Remembering a newspapering icon

Thinking about the closure of the Prince Rupert Daily News brought to mind this piece marking the passage of longtime publisher Iris Christison. By late 1999, with Pete Godfrey and Scott Crowson both gone, the editorial policy at the Daily News had already begun its ascent into la-la land. Iris was a 35-year veteran of the Daily—publisher for 20 of those years—but as I understood it the publisher of the day didn’t feel that a tribute to her was a newsworthy subject. They still hadn’t so much as mentioned her death by the time we launched the magazine ebb’n’flow a month-and-a-half later. I would have written the piece anyway, but the fact that I scooped the daily paper with a monthly magazine—especially with something so vital to them—struck me first as funny and then as incredibly sad. Bob McKenzie, then regional manager and ultimately responsible for the Daily News, made a point of thanking me for running the piece. That was notable, given that he wasn’t very happy with me for placing myself into competition, even in a small way, with ebb’n’flow.

A similar thing happened again, years later, when legendary Prince Rupert pilot and veteran Albert Mah passed away. I called the editor, Earle Gayle, to let him know it had happened. He was swamped at the moment, and asked if I could write the piece. After I submitted it, he called me back to say that their latest publisher had informed him that they had a new policy—they did not write tribute pieces “in case they missed somebody.” I could almost smell his circuits smouldering even though we were talking on the phone. As had been the case with Iris, Al’s death passed completely unnoticed by the Daily News.

Such things would not have happened during the tenure of Iris Christison. She was the one who bridged the era of local ownership and the era of corporate ownership. She had her idiosyncrasies, but she understood that she ran a local paper telling local stories that would appeal to local readers.

A Prince Rupert newspapering icon passes

(First published in ebb’n’flow, January 2000.)

The community of Prince Rupert was lessened by the recent passing of Iris Christison, who for over forty years had been identified with newspapering in this community. Christison died suddenly on November 19, predeceased by her husband Doug.

Iris Sharp was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and came to Prince Rupert to join her sister during the Second World War. She married Royal Canadian Navy veteran Doug Christison, best remembered as manager of the government liquor store, in Prince Rupert in 1947. The couple raised children Doug and Carol.

Christison was an active member of the First Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church Ladies Group. She was also involved in many other community organizations, including the Order of the Eastern Star, Daughters of the Nile, and when her children were growing up, the scouting movement and parent-teacher association. She will be remembered on Burn’s Night, and will be remembered as a volunteer willing to roll cancer bandages, or man the community theatre. “She was a really good friend of mine,” reflects Della Currie, “and a good friend to everybody that knew her. She was a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and always willing to help people.”

For the community of Prince Rupert, Iris Christison’s name will be forever linked with the Prince Rupert Daily News. She joined the Daily News in 1956 as a switchboard operator and classified ad clerk, and became circulation manager. Following a classic newspaper career path, she moved into the advertising department, rising to advertising manager. When the Daily News was bought out by Sterling Newspapers in 1971, Christison was named publisher. She remained the publisher of the paper for two decades until her retirement at the end of March 1991. Christison held a firm vision for the Daily News, and maintained much of the paper’s community feel while bringing it into the leaner, more profit-conscious years of newspapering. She expressed her feelings about this business by becoming a founding member of the B.C. Press Council, an organization devoted to championing a free press and maintaining journalistic integrity.

Through the years Christison worked with some other well-known Daily News alumni, such as noted local historian Phylis Bowman, and one-time Daily News editor, novelist Iain Lawrence. Lawrence remembers her as caring deeply about the community. “Iris Christison was one of the last of the real small-town publishers,” Lawrence recalls. “To her, the Daily News was just a little paper that worked best when it didn’t think itself any better than that. She thought it should record the smallest things, but treat them with the greatest respect. Christmas concerts and social teas, the works of charities and clubs, were much more important than political doings. She wanted stories about seniors and children, and had no time for eager young journalists who fancied themselves above her ideas. I think it would have pleased her most of all if the Daily News had aspired to the old-fashioned ideal of all small-town papers, that everyone’s name, and everyone’s picture, should appear every year in the pages.

“I only once saw her involved directly with the editorial part of the paper. On the city’s seventy-fifth birthday, she decided that she would like to write the editorial for a special edition. She laboured over it for days, tapping away on an ancient typewriter, fussing through the office with sheets of yellow paper. In the end, she produced a fine and folksy address to the little city that she loved. She signed it, simply, ‘Iris’. And I mocked her for that, to my everlasting regret. She understood much better than I that Prince Rupert was the sort of town where that was exactly the right thing to do.”

And for exactly this reason Iris Christison will be long remembered by this community, and will forever be an important part of the proud history of newspapering in Prince Rupert.

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  1. Posted July 29, 2010 at 9:19 PM | Permalink

    Hi Bruce.
    I appreciated your tribute to Iris Christison. I joined the Prince Rupert Daily News as a reporter in 1975, back in the days when Conrad Black was just one of three partners in Sterling Newspapers. I remember doing a somewhat controversial article about the shoddy quality of BC Packers’ company-owned housing. The story was picked up by W5 and caused a stir. David Radler flew up with some BC Packers’ representatives from the Vancouver head office and called me to a meeting in Iris’ office. What I remember most was the reassuring sense that Iris “had my back” as they say and was fiercely protective of her staff, despite – or maybe because of – David Radler’s influence.
    I have taken the liberty of posting a link to the Iris Christison tribute on my blog at I hope that’s okay.

  2. Bruce
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 9:35 PM | Permalink

    Hi, Laurie. People sometimes smile and give a little shake of the head when Iris is mentioned, but I’ve never heard anyone speak ill of her. I only knew her after her time at the Daily, though my friend Iain worked closely with her.

    Radler sent flowers to my wife (and AdMan!) and I each Christmas, but other memories are not so fond. When I was hired as publisher at PRTW I insisted that the current publisher, and former editor, be retained as editor. On my first day I was aghast to learn that they’d fired him. I stuck to my guns. They sent me an “editor” who could not – and I’m not making this up – who could not even type. Once she was sent packing, I was allowed to bring back the former editor, but only as “reporter.” He was expected to do the editor’s job at reporter’s pay. That incident proved to be prophetic of my relations with that regional manager.

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  1. By More on the Prince Rupert Daily News on July 29, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    [...] particularly interesting is by Bruce Wishart, former editor of Prince Rupert This Week, who wrote a tribute to Iris Christison, longtime publisher of The Daily News. Iris became publisher in 1971, just four years before I [...]

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