Commentary – Geographically speaking …

Joe McWilliams

Geographically speaking, the middle third of Alberta should be considered ‘central’ Alberta.

But, of course, it isn’t.

To the bulk of the population of this province, the notion of Lesser Slave Lake being in central Alberta would seem silly. So it goes. To a Calgarian, Red Deer is central Alberta and Edmonton is northern. To a Vancouverite, Prince George is in ‘northern’ B.C. which is a joke to anybody living in the B.C. Peace Country [where I grew up] or farther north.

It’s all a matter of perspective. To true northerners, the capital of the Northwest Territory is ‘down south,’ and anything farther might as well be in another country it is so different.

I met a guy from Gjoa Haven one time, down south for a trappers course. It was -28C that February morning, which for me was damned cold. But the sun was shining and the wind wasn’t blowing. He was in a light shirt and was not in a hurry to get indoors. He was looking around and I thought he must be admiring the trees, which there wouldn’t be any of on King William Island. But no, he had something else in mind.

“I’m so impressed by how warm the sun is down here,” he said.

Yes, things are different in the true north.

Another thing that’s different is the importance of the community newspaper. A few years ago I agreed to judge entries in the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association’s Better Newspapers Competition.

Talk about a wide range of stuff – everything from slick looking weekly supplements to Regina and Saskatoon dailies with zero local content to little rags with bad layout and no notion of journalistic standards. Out in a league of its own was the Yellowknifer, the paper based in the NWT capital. It gave the impression of a publication deeply connected with and concerned about the people and issues in that community – a community that included a lot more than just the city of Yellowknife.

As it happens, Canadian musician and author Dave Bidini [he wrote The Tropic of Hockey] was also very impressed by the Yellowknifer and what it means to its community. He writes about it in his new book Midnight Light: A Personal Journey to the North.

So where is this leading? One place is a reflection on the role of the newspaper in the communities served by this publication. Times have been better in the business, and some places have lost their papers. As far as I can tell they are not well served – far from it – by whatever is left to do the job. As far as reliability goes – no alternative comes close.

Of course, it’s a bit on the self-serving side to be carrying on about this. It is a business, after all, in business for the same reasons as any business.

I don’t know what it is like in ‘southern’ parts of this country but whatever passes for news there doesn’t do much for us. We need our own thing, and the community newspaper, well supported by local advertising, is something that can work well.

That’s what it’s like up here in the north [centre?] of Alberta.

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