For ten years, Greg Scott has combed the vast back files of the Nelson Daily News, picking out forgotten items to present to a modern audience.
For his former weekly column, All the News That’s Fit to Print, and now his bi-weekly Star column, Touchstones of Nelson, he’s spent hundreds of hours looking at old newspapers.
“My father always said you’ve got to have something to do when you get old, or six months after you retire you’ll be dead,” he says. “I discovered the museum and got into history.”
That was 1998, not long after he had been hired as office manager at the Daily News. When the paper celebrated its centennial a few years later, he was asked to do a column detailing what was going on in Nelson 100 years ago.
The idea certainly wasn’t unique — many papers have “remember when” type features, usually looking at a given date in five or ten year intervals, and retired archivist Shawn Lamb did one for the Daily News.
But from the outset, Scott set himself apart by seeking links between the past and the present.
“I’ve always looked and said ‘What’s relevant today? What happened then that’s happening now?’”
The handful of items he chooses are sometimes abridged but otherwise unedited. He has since zipped around to different years, switching things up every six months or so. He’s currently alternating between 1922 and 1962.
While he doesn’t shy away from tragedy or controversy, he is careful not to come too close to the present.
“The problem with newer stuff is you start running into people whose lives were affected,” he says. “I ran into that twice.”
In one instance, a suicide victim’s sister was still alive. In another, a now-elderly woman who was part of a love triangle that ended with a murder-suicide was still around — but had never told her family about it.
Mostly, however, Scott says he has received positive feedback from those for whom the column brings back memories.
This week marks his tenth anniversary. Now retired, he’s kept the column up without fail except for a two-month hiatus after the Daily News folded, and figures he has done 450 installments.
Touchstones has sponsored it that entire time and provided him with the original papers to work from. He spends about three hours a week at it.
“The great thing about reading old newspapers is following things as they happen,“ he says. “You know the outcome. You know the king didn’t die.”
While he isn’t sure what year he will tackle next, the era from 1890 to 1925 holds the most interest for him: “I like the earlier years and the war years as well. They hold a lot of memories for people.”