Journalism: The Decline of Local Newspapers
Big city papers are nowhere to be found in B.C.’s Kootenays, but you can still find a local weekly with birthday announcements, the lost and found, and reader mail damning CBC Radio for just about anything.
By Rod Mickleburgh
The first of two parts. (Be be still your beating heart.)
I spent two rewarding weeks last month travelling the highways and communities of BC’s historic West Kootenays. As I always do when on the road, I looked for local newspapers to give me a sense of what was happening in the places where my squeaky sneakers touched down. At the same time, I still wanted to keep up with events in the rest of the province. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure I should have been surprised, I could not find a single, big-city daily east of the Okanagan. No Sun, no Province, no National Post (yay! oops….), no Globe and Mail.
I could not find a single, big-city daily east of the Okanagan. No Sun, no Province, no National Post (yay! oops….), no Globe and Mail.
So it was a local newspaper or nothing. They were a mixed bag. The good news is that they still exist, informing their communities and bringing local issues to the forefront. Some have thriving letters-to-the-editor sections, lively opinion pages containing the proverbial raft of views, and, of course, the news. Hats off to their dedicated reporters and editors, keeping alive the tradition of serving the public.
Yet there was sadness, too, remembering the days before social media, when Nelson, Cranbrook and Trail had robust local dailies and the smaller towns had solid weeklies. How these communities are better served by social media and short attention spans remains a mystery.
Herewith are a round-up of tasty tidbits from the Kootenays’ remaining local newspapers. I hope they give you a sense of what’s been doing in those scenic hinterlands, far from the city lights of Vancouver.
Let’s start with the best. It would be hard to top this delightful item from the Archive Column of the Sept. 24 Boundary Creek Times. Dated Aug. 23, 1917, it read: “Archie Aberdeen went to work at the Mother Lode mine this week. Being 88 years young, he is probably the oldest working miner in the world. Archie was never much of a meat eater, but still drinks a little whiskey. He is a great smoker, and smokes before breakfast every morning. He is of a cheerful disposition and does not worry.”
“Archie was never much of a meat eater, but still drinks a little whiskey. He is a great smoker, and smokes before breakfast every morning. He is of a cheerful disposition and does not worry.” – Boundary Creek Times, Aug. 23, 1917
So great. So great in fact that I wanted to know more about the remarkable, 88-year old miner. I mentioned Archie Aberdeen to Donna Sacuta, crackerjack researcher with the BC Labour Heritage Centre, and she pointed me to the Castlegar News, which had compiled a list of area pioneers who turned 100 in the first half of the 20th century. Guess who?
“The first, both chronologically and alphabetically, was Archie Aberdeen, a Boundary prospector who became a centenarian on June 10, 1929, despite never visiting a doctor or tasting medicine,” wrote the newspaper’s Greg Nesteroff. . “The Edinburgh-born Aberdeen was the youngest in a family of 16 and left home age 14 to begin prospecting.
“He wandered Europe and Asia, then came to Canada in the early 1860s where he panned for gold on the Fraser River, worked in the Nanaimo coal mines, and holidayed in Gastown before it became Vancouver. He never made a big strike, but it didn’t bother him.
“What good is money anyway, if you have a sack of flour, a little bacon and a shack over your head?” he told a reporter when he was 99. “I remember in Montana once, when my pockets were filled with gold dust I wasn’t able to get a thing to eat for four days. What use was my gold to me then?”
“What good is money anyway, if you have a sack of flour, a little bacon and a shack over your head?” he told a reporter when he was 99.
These are the kind of treasures we are losing, as local newspapers diminish. They have always provided an essential record of lives lived and important community events. As anyone who has browsed through newspaper archives knows, they are a gold mine for historians and us amateurs seeking a window into the past. Pick a date, any date, and the local newspaper of the time will tell you so much about was going on, often in wonderful detail. Try finding that on social media.
Onward. I was pretty impressed by the independently-owned, twice-weekly publication, The Valley Voice, “delivered to every home between Edgewood, Kaslo & South Slocan.” Of all the papers I looked at, it was the most rewarding, chock full of news and views.
The front page celebrated Nakusp Citizen of the Year, Janis Dahlen. “She worked at Overwaitea for 30 years [and] was chair of the July 1st Committee when the Duck Race began,” reported Jan McMurray of the Voice. Okay, it was not just because of the Duck Race, but that was mentioned first. Ms. Dahlen was also was on the board of the Figure Skating Club for 15 years, a village councillor for 12 years, a director of the Union of BC Municipalities, president of the Association of the Kootenay Boundary Local Governments, a longtime volunteer for Meals on Wheels, AND a foster parent, with husband Dan, to more than 50 (!) children over the years. Whew. In other words, she was the kind of person whose value to a community is beyond measure. About all that foster parenting, she said: “It takes a village to raise a child, and there’s no better place than Nakusp to do that.” Give this woman the Order of BC!
“It takes a village to raise a child, and there’s no better place than Nakusp to do that.”
Mystery solved. Hiking the marvelous Kaslo River Trail, I couldn’t help noticing a whack of weird sculptures along the way – eerie faces peeking out from rocks and odd-looking people in equally odd poses. What the…., wondered I. Turns out, according to the Voice, they are quite recent, and meant to represent a form of “Hide and Seek”, created by three sculptors from idyllic Argenta, Yvonne Boyd, Christopher Petersen and Spring Shine (a name for the ages…). The group has placed earlier installations in Castlegar and Meadow Creek, where the fresh water Kokanee Salmon spawn. They call their series “Discover the Koots”. And we did.
Everything’s up to date in Slocan City. Nestled at the south end of majestic Slocan Lake, the village has dipped deep into its shallow pockets to buy 20 acres of vacant waterfront that were formerly the site of a large sawmill. Price tag: $1.5 million. That’s a lot of moolah for a tiny community of just 270 hardy souls, and it has put them $845,000 into the red. But what a bold thing to do. Resident Daphne Fields hailed the move in a letter to the newspaper: “So, three cheers for the restoration and development to come and may the public who, let’s face it, with sufficient information and our wonderful Canadian backbone, ingenuity and integrity, usually knows best, take full advantage of the propitiousness of our times, in partnership with a very progressive Village office!” And when was the last time you saw someone use the word “propitiousness”?
Less happily, the “COVID-is-a-hoax folks” were in full, nonsensical blather in the letters section. “Yes, hoax,” ranted a reader from Winlaw, endorsing the views of fellow hoaxers. “Stop listening to CBC propaganda… By the way, vaccine companies have impunity from lawsuits if their vaccines maim or kill…which they do. Wake up, people!” A perplexed science teacher wrote that she has been reading the letters carefully, but can’t, for the life of her, figure out what the hoax is, or who is benefiting from it. However, she did note that one letter writer explained that the hoax was being perpetrated by Bill Gates “as a vehicle to lead the world in a predetermined direction: an end to humanity as we’ve known it and a fusion of the human brain with artificial intelligence (AI), under 24/7 surveillance controlled by a draconian social credit system.” Antennas available on request. A failing grade to the Voice for printing such dangerous rubbish, a distressing debate I also found in the pages of The Nelson Star.
A failing grade to the Voice for printing such dangerous rubbish, a distressing debate I also found in the pages of The Nelson Star.
Many of you may think Zeballos, where my father taught school in 1939, is the only BC municipality that starts with “zed”. You would be wrong. Step forward, mighty Zincton. Not only is the West Kootenay ghost town a real dot on the map, it’s got tongues a-waggin’. David Hurley, founder of the much-admired Valhalla Pure Outfitters outdoor apparel business, has big plans for the mountains overlooking Zincton, 15 km east of sleepy New Denver. He’s gunning for a 55-square kilometer ski resort, with its own village, owner-built cabins, a luxury lodge, three lifts, downhill ski runs and vast stretches of pure, backcountry skiing. The West Kootenays economy can’t be left to die, says Hurley. Either this goes ahead “or we become a truck stop on the way to Nakusp.” A dire fate, indeed.
Many environmentalists are aghast at the project, decrying the threat to pristine wilderness and local grizzlies. The controversy prompted a half-page letter to the editor from Hurley, who told readers that the project will use “clean and silent” hydrogen buses for transportation and a “grow-op co-op.” It is the Kootenays, after all. If the ill-fated Jumbo Ski Resort is any indication, expect to hear a lot more about Zincton.
The old folks are taking over. “Senior growth is the new normal, and the youth population is shrinking,” says a housing report by the Central Kootenay Regional District. I wonder if the purported COVID-19 exodus from pricey Vancouver might change that. But beware. The report adds that affordable housing remains a problem throughout the region, particularly rental accommodation for those on low-incomes. “There is a lot of concern that people who have traditionally been able to afford housing are increasingly being pushed out,” the report says. Big city problems in small town B.C.
The old folks are taking over. “Senior growth is the new normal, and the youth population is shrinking,” says a housing report by the Central Kootenay Regional District. I wonder if the purported COVID-19 exodus from pricey Vancouver might change that.
Meanwhile, Kaslo recorded its first case of COVID-19, Nakusp is short of doctors, the Arrow Lakes Caribou Society wants to capture females from the near-extinct Nakusp herd and keep them safe in enclosed pens for birthing and raising their wee ones, Kaslo Sourdough is close to perfecting sourdough spaghetti to meet pent-up customer demand, and longtime Kaslo resident Doris Amy Christine Drayton, who zip-lined in Hawaii to celebrate her 100th birthday, passed away at the incredible age of 107. As was noted in her obituary, she experienced two pandemics, 102 years apart.
Other highlights: The Boundary Creek Times, which charmingly still includes the week’s TV listings, published candidate statements for a council seat by-election in Greenwood. Hopeful Charlene Izuka noted her father was interned in Greenwood 80 years earlier and chose to stay. “I am running with my family’s name, which is an untarnished name.” She came third.
No local paper is complete without a pet story. In the Grand Forks Gazette, readers learned that “Nacho” the cat came back, just as in Fred Penner’s renowned children’s song, but it was not quite the very next day. Nacho took five days to make his return, after a stint “in the surrounding wilds”. This was Nacho’s second mad dash to the great outdoors in the past month. According to his family, despite repeated bestowal of cat treats, Nacho meows frequently to be let out. “He lives with four dogs who enjoy chasing him around his city home.” No wonder he’s always scratching at the door….
No local paper is complete without a pet story. In the Grand Forks Gazette, readers learned that “Nacho” the cat came back…
There is conflict at Bare Ass Beach, “where clothing is optional,” says the Gazette. A family camping there is refusing to leave. That, apparently, is not optional, and, at last report, the city was seeking an injunction to get their asses outta there, bare or otherwise.
To be continued….
THE EX-PRESS, October 30, 2020