The Men from Atlantis

Thursday, December 15, 2022 4:35 PM

It was just after 9:00 am on a typical morning back in 1998, but this morning ended up being anything but typical. 


As I stepped off of the elevator on the 15th floor of our office building, coffee held firmly in hand, the sliding glass doors to our reception area swooshed open as though I was stepping onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise. It took me a while to get used to these new doors, I had to bounce off of them head-first a few times before it sunk in that they were actually there to stay. And those doors ALWAYS made me think of Star Trek - it was the one morning chuckle that I could always rely on.


I settled into my sterile cookie-cutter office and started to scroll through the many emails that landed in my inbox overnight. One really stood out. It was from our chairman and the subject line read: Mandatory Staff Meeting. My neck immediately stiffened as I opened it to learn that were all being summoned to a 10:00 am meeting in his corner suite. GREAT, I thought to myself, who’s gonna be in the line of fire today?!? A reactive brain scan confirmed that this day was not a Friday, which was a relief.


If it had been a Friday, the day that movie reviews typically came out on, then I could have been in the line of fire. My boss seemed to think that publicists were supposed to have an uncanny ability to control the opinion of the film critics. A bad review should never run, right? Right. This meant that, as the VP of publicity and promotions for our film division, if a bad review were to run - it would be my fault, and hysteria would often ensue. I do believe in challenging writers or editors on content that isn’t balanced or fair and had done so on a couple of occasions in the past without being pressured to do so, but I also happened to think that most of the reviews were fair. I was the only person in my circle of friends who ever dreaded Fridays – they were just the worst. I’ve often wondered if my adverse reaction to the term "Friyay” stemmed from that experience, though, it would probably make my skin crawl regardless.


Our chairman’s office was a beautiful space with stylish grey stone floors, two full walls of windows and a glass door that led out to a stunning terrace that spanned the length of the building - a terrace that none of us were permitted to step foot on. We learned this rule one afternoon, shortly after a few well-intentioned employees decided to enjoy their short lunchbreak outside in the sunshine and fresh air. THE HORROR…the horror, right? After this “incident," we all promptly received a tersley-worded email that stated the terrace was off limits to anyone other than the senior executive team (unless you were asked to join them for a meeting). 


So! We arrived at this corner office with the door to the stunning terrace to find our chairman, a stylishly-dressed man with a healthy head of silver hair seated next to the CEO of the company, a taller man with wavy dark hair and a foreboding presence. Shortly after I started working with the company, I was told that the staff endearingly referred to these two as "Barney and Fred” - not only because of their height difference, but also because they were good friends who tended to bicker a lot, which made me laugh. I actually adopted the visual reference as a device - something I could call on as needed to make them feel less threatening to me. I didn't need to lean on it this particular morning, though, as they were both very much at ease and actually looked strangely happy as they dropped some surprising news on us…

Our company, Alliance Communications, had been sold to a company called Atlantis Communications. From that day forward, we would be known as Alliance Atlantis Communications. It took a few very, very long moments for their words to sink in and to process what I just heard, but once I did - my head nearly exploded. My husband worked for Atlantis not long before we met and always spoke very highly of them and I was always envious of another good friend who worked for them at the time of the merger as she loved her job. I really had to conceal my joy in front of our team who all seemed somewhat concerned about the news, but there was no mistaking it, this was joyful news for me. 


I had often wondered what our company could be like without the tension and shroud of negativity that hung over our heads with each passing week. I imagined how much more creative I could be in an environment that wasn’t ruled by ego and how much happier we all could be. This news gave me hope.


Two of the four men from Atlantis, the new owners of our company, were Michael MacMillan, now founder and CEO of Blue Ant Media and founder/partner of Closson Chase Vineyards here where I live in Prince Edward County, and Seaton Maclean who is also a founder/partner of Closson Chase.


Was our company a better place to work after the purchase? Yes, from my perspective, it certainly was. This new team genuinely appreciated and valued their employees and treated everyone with great respect. Though it wasn’t perfect for us as their focus was more on the lucrative broadcast side of the business and not our side (the film division), the positivity and respect from the new owners did trickle down to us. I grew to love my job  - it was so refreshing to see this style of leadership in action in real life. I always believed this was possible in the entertainment industry, and they proved it.


Funnily enough, Seaton and Michael unwittingly played a role in putting Prince Edward County on the map for us. While reading The Globe and Mail almost 25 years ago, I stumbled across a feature about their new winery called Closson Chase Vineyards in a region that I knew nothing about. Not only was Closson Chase among one of the first wineries to sprout up here in PEC – but it’s also one of the best. Their wines are excellent, the service is exceptional and you cannot help but feel the positive energy that envelops you the moment you step into their iconic purple barn. Below is an illustration I did to acknowledge their 20th anniversary a few years ago.


We’ve come to know a few of the staff members over the years too including the amazing and wonderful winemaker, Keith Tyers (who was one of my earliest “County Characters” below); The lovey GM, Erin MacInnis, and Marketing Specialist, Kirstyn Mayers, all who profess a deep respect for the owners of Closson Chase, which doesn’t surprise me at all. If I was younger, I would be begging for a chance to work with them again in some capacity 😊. Lastly, Sonja Smitts, another partner in the winery (she is wearing black in the illustration above!), is an exceptionally talented actress whose most recent starring role was in Drifting Snow, a beatifully written and directed feature film by PEC-based Ryan Noth with the stunning cinematography of Tess Girard (also a PEC resident!). We’ve gotten to know Sonja since moving here and she could not be more lovely. 



- Lori Gottlieb


It astonishes me now to think about the amount of verbal abuse we put up with  - it was accepted behaviour in this business back then and sadly it became our normal, our Stockholm syndrome. An argument can be made that we all grew a thicker skin because of it, which, to some degree I can’t deny. I did toughen up and I did learn to stand up for myself. However – what I got really good at was boxing up and compartmentalizing the hysterical behaviour along with all of the anxiety, sleepless nights, stress and stress-related maladies that came with it - issues that I still wrestle with today. Words have great power and their’s had a biting, destructive and lasting power over me.

While I no longer feel resentment, I’ll always maintain though that no matter what amount of pain or adversity someone has faced in their lives or despite what current pressure they are under - no one can ever justify being abusive and taking their frustrations out on others. There are countless examples of people who have risen above the extremely harsh and horrific conditions that were imposed on them, and who chose to use the adversity they faced as a catalyst for positive change. Viktor FranklRosa Parks and Nelson Mandela immediately come to mind - they helped to elevate others and make the world a better place. 



- Dr. Wayne Dyer

Being kind is a conscious choice, there is a compassionate lens that we can choose to see the world through. You actually decide not to be kind – it’s a decision. While it’s not perfect here in Prince Edward County, I do find that we are surrounded by so many wonderful people who have also chosen to see the world through a caring lens and I gravitate towards them by choice. The bottom line, at least for me, is this: When given the choice, and we always have a choice, always choose to be compassionate and kind. Always. My hope and belief is that current and future generations simply won’t tolerate abusive behaviour as we once did in the workplace, or anywhere for that matter.