The last time I was involved with any kind of journalism, I was in my 20’s. My home was the upper floor of an old brick house in Haileybury, situated at the top of a very steep hill leading to the town’s main street and the shores of Lake Temiskaming. I worked in neighbouring New Liskeard, one of three linked towns then known as the Tri-Towns.
The Temiskaming Speaker was a community newspaper, a weekly, with some impact in the community. It covered everything with diligence: news, politics, community, sports, editorial. We were a staff of four and a half: the editor, assistant editor (me), a reporter, a sports reporter and a freelance music guy. We had a vocal editorial page and I had a weekly column with open format, so I wrote about anything and everything from serious issues to humour.
I often got to work at home, which I did in my sunroom overlooking the street. It was just large enough to accommodate my desk and an old underwood typewriter. I had incredibly strong fingers back then.
On warm summer days, I could walk down the hill to the beach and swim. In winter, long underwear was the first thing one did in the morning. The winters there were bitterly cold although strong winds were a rarity. Without the raw, biting wind that can render one powerless against the elements, the cold was manageable if appropriately dressed. At least, most of the time. The snow was deep, pretty much all the time in the winter.
The Speaker offices were on a prominent corner in New Liskeard, an old building with many stories in its history. It smelled wonderful, just like an old newspaper office should, redolent with ink and photo processing. Our office was upstairs, where we were all equipped with electric typewriters. Stories were produced on flimsy, smaller-than-average sheets of paper with an odd texture. We made carbon copies. When our story was complete, we typed “-30- “ at the bottom to confirm to the editor that no pages had gone astray. There was always something supremely satisfying about typing that “-30-“.
The main floor of the Speaker building housed the typesetting department, photo processing and archives. Panic ensued in Typesetting every week as the press deadline loomed. The photo processing was great. I’d hand over my film and they’d give me back a contact sheet with my negatives. The Speaker ran a full 8x10 on its editorial page every week and there was always a friendly competition about whose photo would be chosen.
I’d been a hobby photographer for many years and took a few courses at Ryerson University including darkroom techniques. The apartment I lived in prior to packing for Haileybury had a darkroom, fashioned out of what was intended to be a storage closet. What a fine storage closet it was. I had the whole set-up in there and it was darker than black. The process was amazing, the aluminum canisters for processing the film, the enlarger, printer, tubs for developer and fixer. A hobby I truly loved at the time. But I digress.
The Speaker's archives were a wonder. History buffs could die of absorption in a place like that. Old yellowed newspapers, ancient photos, books.
We, the reporters, were all young and unencumbered. Heading to the local beer joint after the paper went to press was a weekly event. There were sit-down video game consoles in the bar, Pac Man and Atari. We played them relentlessly.
My first Editor was a guy who had initials as his first name, a walking tome of information on any topic imaginable. He left to work for a larger paper, The North Bay Nugget, after I came on board but we’d still had enough time working together to become friends. I looked him up some years later when on a weekend jaunt to North Bay with a girlfriend in our first break from motherhood. He was doing great with a wife and two kids.
His replacement was a fellow by the unlikely name of Forrest Greene. He maintained that it was his birth name but I admit I had my doubts. We saw eye to eye most of the time and I liked him. The reporter was of German ancestry and deadly serious about having a career in journalism, but he let loose with abandon and was always fun in a social setting. Let’s call him Hans.
I’d always been a swimmer, and my routine included hopping a bus out of New Liskeard to a motel almost at the end of the bus route. They had a pool and I had a membership. One unfortunate day, Hans accompanied me for a swim. Afterwards, he took the wrong curved corridor and ended up in the women’s changeroom, staring at a totally naked me. I grabbed a towel and he was every bit the apologetic gentleman but it changed our relationship. He was no longer able to see me as “one of the guys” and started propositioning me after that.
Our sports guy was just a young pup and he had the demeanour of one, right down to wriggling with delight and panting with excitement about life in general and sports in particular. The music freelancer always brought an old movie character to mind, the short guy with the fedora and a scheme up his sleeve. He had a gorgeous and genuine girlfriend who was, as I recall, considerably taller than he was. I have no idea what became of any of them, but we were an amenable team for the most part and we had some good times.
The Editor let me pursue whatever stories I chose, provided we didn’t fail to cover the mandatories like events, politics and general news. That was and is my favourite way to work, and my story ideas led me all over the place. Through an abandoned mine in Cobalt. Up in a 2-seater plane which I got to pilot over the lakes, forests and fields of Temiskaming. A full day on duty with the OPP. That was a fun one and the officer and I became good pals, often meeting for coffee when he was off duty.
I did some snapshot interviews with folks I’d just seen around and they always turned out to be interesting. One elderly gentleman was a scholar and a fount of knowledge about all the eras of civilization. I did a feature on him which he sent with pride to his grandchildren, and in return he gifted me with a beautiful volume called, “the Calendar of Creative Man”. He inscribed something quite lovely on the frontspiece. The book can still be found in my bookcase.
Another memorable encounter involved spending a full day with artist and author Muriel E. Newton-White in her home town of Englehart. She was a sweet, strong, inspiring woman who lived with passion and independence long before it was the thing to do.
Times have changed. Of course, typewriters are now found only in antique markets. Preparing for an interview meant reading up on prior printed articles if any and then showing up with a steno pad and pen. Thanks to social media, it’s now possible to get the gist of the story and pictures to match online before an interview takes place.
The Tri-Towns have now merged into the Municipality of Temiskaming Shores. The Temiskaming Speaker is alive and well, now boasting a glossy website and online news. As for me, I’ve walked many miles in many different shoes since those days but I’ll always remember it as an exciting time laced with thought-provoking experiences, fascinating people and the unlikely union of a disparate group of personalities who, dedicated to their craft, worked like dogs and took great pride in producing a newspaper worth reading every week.