Prince Rupert This Week

This Week, August 11, 1996

There will likely be a number of things that end up in the Solid Gold Box that were written during my three years at This Week. Quite simply, of all the newspapers and magazines I’ve worked at, some much bigger and shinier than This Week, it was the most fun. We did some great things. We also made some mistakes, because we were always trying to do more than we really could. But it was a group of talented people, feeding off each other and pouring their all into producing a good, relevant newspaper.

I often tell the story. From the first time a copy of the paper landed outside my apartment door back when we first came to Prince Rupert, I was in love. The paper had a voice. The overall writing quality raised the bar, and I particularly had to meet this Iain Lawrence fellow who wrote the column “Across the Harbour.”

When I took over the paper I made very few changes. Even though This Week often scooped the local daily in hard news, I’ve always felt that weeklies should dig more deeply into current events, and run more features. And I thought that in this case the paper could take itself a little less seriously on a certain level.

This Week, August 18, 1996

A case in point is the edition from August 18, 1996, which ran my interview with Michael Palin on the front page. I played the game and talked about his current project, Palin’s Pacific (released as Full Circle with Michael Palin), and felt that it would be tacky to talk too much about Monty Python.

Obviously this sentiment flew out the window the minute that Debbie Mierau and I sat down to build the front page.

We did talk a little about Monty Python.

Reading back over it now, this thought of Palin’s strikes me as particularly nice:

I’m really happy that Python survived. Not just because it’s a nice little earner for us, but because it shows that we weren’t sort of entirely walking around in the dark when we made those shows. I mean, we didn’t know; there was no real precedent for the Python shows. We set out to do something that no-one else had done. We thought, in our arrogant way, we could make people laugh in a way that hadn’t been done before. And it’s still working. It’s hope for the world. And John Cleese.

That’s not to say that everything in This Week was tongue-in-cheek. In this same edition Paul Anderson ran a controversial unsolved crime feature about the so-called “Brooksbank Fire,” arts columnist Claudia Stewart featured noted Tsimshian weaver William White, and I ran my first installment of “Charlie’s Tugboat Tales.”

(The “Across the Harbour” installment in this edition is called “How to save your boss [me] from drowning,” but that’s another story, perhaps for another day…)

The point is that the paper still stands up today, when I look back at it over ten years later. Not bad for something that was just meant to provide a little weekend entertainment. I guess it shows that we weren’t sort of entirely walking around in the dark when we made it.

But for me, the highlight remains “Across the Harbour.” There was a consistent excellence to the columns, and being the first each week to read a new Iain Lawrence story was a treat. They were usually vignettes of coastal living, or observations on sailing. In fact, a collection of these were published as Sea Stories of the Inside Passage: In the Wake of the Nid (Fine Edge, 1997).

Iain launched “Across the Harbour” with the first edition of This Week, stopped around the time he sold The Wreckers, and returned at my request to write a final installment when I ran “30” beneath the masthead on February 7, 1999. I could never pick a favourite column from all those.

I’d forgotten about this one, until it just surfaced in the vault. It’s not typical, but it brought vividly back to mind our regular mug-ups, telling each other a thousand stories. I had to ask Iain if I could share it with you.

Of course Iain has since become a very well-known young adult novelist, and recipient of the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award. Check out his site and blog.

I saw it in the paper

By Iain Lawrence, first published in his column “Across the Harbour,” This Week, November 3, 1996.

Bruce had some papers in his publisher’s office, small-town tabloids from a prairie town. We looked at them, laughing, on a Saturday afternoon, laughing at the clumsiness of them, the little mistakes, the stories written in earnest of things of no consequence.

If you changed the names, the papers could have come from any town at all from the foothills of the Rockies east to the first crags and trees of the Canadian Shield. But these came from the Minnedosa Valley, from Bruce’s home town.

He knew the man who owned it, who worked as publisher and editor, who hired his wife to handle the office.

His clones ran the papers at Elkhorn and Moosomin, at Drinkwater, Eyebrow and Vulcan. They hunched over their desks at old wooden chairs, the sleeves of their white shirts pushed up to their elbows, pecking with sausage-shaped fingers at typewriter keys so hollowed and worn that they didn’t have letters anymore.

And the more we looked, the less we laughed, because there was something sad about those papers.

For Bruce, I think, it was like looking through the wrong end of a telescope at the place he grew up. He must have seen his whole childhood condensed into those pages of newsprint, in the names of people and places he knew.

For me it was different. I don’t have a home town.

We moved too often while I was young to feel attached to any one place. But I spent nearly three years working at papers like those, writing the same stories and the same headlines.

The news came in cycles, like crops that were gathered. In the spring it was floods, and a river that rose like a malevolent thing.

With summer came the vegetables—the two-legged carrot and the enormous squash. Fall was for weddings. And winter brought an endless session of curling and hockey, until the ice melted, and the river rose again.

I went to this straight from journalism school, where we’d been taught that the best place to start is a very small paper. And there were times I believed it.

When I spent an afternoon with a water witcher, and he let me feel through his hands and a stick a force I didn’t understand, I believed it.

When I sat through a lightning storm in a forest lookout, I believed it.

When I was sent out on logging roads that nobody used, to see someone so far out of town that I didn’t have enough gas to get back, I started to doubt it.

I wrote the stories and sold the classified ads, swept out the office and developed the film in the men’s room down the hall.

On Saturdays I stood by the highway, hitchhiking a ride not for me but the paper, asking whoever would stop to drop off the package at the next town on the road, for paste-up and printing.

And that’s what I saw in the papers from Minnedosa. Like Bruce, I saw myself in a different time. But unlike him, I felt sorry for that guy I saw.

“This brings back memories,” I said.

“It sure does,” he said. “It sure does.”

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  1. By Bruce Wishart ~ Minnedosa and Facebook on July 27, 2010 at 11:00 PM

    [...] THIS WEEK—and I’ve gradually posted a few to the Solid Gold Box. These are The Solid Gold Box, Prince Rupert This Week (actually an Iain Lawrence column about reading the Minnedosa Tribune), A Gift From W.O. Mitchell, [...]

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