Commentary – The past sheds light on the present

Joe McWilliams

Your ink-stained editor was sitting in the office the other day wondering how in the world to fill this space. It’s not far from that state of mind, these days, to falling asleep sitting up, but fortune intervened. In popped a friend of your local news rag, retired businessman, former Lesser Slave Lake MLA and successful racehorse owner Dennis Barton.

Dennis and Wendy (we assume it’s a joint project) have been engaged in a months-long purge of stuff they don’t need at their place in Slave Lake. We have been the beneficiary of some of this, because we like looking at old papers and magazines. Knowing this, Dennis had another one for us. This time it was an old issue of the Barrhead Leader from November of 1969.

It’s fun to see what passed for news in those days and get an idea of how the role of the community newspaper was conceived at the time. It’s also interesting to note how things have changed. For example, the name of the female half of a married couple was not used. In a column entitled ‘Newcomers Welcomed,’ a whole list of couples is named, including Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Maenschen, Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Schwartz, Mr. and Mrs. Alan Dabels and so on. This was a tradition that was already breaking down at the time, but at least in this instance, the wife’s name was not considered proper to mention. In each case, she was only a ‘Mrs.’ attached to her husband.

On the other hand, turnips were only eight cents a pound at the local Solo store and mandarin oranges were $1.99 per box. At the IGA, bacon was on for 89 cents a pound. So Mrs. Clifford Schwartz and Mrs. Alan Dabels, (whatever their first names might have been) had no trouble providing an economical and nutritious meal for their hard-working husbands. It’s not hard seeing why that sort of nomenclature came to be regarded as out of balance. Women wanted equal status, equal rights, and were already pushing for it. But probably not so much in Barrhead.

Another thing that pops up again and again is news of whist drives. Boy, were they ever popular! So were the newsy tidbits submitted from the various rural hamlets in the region. You learn that Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so ‘motored to Beaverlodge’ over the weekend to visit relatives, and so on. Mrs. Whatshername cut her finger and had it treated at the hospital. We wish her a speedy recovery.

One thing there isn’t in the Nov. 19, 1969 Barrhead Leader is a hint of anything unpleasant. Apparently crime did not exist in those days. Well, of course it did, but there is no court report; nothing from the RCMP. Nothing much about anything, except the community ‘happenings.’ Was Barrhead really that squeaky clean in 1969? Maybe it was. Or maybe it was just the policy of that paper to avoid unpleasant subjects. Nothing about drugs, for example. Nobody dying of fentanyl overdoses. Does anybody want to talk about that? Barton does. He thinks smaller centres in Alberta are being overlooked when it comes in government investment. He also thinks there should be a provincial ‘hot-line’ just for the fentanyl situation. It could save a life. There you go. In 1969 we might not have put such a distressing topic in a community paper. In 2017 we are.

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