It’s easy to get upset about Friday’s National Post front page story that cast our fine community in a negative light. This is our home and when out-of-town journalists don’t paint us in our expected idyllic light, it stings.
My first reaction was: awesome. Sure reporter Elizabeth Hames takes the easy way out on some aspects of her article, but in order for a story like this to wind up on the front page of a national newspaper it has to be spiced up a wee bit. We should not read our press in this case, but rather weigh it.
When you read Hames’ take on our town, it’s certainly not great. But nobody needs to panic. We are still awesome and despite our obvious scars, will remain that way.
The article also brought me back to 2002 when a Calgary Herald columnist wrote a nasty bit on Nelson. At the time I was the editor of the Nelson Daily News and it supplied us several weeks worth of letters and stories of reaction. Below you will find former Daily News reporter Darren Davidson’s first reaction story to Ric Dolphin’s cutting rant. Enjoy.
Nelson ‘invaded by a virus’: Calgary Herald columnist puts a bug in local butts
Nelsonites from all corners of the political ring are putting up their dukes following an article that appeared in the Calgary Herald over the weekend.
The article, entitled “Hippies Happy In Nelson,” claims the town is “diseased.”
“The virus here is, in a word, hippies,” writes Herald Western Canada Bureau Chief Ric Dolphin. The piece goes on to bash the city’s provincial government workforce, its unionized forestry community and the Save Our Services health group.
Mayor Dave Elliott, described in the article as “the owner of a pair of outdoor stores, with a history as an environmental activist and an appropriately hippy pedigree” says he was disappointed Dolphin took the tact he did, but overall felt the piece was “pretty humorous.”
“He’s writing for entertainment. And we shouldn’t take it too seriously,” says Elliott, who saw the piece Saturday morning.
It appeared in the Herald’s front section on page three, in the Saturday edition — one of the largest papers of the week.
“I think it’s great advertising,” Elliott smiles, admitting that the article took a “certain slant on the city that was insulting to some people.”
Elliott says his daughter, who lives in Calgary, was incensed by the story.
“She immediately wrote a letter to the editor and e-mailed all her former Nelsonite friends in Calgary, and they all wrote letters to the editor too. It was good to see.”
Ed Mannings, a 44-year-old local businessman, says the article struck a nerve.
“You can probably define people politically from their reaction to that article.”
Mannings says someone who has lived in Nelson for 30 years might share Dolphin‘s point of view. A life-long Nelsonite who describes himself as a conservative business person, Mannings says he had mixed feelings when he read the piece.
“Like it or not, I do think this is an image that a lot of people have of our community.”
Mannings says the piece was “one dimensional.”
“And he could have chosen his language differently.”
In describing some of Nelson’s residents as a disease, a virus and wayward children of the real world, Dolphin admits he intentionally went a little far.
“Obviously that’s over the top. Yeah, I’m pushing buttons to a certain extent.”
As part of his job with the Herald, Dolphin travels to different parts of Western Canada every few months. In his latest trip he visited the Okanagan and the Kootenay, late last month. He also wrote about Osoyoos and Cranbrook. Dolphin says Nelson was singled out because it seemed a “pocket of liberalism” surrounded by a more “Alberta-sort-of world.”
“I’m not saying everybody’s like that, but on a whirlwind visit, which is what I do, you kind of focus on what sticks out.”
Dolphin, an award-winning magazine writer and journalist for the past 25 years, spoke to roughly a half dozen people while here, including Elliott, former mayor Gary Exner, local hostel owner Brooke Leatherman and a range of folks he found in restaurants, a craft show and a laundromat. He also chatted with rookie councillor Michelle Mungall.
“I was pretty angry,” says Mungall on her reaction to the story “because it just wasn’t true. But then I thought about it and now I’m just more disappointed.”
Mungall says she spoke with Dolphin for over 15 minutes.
“Nothing that I communicated to him ended up in the article, so I’m not sure why he bothered phoning me,” she says.
Dolphin described the 24-year-old as an anti-globalization activist, a vegetarian and NDP youth member who moved to Nelson from Edmonton to snowboard and to be an activist.
Mungall, who is from St. Albert, Alberta, says she knew what to expect however. Dolphin worked for the Edmonton Journal, the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s magazine before landing a job at the Herald in May.
“I know that’s how he normally writes, he normally has that surly, sarcastic kind of tone,” says Mungall, adding that it seemed very apparent to her Dolphin had his mind made up about what he was going to write.
“From my perspective, no one appreciates what he wrote. But most people are laughing it off, which is the truly Nelson thing to do.”
Dolphin says he is a conservative and writes from that point of view, but he says he strives to provide more than opinions and details that appeal to a conservative readership only.
“I have some left-wing fans as well. I try to present things in a compelling way. People may or may not agree with me. Even if they don’t agree, they still read me.
“It’s entertainment to an extent.”
Harsh reaction from detractors, he laughs, is “an occupational hazard.”
Dolphin has cast a critical eye on other towns.
This spring, he stung Fort St. John when he referred to the economically embattled forest community as “the ugliest town in B.C.”
“Fort St. John got it a little worse than you did.”
“Actually,” he laughs, “maybe they didn’t.”
Brooks, Alberta was another.
“It was kind of a grubby town with a lot of social problems related to a slaughter house which kind of dominated the economy.”
Dolphin has a wife and four children. He also says, despite the harsh words, he has a heart.
“When I do this, I do it to people who can take it, or at least I think can take it.”
Dolphin says he doesn’t think a community like Nelson has anything to worry about
“You’ve got things there that people want — the climate, scenery, activities and as people retire Nelson will be in fine shape.”
The writer admits he’s “a little surprised” that Nelson has been so thin-skinned about the article.
“I thought it’d be water off a ducks back. The mayor hasn’t declared a posse or anything has he?”