I’m heading into my 24th year in community journalism. I’ve worked at seven newspapers in two provinces, with 14 years as a reporter, and the rest as an editor. I’ve seen, written and photographed some interesting stuff.
In college I remember trying to write a story about high taxes in Canada, and I was attempting to set up an interview with the Taxpayers Federation executive director, a guy named Jason Kenney. He was difficult to pin down, but I finally got him and set up an interview at their offices down by Chinook Mall. I had to use what little money I had to travel across half of Calgary, only to find Kenney had stood me up. That’s why I have nothing good to say about the guy now. He’s unreliable and leopards don’t change their spots.
Working for my hometown paper in 1994, I remember a quiet afternoon when it was just the receptionist and myself. As I was typing away, I thought towards the back window I saw a flicker of light out of the corner of my eye, sort of like you’d see when sitting around a campfire. I told Helen, my coworker, “I’m just going to run out and see what that is.” So I walk around the building and the office backside along with the surrounding grass was on fire, and I mean five foot flames. I ran quickly back inside, said “The building is on fire. I’m just going to put it out, then I’ll be back to work.” And that’s exactly what I did. Turned out someone threw a cigarette butt in our tall grass.
Next, I worked at the Arrow Lakes News in Nakusp, B.C. for about a year. Located right on the Columbia River, it was an eye-opening experience for a Prairie boy like me. I didn’t even know what a breakwater was…but then the deepest water I’d ever seen was in a bathtub. Anyhoo, I covered the development of a sawmill proposed right next to some residential subdivisions that included summer homes owned by big shots from Vancouver. They weren’t just going to sit back and let the lumber company call the shots. That was the first real episode of land use conflict that I ever experienced. From my point of view, there was room for compromise on both sides, as the jobs at the sawmill were needed, but the homeowners shouldn’t have to deal with it seven days a week. Also, when working on the slopes of the Monashee and Selkirk mountain ranges I learned to always wear hiking boots to work, not leather Oxfords.
Next, I was hired by the Macleod Gazette. I was lucky enough to start work in August of 1995, the same time two brand new Mounties out of depot started there too. And all three of us were the same age. We spent lots of time working together. One of the RCMP called me with a tip that he’d been called to a local bar which complained that a truck had been abandoned outside the front doors for a week. I interviewed the Mountie, the bar owner and published a photo of the truck. No one knew where the auto owner was. That’s the first time I learned how to lure the city media into copying my stories. It was an interesting story with a bit of mystery in it. Within a few days the story was on the Lethbridge TV stations, then Calgary (they stole my story). A couple days later the truck’s owner, who felt he had to abandon it because he couldn’t make the bank payments anymore, was found hiding in Cranbrook, B.C.
In 2001 I was hired by The Mountaineer newspaper in Rocky Mtn. House. The impression that’s stuck with me over the years was the number of stories I wrote about men, women and children injured or killed on snowmobiles and ATVs. One story I wrote was about a fairly young fellow, 30-something, who was from the Red Deer area, and he’d been out “high marking” in the bowls along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. High marking is, essentially, showing off. Then he caused an avalanche. He had a wife and children, and when they carried his corpse off the mountain, he’d been crushed by tons of snow and his body had turned blue. I wrote many, many editorials warning people about avalanches and ATV injuries, but nobody seems to listen.
Now I’m working in Millet, and just trying to keep an eye on that Glen Park Road traffic that runs the stop signs all the time. You gotta keep an eye on those guys.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.