Quebec politics, particularly around language.

His death notice says his satirical 1979 novel, “The Underdogs,” provoked controversy by imagining a future Socialist Republic of Quebec in which English speakers were an oppressed minority,”complete with a violent resistance movement.”

His 1993 NFB-produced documentary, “The Rise and Fall of English Montreal,” told the story of the the exodus of many anglophones from the province after the Parti Quebecois swept to power in 1976

Montreal is “a French city that the nationalists want,” Weintraub says in the film. Immigrants, who often gravitate toward speaking English, are told to “show respect” to the culture of the majority, he explains.

“But that phrase, ‘show respect,’ makes many newcomers uneasy, it reminds them of oppressive regimes in other countries and many of them, after a sojourn in Montreal, decide to move on — to join the exodus.”

Weintraub was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 2003.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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