Boris Spremo photographed the world near and far

North Toronto resident brought lessons he learned from his craft home to his family

HISTORY LESSONS: Toronto Star photojournalist Boris Spremo caught vital scenes from history from behind his lens: the construction of the CN Tower, the signing of the Charter Bill of Rights and the Vietnam War. He died in late August of myeloma cancer.

Whenever photojournalist Boris Spremo returned home from Vietnam or El Salvador or Turkey, he would share his experiences with his four daughters, Linda, Sandy, Anita and Diana.

It was an effort to show just how lucky they had it living on Lytton Boulevard in Toronto, Canada.

His anecdotes impacted his kids, as Diana, the youngest, shared in a phone conversation in early September.

“We always looked forward to listening to those stories,” she said. “He accomplished what he set out to do because all four of us grew up with the perspective that we were very lucky to grow up where we did.”

Spremo, who died recently, was a veteran of the Toronto Star newsroom, often sent overseas to capture those moments in war zones like Vietnam or El Salvador or the wedding and funeral of Lady Di.

The photos his daughter Diana remembers most were those taken of the Kurdish refugees who fled over the Kirghiz range into Turkey. Spremo himself was a refugee who stayed in a camp in Italy, then moved to Paris and eventually made his way to Canada.

“I remember him saying after that assignment that here at home whenever someone is killed, the inquiry takes months. Where he was, he saw dead bodies that were kicked aside to make room,” Diana said.

Though he was often abroad his family came first when he was home.

“Even though he travelled so much, when we were little, we never felt he was an absentee father because he really was a wonderful man and father. He was funny and playful,” she recalled. “When he was home, he made his family his No. 1 priority.”

When it came to the office, former colleague James Russell was quick to mention when he came aboard at the Star, Spremo was very generous with his advice.

“I remember when I first started shooting sports, and I was churning through rolls of film with my motordrive, he gave me some great advice,” Russell said. “I should stop treating my camera like a machine gun. It’s just a camera. I should be more selective. Timing was critical.”

Russell worked with the by-then legendary Spremo from 1981 to 1991. What he recalled most was the 1959 black Cadillac that reminded him of his own father’s.

“He was really proud of that car.”

That car was jokingly referred to by the family as his baby.

Spremo was born in Croatia, but was raised in Belgrade when it was part of Yugoslavia. His mother and sister died when he was quite young, so it was up to his father, a police officer, to look after him.

Often, Boris would be left on his own, but his entrepreneurial spirit took over. Diana shared an anecdote about how he made a wagon and would take the neighbourhood kids for a ride, charging a few cents, or para, as they were called.

Photography came naturally.

“He was a photographer when photography was an art,” Diana said. “Look at us now, we all pick up our cell phones and we can all be considered photographers.”

He won many awards for his photography and was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1997.

Spremo succumbed to myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, at Sunnybrook Hospital on Aug. 22. He is survived by wife Ika, his four daughters and seven grandchildren.

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