Like the sign says: Vote ↑ !

VoteWhen you read this, my friends, it will be Election Day in Canada. And I have one word, and one word only, for you. That word is: Vote!

Just like it says on the sign on the door of the Queensborough Community Centre, our hamlet’s historic former one-room schoolhouse.

That’s where Raymond and I cast our ballots on Day 2 of advance polling, a week ago Saturday. It was a glorious autumn day, and what with our polling place being super-conveniently located just around the corner and up the street from the Manse, it was as easy as pie to head up and do our civic duty. The experience was made more pleasant by the friendly faces and helpfulness of the election crew working there – one of them someone I’ve known practically all my life, from the time when I was a kid growing up in the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s – and the musical soundtrack from the iPod that one member of that crew had brought along. How can you not dance around a little bit when you’re casting your ballot as the sun shines down on you through the windows of Queensborough’s historic schoolhouse, while Linda Ronstadt sings Silver Threads and Golden Needles?

(Which reminds me that very soon I must do a post on how totally great Linda Ronstadt’s songs from my Manse-growing-up years were.)

Anyway, voting in the advance poll – which Raymond and I did because both of us would be busy on Election Day, me working with journalism students at Loyalist College as they report on the outcome; you can follow our coverage on Election Night here – was a thoroughly pleasant experience for us. Judging by the steady stream of people arriving at the schoolhouse, lots of others were taking advantage of the advance-polling option. But I hope that everyone who hasn’t voted ahead of time will take part in the same pleasant experience on Monday, Oct. 19 – whether at the Queensborough Community Centre or wherever your polling place may be.

It doesn’t matter whom you vote for; what matters is that you vote. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we can exercise our franchise so readily. Anyone who fails to take advantage of this opportunity is letting us all down, and missing out on one of the most important rights and freedoms that we as Canadians enjoy.

So here, let me get you in the mood. Silver threads and golden needles will not mend this heart of mine – but you marking an X in the circle of the candidate of your choice, whoever it may be, will do the trick. Take it away, Ms. Ronstadt!

Great community journalism: the North Hastings Review, 1971

North Hastings Review

The North Hastings Review issue of June 16, 1971. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed reading a newspaper as much as I enjoyed reading this one.

A wondrous thing arrived in the mailbox here at the Manse the other day. It was a copy of a now-defunct weekly newspaper: the North Hastings Review, issue of June 16, 1971. Its arrival was easily the best thing that’s happened to me so far in 2015.

You’re thinking I’m addled, aren’t you? You’re wondering: How on earth could a 44-year-old copy of a tiny and long-gone newspaper be such a thrill to that Manse woman?

Well, I will tell you. But first let me tell you how this treasure – which I must emphasize is only on loan – came my way. Its sender was Ken Broad, who has been known to read and comment on my posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and who, while he now lives elsewhere, is a native of the Queensborough area, having grown up on a farm just a bit west of here in Madoc Township. (Ken notably sent me a photo of his ticket to the 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival, an incredible artifact of Queensborough’s version of Woodstock. More on that anon, as it happens, but if you’d like to see that photo, it’s here.)

Anyway, I am pretty sure that the reason Ken had held on to this particular copy of the North Hastings Review – which was published in nearby (to Queensborough, I mean) Madoc, and later became the Madoc Review before it became nothing at all (sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I believe) – was that there was a story about him right there on the front page. He had just sold his fuel-delivery business to Tom Fox of Campbellford – a familiar name in this area – and there is a story about the change in ownership, and a photo of the two men, right there at top left of Page 1.

In a brief note he sent along with the paper, Ken said that his father (a remarkable person whom many people called “The Major” due to his distinguished service in both the First and Second World Wars – but that’s a whole other story, and a great one) used to call the North Hastings Review “the 7-7-7 paper: 7 days to print, 7 cents to buy and 7 seconds to read.” Oh lord – as the former editor of another small-town newspaper, the Port Hope (Ont.) Evening Guide, I am very familiar with readers’ joking comments about how one could throw our modest little daily paper up in the air and read it on the way down. But you know what? Behind the joking, people loved and (more to the point) needed that paper, that daily report on what was going on in their own community. And I am totally certain that The Major and all the other readers of the North Hastings Review also very much appreciated its community reporting, even while they made gentle jokes at its expense.

Anyway, I must tell you that, as I told Ken in my email of thanks to him, it took me a lot longer than seven seconds to read that paper. With the exception of the small print in some of the classified ads, I read every single word. And all of it was an utter joy.

Why? Two reasons.

North Hastings Review front page

This is a front page with a lot of local news. And so many of the names are familiar!

One: this was the local news from what I consider my time. On June 16, 1971, I was about to turn 11 years old. My family had been living at the Manse in Queensborough for seven years, and we would live there for four more. We were deeply embedded in the Queensborough-Madoc-Eldorado-Cooper area, and because my father was the local United Church minister, we had contacts and friendships with many, many families in that area. The people who are mentioned in the pages of this issue of the North Hastings Review are people I knew (and in some cases still know) – everyone from teachers and fellow students at Madoc Township Public School (where I would have just been finishing Grade 6 in June 1971) and Madoc Public School (where the following September I would start Grade 7), to players on the local minor-sports teams whose games are reported, to the ministers of the local churches cited in the long column of notices for church services, to the mother and father of the bride in a delightful report on a wedding that my father had conducted.

North Hastings Review church ads

Some of the church ads (people actually went to church in 1971!) in the North Hastings Review.

And two: This newspaper is great journalism. And no, I am not trying to be funny. The North Hastings Review is chock-full of local news, and providing local news is what local newspapers are supposed to do. When you’d finished reading it, you really knew what was going on in the local area – from who had dined with whom the previous Sunday in Cooper and who had visited whom in Bannockburn; to who was the winning pitcher (as it happens, the late Lorna Matthews, a wonderful person who was the church pianist at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough for many years) when the Cooper women’s softball team defeated the “Madoc Ladies” 24 to 7; to who gave a demonstration on refinishing furniture at a meeting of the senior citizens’ club; to where local school groups had gone for their end-of-year excursions (Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons and the Shrine Circus in Peterborough; the reports, which appeared on the front page, were written by some of the students themselves, and I can only imagine how proud their parents must have been); to what was on sale that week at George West’s Men’s Wear.

North Hastings Review Rock Acres story

The major story of the week: the latest news on the Rock Acres Peace Festival, which had been planned for the Quinlan farm near Queensborough – or “Queensboro,” as the Review spelled it.

You got the big stories – an in-depth report on what at that point looked like the defeat of the plans to hold the aforementioned Rock Acres Peace Festival on the Quinlan farm outside of Queensborough; in fact, the Quinlan family later won the legal battle against the local authorities, the festival went ahead, and you can read all about that here and here and here and here.

North Hastings Review community news

Everything you might have needed to know that week about what was going on in the hamlets of Bannockburn and Gilmour. Good stuff!

And you got the small ones: the aforementioned who-visited-whom listings for the local hamlets, like Bannockburn, Cooper and Gilmour. You got full reports on the doings of three municipal councils; the police news; the meeting of Unit 3 of St. Andrew’s United Church Women; a birth notice (on the front page); and the new officers of the Kiwanis Club. And all of it, I have to tell you, is well-written and well-edited. I think I spotted maybe two typos in the whole affair; that is very impressive, and significantly better than any newspaper (or news website) can boast these days. (Kudos to its publisher, Maurice Goulah, and its editor, Carol Foley, for that.)

North Hastings Review Letters to the Editor

A letter to the editor from Grant Ketcheson, comparing the farming life in Scotland to that in the Madoc area. Good stuff!

But there’s more! There’s a letter to the editor from a young whippersnapper farmer from the Hazzard’s Corners area named Grant Ketcheson (still a great friend to this day), who was visiting Scotland on an agricultural scholarship and sent a lively report on farming practices (and weather) there as compared to the Madoc area. There’s the report on that wedding conducted by my father, complete with the extraordinarily detailed description of the wedding dress that those reports always had: “The bride was lovely in a full length taffeta gown highlighted with a dainty lace trim around the scoop neckline, down the full-length sleeves and around the full skirt. The bodice and sleeves also featured rose appliques and her long full train with matching lace trim was attached at the waist with a large bow. The three-tiered bouffant veil was gathered to a circle of dainty white orange blossoms and seed pearls, leaving the centre open for flocks of curls. She carried a cascade bouquet of yellow daisies.” (And if you want to know what the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom wore at the reception, you’ll just have to get you hands on your own copy of the paper.) There’s a column by Bill Smiley, who was omnipresent in small Canadian weekly newspapers back in those days. It was delightful to see the late Mr. Smiley’s byline again after all these years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And there are the ads for businesses that bring back such good memories: George West’s, as I mentioned; Wilson’s (which only recently closed down after many years in business; I wrote about that here); Johnston’s Pharmacy (still going after all these years; that too is reported on in this post); the long-gone and much-missed Plaza cinema in Marmora (I saw my very first movie there!); and (ta-da!) the Cash & Carry! Which was having a sale that week on wood panelling. I’d almost be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the wood panelling that got put up in the Manse kitchen during my family’s tenure here – about which we were so excited at the time, because wood panelling was so fashionable; and which Raymond and I are now very keen to get rid of, because, let’s face it, it’s awful – might have come from that very sale at the Cash & Carry down there on St. Lawrence Street East in downtown Madoc.

It is community journalism at its very best.

I know that Ken Broad knew I would appreciate having a chance to go through that paper, but I bet he didn’t guess just how much I’d appreciate it. Such wonderful, wonderful memories, all thanks to a terrific community newspaper. And a person who had the excellent good sense to preserve it – and the kindness to share it.

A sad day for Canada, but an exciting one for new journalists

Newsroom headlines

The developing top story on QNet News (the student-produced news website at Loyalist College) on display on the overhead monitors, on a very busy day in our newsroom today.

A brilliant former Montreal Gazette colleague of mine who is now, as of the start of this academic year, a professor of journalism at a university, posted something rather poignant on Facebook at midday today: “It is so weird not to be in a buzzing newsroom right now.”

She was referring, of course, to the shocking (and as of the time of her posting, still very much unfolding) events in Ottawa, when shots were fired in the halls of Parliament and a young reserve soldier with his whole life in front of him was shot and killed at the National War Memorial. As I write this, several hours later, I think the whole country is still trying to wrap its collective head around the very un-Canadian events of the day. And mourning the death of that soldier, whose smile is so dazzling in all the photos.

My former colleague’s post referred to the fact that she is in academe now, as opposed to a professional newsroom. Both she and I have been in newsrooms on so many days like today, when shocking events catch everyone by surprise and it is necessary to dispatch a vast team of reporters to cover them, to co-ordinate and manage the coverage, and to ensure that the news as it develops is posted as quickly and as accurately as possible online and, eventually, in our newspaper. While the events of such days are, unfortunately, almost always tragic, the adrenaline rush you get from working through them and helping bring the news to the world is like nothing I can describe.

So I could certainly relate when I saw my former colleague’s post, right after I had emerged from the cocoon of teaching a class of first-year journalism students at Loyalist College about writing leads for news stories. And I came this close to adding a comment to her post, along the lines of “Me too.”

But then I stopped and looked out the door of my office, toward the centrepiece of the journalism program at the college: our own newsroom. And it was a scene of non-stop activity, full of students monitoring social media and websites and TV screens, taking notes, making phone calls, preparing to head out to nearby Canadian Forces Base Trenton to report on what impact the day’s events might be having there, prepping radio newscasts, and producing a constantly-updated running report for QNet News, the website made up entirely of our students’ journalistic work. And I thought: “Wait a minute! I am in a ‘buzzing newsroom’!”

Newsroom in action

All hands were on deck in our newsroom today as everyone worked on local angles to the huge story of the shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

As I hastened into that newsroom to offer to help (providing a brief break for a colleague, Robert Washburn, who had been in the hot seat directing operations through the morning), I thought: “I’m right at home here. This is what I do.” And in the midst of all the activity, I offered up a brief thanks that my own transition from professional journalist to journalism teacher had landed me in a place where the focus is on practical learning – on teaching students to become multiplatform journalists by working with them as they actually produce multiplatform journalism. Or (to quote a slogan I knew well in my Queensborough youth – the slogan of 4-H clubs, of which I, as a young rural person, was a member more than once): as they “learn to do by doing.”

The other thing I took away from today is how exciting it is to see young journalists experience and work on a huge breaking story for the first time. Our team worked so hard, and did such a good job. The adrenaline in the room was palpable, and it fired up the reporters and editors. At the end of the day they were excited and proud of the work they’d done, and justifiably so.

My heart broke late this afternoon when we got word that the soldier who had been killed had been identified as 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Not just because it was just such a damn stupid waste; it was really because of the reaction of one of my students, who was preparing to do the 5 p.m. radio newscast. “He was 24,” he said softly, shock and sadness in his voice. “Twenty-four. That’s just a year older than I am.” Suddenly it was very, very real. For him. And for me.

This evening, my heart was again touched, by another one of my students. It was warmed to the core by his post in our program’s Facebook group: “Wanted to say it was great working with everyone involved with the Ottawa Situation. Was a nice taste of the real job.”

For a veteran journalist like me, there’s probably not a thing in the world better than to see these brand-new journalists find out about the thrill, the scariness, the realness, the rawness, the demands, the stress, the fun and – perhaps most of all – the teamwork of covering news.

These young people will go far. I am very, very proud of them.

It’s Quebec election night, and for once I miss my old job

Quebec election at the Manse

The view from the Manse (which, to two veteran journalists such as ourselves, seems ever so far away from the centre of the action tonight). But we’re happy with the news!

Wow! While in general I never regret our decision to move from Montreal to the Manse in Queensborough, and my own decision to leave the Montreal Gazette for a teaching post at Loyalist College in Belleville, tonight things are a bit different.

Tonight is the first Quebec election – provincial, federal or municipal – in 17 years that I have not voted in. (As for Raymond, it’s many more years than that.) But you can be sure that we have been watching with huge interest from the sidelines here in rural Ontario, and we could not be happier with tonight’s resounding rejection by Quebecers of small-minded, divisive, exclusionary politics and policies. It is a joy to see the positive, inclusive campaign of Philippe Couillard – whom I had the honour and pleasure of welcoming to the Gazette’s editorial board not very many months ago, when he was seeking the leadership of the provincial Liberals – triumph tonight. Here at the Manse, we are feeling pretty elated.

And we are also both feeling a little bit nostalgic for all those long, late election nights we spent at the Gazette, shepherding three editions of the newspaper to press and, in recent years, watching in profound awe as the digital team kept the public apprised of developments on a multitude of platforms in real time. (All of which was invariably followed by many rounds of beverages being imbibed by the whole crew at a nearby pub, and hearty sighs of relief that it was all over from exhausted, adrenaline-wired reporters, editors and photographers.)

I remember how, on the day of the last Quebec election (when the Parti Québécois ended up coming to power), I was feeling so stressed that it seemed the sensible thing to post a beautiful, tranquil photo of Queensborough here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to take my mind off things. Tonight, it’s exactly the opposite: I am in beautiful, tranquil Queensborough and I shall post a photo of the scene at the news pod (the core of the newsroom) of the Montreal Gazette, graciously shared with me by my pal Michelle Richardson, city editor extraordinaire:

Quebec election at the Gazette pod

The view of the election tonight from “the pod” – the core of the Gazette newsroom. Can’t you just feel the intensity? (Photo by Michelle Richardson)

Don’t you wish you were there? I know I do.

My mission: getting the Sunday New York Times. On Sunday.

If you ask me, one of the great pleasures of life is the Sunday New York Times. It’s a monster-sized newspaper – though, as with all newspapers, a lot smaller than it used to be – filled with stories that are well-written, quirky, informative, and just plain interesting. As I’m sure you know.

In our Montreal life, Raymond and I had an excellent post-church-service tradition of Sunday brunch: Raymond’s Famous Scrambled Eggs with sausages or bacon, toast or (yum) Montreal bagels, Katherine’s Famous Bloody Marys – and the Sunday New York Times. We would each take our favourite sections – Sunday Styles, Travel and Arts for me; the front section, Sports and Books for Raymond; and the Sunday Review to whomever got there first – and quietly and happily pore through them as we enjoyed our meal.

And I miss that! Here at the Manse in Queensborough we can still make an excellent Sunday brunch (especially given that the bacon and breakfast sausages at the One Stop Butcher Shop in Madoc are superb, we can buy eggs fresh from the farm of our friend Harold Harris, and the white loaf at the Sweet Temptations bakery in Tweed makes the best toast ever), but we are seriously bereft of a proper Sunday newspaper to read while we enjoy it.

And yes, I know perfectly well that the New York Times is available online. But I don’t want to spill my scrambled eggs on my iPad, thank you very much. I want a big printed page that I can spread out on the table. Call me old-fashioned; I don’t care. I firmly believe that the Sunday Times is best consumed in ink-on-paper format. (For one thing, the paper helps absorbs the egginess of my spills.)

So my next mission is to get the Sunday New York Times delivered to Hastings County. People, this is a challenging mission.

Early on in our time here, we discovered a weekday copy of the New York Times for sale at the Mac’s convenience store in Madoc. Thrilled, we asked the clerk if they had the Sunday Times too. The news: yes. But not on Sunday; on Monday. And worse: since then the Mac’s store has stopped carrying the Times altogether.

Since we’ve been here full-time, I’ve been inquiring of people who are avid readers of news whether they know of anyplace in Hastings County that has the Sunday Times. I don’t hold out much hope for the area north of Highway 7 (where we live), but I rather think that the city of Belleville at the south end of the county is big enough that the Times could and should be available there. And for the luxury of having the Sunday New York Times on Sunday, I would happily drive 45 minutes to Belleville.

So today Raymond went on an investigative journey. He drove in to Belleville, stopping first in the downtown core and then going hither and yon all over town, asking at bookshops and a cigar store and pharmacies whether they carry the Times or know anyplace else that does. The upshot: one Shoppers Drug Mart that has the weekday edition; but the clerk he spoke to was highly doubtful that it comes in on Sundays. (Be assured we will be following up with some inquiries to the store manager on that front.)

What to do, people? Is the answer to open our own newsstand? Hey, Raymond’s retired now; and lord knows there are lots of shopfronts for rent in downtown Belleville. We could bring in newspapers and magazines from all over North America and beyond (The Guardian! The Boston Globe! Down East! Arizona Highways! The New York Review of Books! The Montreal GazetteArchitectural Digest! Paris Match!), and maybe sell new and vintage books too. And in fact, Raymond found what I think is just the place today on Front Street, Belleville’s main drag:

newsstand to be in Belleville

Doesn’t this cute little for-rent storefont on Belleville’s main street – red trim and all – look like a nice spot for a good newsstand and magazine store?

What do you think? Does “Raymond’s Famous Newsstand” have a ring to it?