Ed Polanski

POLANSKI, Edward (Ed) John

January 9, 1933 – October 7, 2015

On October 7, 2015, Edward John Polanski passed away peacefully at the age of 82 years with his family by his side.

Ed will be lovingly remembered by his wife of 57 years, Phyllis (nee Tomnuk), their five children: Carmen (Brad), Kelly, Michelle, Grace and James (Rea), their grandchildren: Derek, Dylan, Drayton, Zachary, Barrett, Makayla and Lauren, and his brother, Frank (Elsie). Ed was predeceased by his parents Joseph and Angeline (nee Ardelli) Polanski and his brother, Lawrence Polanski.

Born in Eldorena, Alberta, Ed completed his formal education in Thorhild, Alberta. As a young man, he repaired radios in his father’s hardware store, triggering an interest in electronics and the emerging communications technology. Ed moved to Toronto completing post-secondary training at the Ryerson Institute of Technology.

His working career saw Ed return to Alberta establishing one of Alberta’s first cable television systems in 1960 in Athabasca, Alberta. Ed was among a group of investors who were granted a license from the CRTC in 1970 for a cable TV undertaking serving the western half of Edmonton, appointing Ed as company Chairman and CEO. The company, named QCTV Ltd., saw growth over Ed’s 16 year leadership installing and managing cablevision systems in 32 Alberta towns and cities. Ed served as Mayor of the Town of Athabasca, President of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce, and was a Designated Pioneer and Honours recipient of the Canadian Cable Television Association.

As a successful and respected business person, Ed most enjoyed connecting with people and communities. He was a dynamic entrepreneur, visionary and mentor who left a lasting mark on those who knew him. A loving husband, father and “papa”, his vibrant and meaningful presence will be greatly missed.

A private Mass of Christian Burial was held on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 with interment at the Holy Cross Mausoleum in Edmonton, Alberta. A memorial video may be viewed at polanski.ca

Published in The Edmonton Journal from Oct. 23 to Oct. 24, 2015

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Life and Times: TV pioneer brought cable to Northern Alberta

Madeleine Cummings, Edmonton Journal
Published on-line on: November 20, 2015

Edward Polanski, 1933 — 2015

Edward Polanski called his first cable television company Superior Communications Systems Ltd., but as a Grade 1 student in Thorhild, Alberta, Polanski found himself unable to communicate at all with his classmates. His parents, Polish immigrants, had spoken only Polish to him as a boy and he knew no English. Luckily, a Ukrainian-speaking teacher helped him along.

Despite this initial hurdle, Polanski went on to become a communications pioneer as one of the first entrepreneurs to bring cable television into Albertans’ homes. He died peacefully on October 7 at the age of 82.

Edward John Polanski was born in Eldorena, Alberta, but grew up in Thorhild. As a young man, he worked in his father’s hardware store, where he repaired radios. In 1952, after high school, he moved to Toronto and enrolled in a two-year radio technology program at Ryerson Institute of Technology (now Ryerson University.)

Polanski took what he learned at Ryerson straight back to Thorhild, where he opened an appliance and repair store next to his father’s hardware store. In the mid-1950s, he rigged up a small “long-distance freak reception” cable system in the store, using a television receiver he had made in Toronto. The system was primitive but managed to receive 46 American television stations, the farthest of which came from Texas.

Farmers flocked to the store to watch TV and soon they wanted their own sets. At first, Polanski hooked up customers’ televisions to the shop’s cable, but in 1959, he installed a cable system for the town of Athabasca. It went into service the next year. About 300 people paid a $165 installation fee, plus $5.50 per month for one TV channel. It was one of the first cable television systems in Western Canada.

Polanski met his wife, Phyllis Tomnuk, in Thorhild and they married on July 5, 1958, in front of a crowd of more than 600. Together they raised five children: Carmen, Kelly, Michelle, Grace and James.

In 1969, a group of investors asked Polanski to help start a cable company in Edmonton. The group got a license from the CRTC in 1970 and Polanski became chairman and CEO of the new company, QCTV Ltd., which grew quickly and opened cable TV systems in 32 Alberta cities and towns.

According to Patrick McKenna, who worked with him during the early years of QCTV, Polanski was a powerful boss who genuinely loved running a business and learning everything he could about management and leadership.

“Of all the people I’ve worked with, he was probably the most influential in that he took a lot of time and gave me a lot of opportunities to grow as an executive,” said Steven Comrie, who worked for three years as Polanski’s executive assistant. Polanski kept an eye on all of his employees by walking from department to department and talking with people in each.

Key to Polanski’s success was his openness to new ideas. To convince people in small communities to sign up for cable, for example, he used airline pilots as salespeople. The pilots, he reasoned, held credibility as engineers, which set them apart from traditional marketers. (They also had lots of days off).

Polanski encouraged his employees to take risks. One employee who wanted to leave his job and start a restaurant was permitted to do so and promised his old job back if the restaurant failed. When it did fail, and the employee returned, he was much more productive than before, “because he had been allowed to try something new,” said Polanski’s son, James, who worked with his father for several years.

A lifelong interest in politics led Polanski to run for mayor of Athabasca in the mid-1960s. He won and served as mayor while still running his company. After QCTV was sold in 1986, Polanski involved himself in a number of small businesses, some of which thrived while others struggled.

To each job he brought a positive and upbeat demeanour. “He could be strict but also enjoyed having fun and letting loose,” his son said. When anyone asked how he was, he usually responded, “super, super, super.”

Polanski was known for spending almost all of his waking hours at the office. He often returned to the office after dinner to work late into the night. About 15 years ago, James visited his parents in the early morning and was surprised to find his father already up. “You’re awake early,” he remarked, to which his father responded, “I haven’t gone to bed yet.”

New employees at QCTV realized keeping the same hours as their boss would be demanding but rewarding.

“He didn’t really expect us to follow his devotion to the work,” Comrie said. But those who wanted to keep up and to work closely with Polanski made sure to stay late. “That’s when we found some of our best moments,” Comrie said.

Polanski simply loved being at the office and often told his children he would work until the day he died. In 2001, a stroke suddenly marked the end of Polanski’s business career. He had trouble speaking, and was, for the rest of his days, confined to a wheelchair. After the stroke, though, his personality became dramatically more relaxed. He was calm and peaceful with family members, who noticed that his mind was as sharp as ever.

Many of the employees Polanski guided brought his drive and management philosophies to their own successful businesses. McKenna became a consultant and regularly shares lessons he learned from his mentor with top law firms around the world. And Comrie went on to become a communications executive and entrepreneur, starting multiple companies in the United States. Both men called their early years with QCTV “the most important” in their careers and stressed his devotion to innovation.

“He invented an entire industry,” McKenna said. “I joke with American friends that we invented cable television because we had very little to watch up in Canada. Ed was one of the pioneers.”

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