Art Gibbon is arguably the greatest journalist to appear in ink in this community. In total he spent 45 years in the editorial department at the Nelson Daily News between 1930 and 1975, starting as a reporter and finishing as editor. He watched this community and country emerge from World War II and helped document every vital step along the way.
I’m not Art Gibbon. Not even close. But earlier this summer Star reporter Greg Nesteroff and I were talking about long serving journalists in this community and my 19 years apparently rank in the top-10. Figuring I needed another 26 years to have a park named after me… I said, screw it I’m done.
That’s not exactly true, but after almost two decades of covering this community in print I’ve decided to move on. It’s with a heavy heart I write my last column as an editor in this incredible community.
Like Art Gibbon, I was born in Calgary. My wife and I moved to the Kootenays on a bit of post-university whim. Wanting to try out mountain life for a few months, we only planned to stay for a year and then return to Alberta. It didn’t quite work out that way.
As everybody knows, Nelson quickly grows on you. We’ve been fortunate to stick it out for almost 20 years. Not sure if that qualifies us as “local” yet, but it sure feels like home.
Since breaking into the local journalism ranks back in 1994 as a freelance sports reporter for the Daily News, I’ve seen plenty. Over those years I’ve been granted almost unlimited access to the people and politics, tragedies and triumphs. It’s been a reserved front row seat I could have never imaged I’d have the privilege to occupy.
Since announcing my shift to Selkirk College a couple weeks back, I’ve been asked by many what stories and people I’ll remember the most. Sifting through 7,000-plus days of covering this community is daunting and a bit of a blur. Most who ask are likely disappointed that I can’t really find an answer.
Tiny heroes like Hayden Baird stick out. A preschooler fighting cancer, his father Bill told me during an interview: “Bob, go home and hug your kids a little tighter tonight.” With a son the same age, I did. And I was lucky enough to watch Hayden beat his disease and a couple years later coached the little ball of energy in baseball.
Standing in the middle of a mob on the corner of Ward and Vernon Streets as people fought City Hall in an attempt to keep big box stores out of the community is burned in my memory. Folks who live here care deeply about what our town looks like and it’s those nights (there have been several others) that put an exclamation mark on it.
Watching the opening of Hockey Night in Canada from the parking lot of the Nelson and District Community Complex on a cold winter’s morning back in 2007 is a moment of extreme pride. Watching Ron MacLean introduce our community to the country is a high point of the last 19 years. It’s also pretty cool that the night before I was sharing a pitcher of Nelson Brewing Company at Finley’s pub with the broadcasting legend talking about what a great town I call home.
The list of individual moments is long and with age start to fade, but what I’ll always remember from my days pounding away at the keyboard are the storylines.
Watching three different mayors with completely different styles navigate through the often stormy waters of Nelson politics is a narrative that provides me a deep understanding of where we came from and where we are today. This town is a better place than it was 19 years ago. The reason is the small decisions helping move Nelson along in a positive way. It wasn’t always easy — it rarely is in Nelson — but the result is pretty awesome.
More than any time in the last 19 years, it seems there’s a more cohesive understanding of who we are as a community and what makes us special. Though there’s still plenty of passion, the divisions are not as deep as they once were and that helps us build an even stronger home.
Print journalism has changed significantly since 1994. When I started at the Daily News, reporters didn’t have email and we developed film in a darkroom. Technology helped force my old digs to close its doors after more than 100 years serving this community. It was a sad day, but an inevitable one.
Having the opportunity to help the Nelson Star transition the community into a new era of print journalism has been exciting. In the last three years we’ve proved that a twice weekly print product and strong online presence is the right fit. The commitment by this paper’s publisher to stay ultra-local will keep the Star strong. More importantly, the thirst for information this dynamic community has fuels a strong editorial team to always do better. In 19 years there has never been a slow news day and that will always be the case in Nelson.
I’ve been criticized over the years for taking the middle ground too often. Fair enough. At different points I’ve come out in support of gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana, conservative fiscal management, proper sports facilities, enhanced arts funding, the outdoor skatepark and Shambhala. If I feel strongly about something, I’m not afraid to share my views.
It’s true, however, that I sit on the fence more often than not. The reason is that I generally see the world in grey rather than black-and-white. I listen to both sides and realize there is no copyright on truth. I have chosen to build community rather than tear it apart. My approach might have made me some enemies and detractors along the way, but there will be no apologies.
What has been a real honour is that I’ve been able to share my life in this very space. I’ve shared stories about the birth of my children and those special moments of growing up. The travels and contrasts to our community that strike me when I wander. The heartbreak and lessons learned as I watch my parents age far too fast. It’s a risk to share intimate moments, but when I do people respond. It makes both reader and writer realize we’re not alone. However uncommon we think the experience is, there is always someone else going through the exact same.
I’ve always taken pride in the fact we are documenting the history of this community on a daily basis. It’s an important and daunting task given to print journalists in communities everywhere. It’s always a bit disturbing when you start becoming the history of this community, so it’s time to move on. It’s not easy: the lump in my throat as I write these words is proof of that.
Change is good and I happily give up my front row seat to this community to somebody else with a new style and new approach. These pages will continue to be strong and I’ll always look forward to it arriving in my mailbox on Wednesdays and Fridays.
So thanks to all of those I have worked with over the last 7,000-plus days. It’s been a true honour and I’ll never be able to repay what it has provided me.
For 45 years Art Gibbon helped shape Nelson. His legacy can be found in our town’s archives and at a park in Rosemont. For 19 years Nelson has helped shape me. For my efforts I was afforded an opportunity to take a journey I never expected and became a better person for it.
Bob Hall was the editor of the Nelson Star. You will still see him walking the streets of Nelson and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org