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Paul Sparkes: Nothing worth reading here?

One of the ads supporting the first issue of “Here in Newfoundland”. By 1956, our ubiquitous iron kitchen stove had completed its evolution, stepping out as an enamelled appliance. This one had a hot water reservoir sticking off its right flank.
One of the ads supporting the first issue of “Here in Newfoundland”. By 1956, our ubiquitous iron kitchen stove had completed its evolution, stepping out as an enamelled appliance. This one had a hot water reservoir sticking off its right flank.

Just over 62 years ago, two gentlemen were overheard in a St. John's restaurant complaining about the press in Newfoundland. While they were apparently in agreement with each other, by all decibels the conversation had the character of an argument. Other diners did not have to eavesdrop.

In April of 1956, the conversation came under published scrutiny in the editorial of a new monthly magazine called “Here in Newfoundland.”

The points raised became a springboard for an in-print discussion. “It was the joint opinion of these gentlemen in the restaurant that there was really very little worthwhile reading material in local publications,” the editorial showed.

 

“… they were satisfied to gripe about Newfoundland press products, but we are willing to wager that they were not satisfied or inclined to try and do anything about it.”
Excerpt from “Here in Newfoundland” 1956 article on complaining about the press

“Here” magazine, by the way, got off to a good start but it was not long in print. Its first advertising haul was considerable (it usually is in a launch issue) but this would drop off within months in the face of entrenched competition and in 1957, “Here” would be gone.

When you look closely at that “joint opinion,” you realize it is ridiculous. Solid percentages of local readers would have begged to differ. The Evening Telegram was then a daily blockbuster; The Daily News was healthy; there was The Sunday Herald and there were other publications to our credit. None of these existed on fresh air. They attracted readerships and that meant they were effective advertising vehicles. Businesses happily paid them to blow their commercial horns.

If the content of those publications did not match up to those loud diners' expectations, well then, they had other options. In fact, they are said to have cited The New York Times and the Montreal Star. But the gentlemen needed to know that a Chevrolet can serve you every bit as well as a Cadillac. 

“We heard the opinion of our two heroes in a restaurant,” Here magazine commented, “they were satisfied to gripe about Newfoundland press products, but we are willing to wager that they were not satisfied or inclined to try and do anything about it.”

This did not mean to recommend that the two men go out and start their own publication. No, “Here” was wise enough to make the point that those men “would not be heard as a matter of choice” as they were having a private rant. And they intended to leave it at that. So the magazine pointed out :

“All it required was a small amount of time to write a letter and tell the offenders what they think is wrong and what should be done about it. But they'd rather just talk. They wouldn't take advantage of their free-country and free-opinion privileges.”

An incredible heritage

Sure, a lot of garbage has been published over time in Newfoundland. I've written some of it myself.  But we have had, and still have, good minds that report, analyze and criticize in constructive and sometimes entertaining ways. Think Ray Guy, Michael Harrington and Albert Perlin. And there are others of this calibre practising today.  

Read the newspapers of our bygone years and they will unfold for you a topsy-turvy, salty, loud, musical, humorous (almost any adjective works) people who are rarely happy if they are not fighting the odds.

OK. Point made. Now I want to share a couple of extracts from the main (“cover”) article in that 1956 magazine. This was an interview by Jack A. White with Premier Joseph Smallwood. Newfoundland was then in its seventh year as a Canadian province. Smallwood declared that his chief disappointment in confederation “is the failure of Ottawa to see that it is their manifest duty to help us to help ourselves.” Some Canadian statesmen, Smallwood added, failed to see that in our first “dozen or so” years, Newfoundland required “much more than just the conventional Canadian pattern.”

But then, moving on, here's the part that I couldn't resist extracting for this column:

“The strain of office has not affected him. Premier Smallwood for most of his life weighed 112 pounds. ‘Just a quintal,’ he laughs. ‘And not, I hope, a quintal of cullage.’ Today he is a heavier, happier, healthier man. He is up to 150 pounds and though a bit grayer and slightly more bald, he is in much better physical shape than ever. Much of it, he attributes to the fact that he quit smoking two years ago. He put on ten of those extra pounds in that period. A chain smoker at one time, the Premier decided to quit — for good — two years ago.”

Editors and advertisers

“Here in Newfoundland,” despite its short life, is an example of actually launching into a business venture, a course which many talk about and too few take. The people behind the first edition included Edsel Bonnell, editor and publisher and Gerald C. Peet, advertising director. Guardian Ltd., at 96 Water Street was the printer. Writers in addition to Jack White in that first issue were Don Morris, Aubrey Mack, Sylvia Wigh, John C. Puddester, Tony Thomas, Nix Wadden and A.B. Sullivan. Advertisers included Harvey & Co. (they took two full pages to push forward their wholesale food products); E.J. Learning Ltd., which promoted the Venko to heat homes and water; and VOCM, then in its 20th year, took a full page to promote its on-air personalities, to wit., Denys Ferry, Jim Browne, Harry Brown, Bob Cole, Jim Murdoch, Jim Regan, Bill Squires and Don Stone.

 

Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail:  psparkes@thetelegram.com.

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