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“If you want to make things happen, you have to initiate them, create your own opportunities, keep dreaming – but do some legwork to keep those dreams alive.”
Cam Tait of Edmonton is a veteran journalist, author and comedian who lives with cerebral palsy. Overcoming great odds to live independently and work full time, he serves as a role model to future generations of Albertans. Through his engaging writing and humour, he breaks down barriers, inspires his community to help others, and advocates for persons with disabilities, proving that it is possible to change the course of your life.
Cameron Douglas Tait was born in Grande Prairie on December 10, 1958. He was 18 minutes old before he took his first breath. A minute later, he stopped breathing again, this time for 45 minutes. The lack of oxygen caused him to develop cerebral palsy.
At the time, Grande Prairie had little help for children with cerebral palsy. So in 1962, Cam’s parents, Thelma and Harold, moved the young family, including younger sister Joan, to Edmonton, where Cam’s brother Bradley was born. But clinic services in the city accomplished little for Cam.
The family learned about a program at The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential near Philadelphia. Dr. Glenn Doman was pioneering a new therapy for brain-injured children. Rather than treating the symptoms of brain injury, Doman and his staff focused on stimulating the brain itself, achieving significant improvements.
In 1964, Cam took his first trip to Philadelphia with his parents and the first steps of a journey that would change his life. His parents learned about an exercise regimen called patterning. Patterning required four adults to move Cam’s limbs and head, eight times a day, every day, at the same times within one-hour intervals – for five years.
The family needed a miracle. And their friends and neighbours provided it, building life-long friendships in the process. With their help, Cam made remarkable progress. Initially unable to sit up, speak or move his arms and legs, he learned to get around in a wheelchair, move his hands and talk. Cam specifically remembers the dedication of his neighbour Maxine Bradley, whose long-standing work with him developed the coordination necessary to type, an essential skill for a future writer.
Word spread about the community’s support of Cam and his family. In 1966, CBC produced a national television program called 100 for Cameron, the 100 representing the volunteers who helped him succeed.
Cam discovered his urge to write when he was in elementary school, inspired by Eddie Keen’s radio editorials on 630 CHED. Cam listened faithfully, studying the words Eddie used, the way he constructed his sentences and thoughts. After he finished his homework, Cam would practice writing two editorials a day, just like Eddie.
It was around this time that Cam came to an important understanding. Just like with his patterning, success could come with repetition and a focus on getting things right. He went on to apply that lesson throughout his life. He strengthened his writing – by writing every day. He swam lengths daily, until he could swim a mile. He polished his comedy routine to become a successful sit-down comedian. He crafted and refined an inspiring multi-media presentation on disability and became a public speaker.
When he graduated from high school, Cam wanted to write for radio, so he enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts program at NAIT. His characteristic hard work saw his first radio commercial air on CHED while he was still in school.
After he finished NAIT, a chance introduction to George Ward – sports editor with the Edmonton Journal – led to an opportunity for Cam to submit his writing for George’s consideration. But George made it clear, “If it’s a piece of crap, into the garbage it goes.” There would be no free pass because of Cam’s disability. That’s all Cam ever wanted: a chance.
Starting as a freelance writer with the Edmonton Journal in 1979 and becoming a staffer in 1985, Cam’s Journal career stretched a total of 35 years. He wrote news, sports, features and columns, often advocating for people with disabilities. As he began his career at the Journal, Cam also wrote for radio, including wheelchair sports reports on 1260 CFRN and Tait Talk editorials on K-97. After only a few years, he was nominated by the Canadian Sports Federation for the best sports writer of the year. In 2014, Cam moved to the Edmonton Sun where he now writes his column Tait on 8. In 2022, Cam also began writing features for the non-profit David Foster Foundation, which supports Canadian families with children in need of life-saving organ transplants.
Many of Cam’s interviews over the years have led to long-term friendships. Having met Rick Hansen years earlier when he covered wheelchair basketball, Cam was thrilled to report on Rick’s Man in Motion World Tour in 1985-86. Cam not only covered the tour in parts of Canada, but also participated in the relay 25 years later that retraced his friend’s path across the country.
When he interviewed his hero Stevie Wonder, Cam asked what the key was for someone with a disability to be in high profile. “We are the chosen ones,” said Stevie. “And we have a responsibility to show the world what can be done.” Cam has done exactly that. Initially challenged by Wayne Gretzky to join 99’s charity golf classic, Cam not only picked up his clubs, but also went on to raise much-needed funds over three years of charity golf tournaments.
Cam has been part of the Edmonton Oilers scene for decades. Writing about the team for more than 40 years, he has become good friends with many players, managers, coaches and staff. He also worked for the Oilers Entertainment Group for several years, writing articles about the unsung heroes behind the scenes of the organization.
Early on, Cam found that humour was a great way to build connections with others. So when Yuk Yuk’s comedy club invited him to participate in Amateur Night, Cam was in. He went on to work in comedy for five years, touring Western Canada with Yuk Yuk’s, winning Alberta’s Funniest New Comic in 1995, and representing Alberta at the national Yuk Yuk’s Funniest New Comic showdown in Toronto. Cam’s first date with his future wife Joan included his act at Yuk Yuk’s. She must have enjoyed the show: they were engaged six weeks later. Two decades on, he would title his autobiography Disabled? Hell No! I’m a Sit-Down Comic!.
Cam felt he could do something more meaningful with his humour, something that could deliver a message along with the laughter. He developed a powerful and engaging multi-media presentation about his patterning program and the volunteers who literally changed his life. In it, he asked his audiences what gives them dignity and independence, and he challenged them to share that gift with others. Over the years, he spoke to a range of organizations, from those supporting sick kids, and people with disabilities, to high schools, to corporate retreats, often waiving his fee if it meant being able to reach a new audience.
Public response was resounding. The pinnacle of Cam’s public speaking career saw him deliver the keynote address at the World Congress at The Institutes in Philadelphia. Dr. Doman, creator of patterning, was in the third row of the lecture theatre, where Cam’s parents had learned how to do patterns. Cam had come full circle.
The more he shattered public perceptions of what people with disabilities can achieve, the more his assistance was requested. In 2015, Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor at the time, Col. (Ret’d) the Hon. Donald Ethell, invited Cam to serve on his Circle on Mental Health and Addiction. Former Premier Rachel Notley later appointed him to the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, where he served two three-year terms.
Cam is committed to helping his fellow Edmontonians in need. He served as Executive Producer of the ATCO Edmonton Sun Christmas Charity Auction for four years, raising much-needed funds for local charities. He also served five years as Executive Producer of the annual charity auction for the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton.
Cam’s community has honoured him in various ways. In 1996, the Edmonton Downtown Rotary Club recognized him as a Paul Harris Fellow. In 2001, NAIT awarded him a Communications Technology Diploma and, in 2005, Grant MacEwan College presented him with a Distinguished Citizen Award. In 2022, Cam will receive the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal (Alberta).
No matter what goal Cam sets for himself next, one thing is for sure. He’ll map out his path, then stay on the road until he rolls across the finish line in victory.
Cam and Joan have a son Darren (Sheila) and three grandsons, Nicholas, Christopher and Matthew, all being raised with their Papa’s mischievous sense of humour.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence