Being there mattered to people

“I didn’t go to idolize the actors. I went because Star Trek spoke to my soul, to what I felt the world should be.” — Linda MacDonald

Toronto Star Trek ’76 was hugely important, even life changing, for many people. Here are some of those stories.

Linda MacDonald

“The thing I remember the most was the ability to walk around in the middle of the night and be welcomed by any circle of fans. Really late at night, after all the events were over, people wanted to keep the talking going and you could just join a conversation about Star Trek and you were welcome. The attitude was so inclusive. 

“It was remarkable. It is the most important memory of my life.”

A teenager in the 1970s, MacDonald worked at a tobacco tying table to fund her convention trip to the big city. “It was a hard summer job, but I paid for everything myself. [Letting me go] was a lot for my parents to agree to, but I told them it’s an organized thing, there’ll be lots of people there, it will be at the Royal York, and my sister will drop us off and make sure we get into the hotel and get registered.” 

MacDonald dragged along two friends who weren’t really Trek fans. “We stayed in the hotel and I kept my promise to my mom to not leave the hotel. We went to every event and hung out in the halls.”

A closeup of Star Trek actor James Doohan.
Photo by Frank Goodman

James Doohan was important to her experience. “I remember this as if it was yesterday: I was five chairs in from the aisle and when James Doohan was walking out (of the main hall) he was shaking hands with the people along the aisle and when he got to me he stopped and leaned in over four chairs to shake my hand. I have never forgotten that. Being a teenager is hard, and sometimes you feel you’re not special. That meant a lot to me.” 

She also fondly remembers the Dorsai Irregulars, the volunteer con security force who often dressed as Klingons. “Some people said that being at the convention felt like reality, because when you went to the bathroom there would be Klingons in there peeing. So you felt like it was real.”

Sawyer has won more sci-fi/fantasy writing awards than any person in history, but back in 1976 he was a 16-year-old fan hanging out at a convention with a group of friends from their high school sci-fi club, including his now wife Carolyn Clink.

I am so glad you are [writing these articles] because the convention is undocumented and it is a gigantic part of Canadian SF history. Up until that point, in Canada, the notion of being a science-fiction fan was a well-guarded secret. It was a watershed because it attracted people beyond traditional science-fiction fandom.

Back then, there was only one thing that every science-fiction fan had in common. That was Star Trek. Anyone who was a science-fiction fan loved and admired Star Trek. So, even more than the World Science Fiction Convention (in Toronto in 1973), this was the big tent that everyone gathered under. It was a moment in history.

The con was also important to the writer Sawyer would become.

I can look down the list of guests and I can legitimately claim many of these people as friends. Hal Clement, who had no association with Star Trek but who was a very good hard SF writer; Harlan Ellison, who we lost recently as we speak now, who became a great friend; David Gerrold and I are still great friends; I know and am friends with Rick Sternbach; I knew and was friends with DC Fontana. It astonishes me that, as a 16-year-old kid, I met and became friends with all of these people. What a seed this convention planted in my life. It is incredible. 

16-year-old Robert J. Sawyer with three friends at Toronto Star Trek '76.
Sawyer, third from the left, at Toronto Star Trek ’76. Photo by Carolyn Clink.

That weekend, the couple also realized stars are just people. “I remember at 3:00 in the morning seeing Mark Lenard and some of the other actors just drunk out of their minds,” said Clink, now a poet and editor. “There was no security, no one else around, they were just in a hallway because they had too much to drink at a party. You don’t see that anymore, because the stars are ushered around now.”

“It was jarring,” Sawyer agreed. “At 16, seeing these guys drunk and half of them smoking was a staggering wake-up that the actor and the character are not the same person. As a teenager, when you’re talking to George Takei you think you’re talking to Sulu, but no, you’re talking to an actor.”

George Hollo

The cover of the 2016 Time magazine Star Trek tribute, showing a composite image of publicity shots of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura and Sulu.

George Hollo was standing in line at a grocery store in 2016 and, as you do, he started flipping through a magazine. It was a special Star Trek edition of Time — and he found his young self. Time had reprinted a shot taken by Toronto Star photographer Mike Slaughter of Hollo and two slightly older kids at the convention. 

Well, the original photo was of three people, but the paper and later the magazine cropped the kid on the right and roughly airbrushed his arm out of the image.

Hollo’s wife snapped a photo in the grocery store. “We ended up buying five or six copies of the magazine and people have actually sent me that from around the world and had me autograph it. Seeing that was a pretty special moment and my wife was kind of proud of me.”

An image of the photo as taken by The Toronto Star, with George Hollo and two other con attendees.
George Hollo with his younger self at the grocery store; the photo as it appeared in the Toronto Star; and a scan of the original, with grease-pencil marks indicating where the pic would be cropped.

Hollo was 13 and at the convention for all three days. He was supposed to leave each evening to sleep at his grandparents’ house nearby, but he met Ray Shier (on the left in the photo) and another fan, both 16, and as evening set in on Friday they invited him to sleep on the floor of their hotel room.

I called that first night and said, ‘It’s really late, I don’t want to wake anybody up and these guys have offered to let me stay in their hotel room,’ so I ended up doing that for the first night. I was freeloading as I didn’t have a lot of money, so we had an uncomfortable conversation the next day and they basically kicked me out. I would have done the same.

I had a homemade lirpa that I was carrying around and it didn’t last past the first day. It fell apart. I made a big giant blade from a cardboard box and I had a broom handle and the other end was a pair of jeans I duct-taped to the end of the pole. It was awful. So I had to lug all this stuff around in addition to wearing Spock ears all weekend. In the picture in the newspaper, that was actually my phaser and my tricorder. The only things we had back then were the AMT model kits.

Amy Mark

Amy Mark made a last-minute decision to fly in from New York for the convention (“$60 cash and you just walked onto the plane”) at the urging of her friend, the author Jacqueline Lichtenberg. That turned out to be a momentous decision. 

“That convention was life-changing for a lot of people. It certainly changed mine. I met the man I would marry (Bakka co-owner Raymond Alexander) and I moved up here to Canada. That was huge. It totally changed my life.”

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