The Last Inside Edge
When I arrived in Whistler in the fall of 1984 fresh off a busted Yukon gold mine at the age of 37, I had barely heard of the place and had never been on skis, but that was soon to change.
As the former (first) sports editor of the Yukon News, I approached Question editor Kevin Griffen and asked why his newspaper in such a sports-centric town didn’t have a sports section. He replied: “Because I can’t find anybody who knows how to write sports.”
His boss and the owner at the time, Glenda Bartosh, offered me $75 a week to write a sports column called The Inside Edge. The first one was an intro piece saying hello to my new readers, one of whom was Nancy Greene who phoned the office as soon as she read it. When office manager Janis Roitenberg told me Nancy wanted to talk to me immediately, I frowned and said: “Nancy Greene? That’s the Olympic figure skater, right?”
Janis rolled her eyes assuming I was joking (I wasn’t), dialed Nancy’s number and handed me the phone. From that point on I simply listened.
Nancy had been bugging The Question for years to start a sports section and figured I was her big chance to get it done. She offered to do anything necessary to help me get started, including becoming my personal ski coach, and she started introducing me to anybody in town who had anything to do with ski racing — except former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray who was director of skiing on Whistler Mountain, her main competition since she was director of skiing on Blackcomb and the two mountains got along like oil and water.
Murr and I found each other a short while later and I vowed to be impartial between Red (Blackcomb), White (snow) and Blue (Whistler Mountain), a goal I think I achieved in my 18 years as The Question’s sports editor during which I outlasted seven owners, 12 publishers and 32 editors before finally getting the guillotine myself from a new owner.
Her first words to me on her first day were: “So you’re Sack. I’ve heard about you. You know you’re making too much money, don’t you?”
I knew I was doomed from that moment on and was grateful she arrived late in the game because a lot of good times went down.
The most touching memory of my 18 years in Whistler, by a country mile, was Feb. 25, 1989 when local yokel Rob Boyd won the World Cup downhill, the first-ever win on Canadian snow by a Canadian male with Dave Murray sitting in the bleachers watching. I was down in the interview corral near the finish line when Robby’s winning time (2:10.03) went on the board and Murr was going bananas with happiness.
I knew where he and wife Stephanie were sitting, made eye contact with him and felt like I was floating in the air. He was pretty sick with cancer at the time and it may have been the last race he ever attended.
He finally succumbed on Oct. 23, 1990. He was just 37 years old. His funeral was the saddest day in Whistler’s history.
After I left Whistler in 2002, I moved to Tumbler Ridge and spent a decade working in the oilpatch on bulldozers. Never wrote a story or tried to sell a yarn the whole time until I retired in 2014 to return to the Yukon and play grandpa to three little Yukoners, currently six, eight and 10.
And the writing bug bit me again when I got here, much to my surprise. I’m currently editor of the Sourdough Chronicle, a quarterly newsletter of the Yukon Council on Aging and freelancing yarns as they appear.
I’m sorry The Question is folding because it had all the answers for me at a certain time of my life and it was one hell of a run while it lasted.
Shooting in The Question’s early days
My first day as a photojournalist with The Whistler Question in 1986: I arrive at the Function Junction office, before 9 a.m.
No one is there. No one. Turns out it’s the day after publication, and everyone worked late the night before, so they arrive whenever they darn well feel like it the next day. Tousled-haired, caffeine-addled Mike Youds, editor, must have arrived soon after, though, as I’m let into the building and sit down in front of a new Mac computer. The newly released Mac Plus had 1MB of RAM!
I learned to compose my stories in my mind before typing them into the computer, for if I changed a word in the story it would re-space the words line by line. There was time to grab a coffee while the machine reformatted the words — and this was the fast machine. Photographer and mentor Brian Smith was stuck with a PC with green fluorescent type on a black screen, nicknamed REBOOT.
From there, we printed out the story, cut the story (and this is not metaphorical, literally cutting it with scissors) to fit the space on the big 3x4 foot paste-up boards, run the paper through the waxy stuff and paste it onto the board.
God help ya if a cutline didn’t get enough waxy stuff and fell off somewhere on the way to the printer between Whistler and Vancouver. And that happened, too. Dropped bylines (again, literally dropped, as in fell out of the box and dropped on the ground) were a minor promotional oopsidasie; dropped headlines were a major gaffe.
Brian taught me to push Tri-X film, dodge and burn prints to make them the best they could be, create a PMT in the red glow of a darkroom and enjoy listening to CBC’s As it Happens late into production nights. More than that, he taught me to take one photo to tell the whole story.
An early assignment was to shoot skating on Alta Lake. It was December — the mountain hadn’t opened or didn’t have good snow but the lakes were frozen. After skating for half an hour or so, by myself, with no locals, no tourists, I had to be my own model to bring back at least one photo.
Bent over, I set my manual Rollei SL35 film camera upside down, my feet in a T-start position for figure skating and pressed the shutter. It was photo-yoga.
I got it, but didn’t know if I got it until hours later when the film was developed. And this was front-page news in the early days of the municipality of Whistler.
I use this example often when talking about photography. Situations that are tough to photograph push creativity.
So do the people we meet and work alongside: Grant Lamont and John Colebourn were scotch-drinking, smoky-voiced old men-in-training at the age of 25, and young Norrie idolized them both. Doug Sack was the real scotch-drinking, smoky-voiced old man at the time.
Tosia Polomski-Archer worked reception with a smile, Bob Barnett edited with a quiet grace, Kathy Barnett held the reins and steered the wagon, Bob Doull appeared occasionally to check on his investment and Paul Burrows would drop in to see how his original creation, The Whistler Question, was doing.
David Rigler sold ads and raised spaniel puppies, Norma Caskanette did the social column, everyone helped stuff the papers with flyers, and Lyle and Virginia delivered the papers.
My time with The Question ended in 1990, but my career as a photographer was just starting.
Along with the demise of The Question there’s a few who have gone now, too: Kathy Barnett, Bonny Makarewicz, an intern we called Young Norrie as we can’t remember his first name and John Colebourn, who passed last year.
We lived in Whistler for nearly 30 years, and moved to Victoria in 2011. I occasionally read the Pique and Question online, and grab it for sure when visiting Whistler friends. Not any more I guess.
Wow, it was the early days after all.
The kindness of the Burrows
Having lived on the B.C. coast all of my life I was quite unaccustomed to Whistler’s snowy cold weather, never mind the ski culture.
I arrived in the valley with only one childhood memory of a frigid winter combined with the memories of my then-current return from a two-year residency in Hawaii.
In this first year living in Whistler I was hired by Mr. Paul Burrows to type his newspaper, The Whistler Question. He also ran an answering service for some local businesses.
This all took place in Creekside in an office on the upper floor of the building where Southside Diner sits today. I was thankful to have this job as living in a town with only two gas stations and a handful of restaurants and accommodations meant job prospects were quite scarce.
To get to the main point of this letter, I want to say that I will always be grateful for the job Mr. Burrows gave me at The Whistler Question.
I also want to mention I am very thankful for Mrs. Burrows’ kindness in taking the time to talk to me about driving a car in the winter and her suggestions for my safety. For example, what equipment I should always carry in my trunk — information a coast girl like me really needed to know.
Fast-forwarding to my time of finally settling in Whistler, I want to take opportunity to express my gratitude for the kind time and attention Mrs. Burrows gave to my son Joel, teaching him in his first year of school at Myrtle Philip Elementary.
First job in a new country
As a “new Canadian” in 1980, having just emigrated from Kenya — where Swahili was my second language — and landed up in Whistler, I was excited to see a small classified ad in a local newspaper, seeking a typesetter, preferably with knowledge of a particular machine.
This was intriguing because I had very recently helped IBM’s Africa division to rewrite the instruction manual for that exact model. Emphasizing the details of this experience, I immediately dropped off my resume at The Whistler Question’s tiny office upstairs across from the Husky.
Within an hour I received a very strange phone call — a gruff male voice without introduction, telling me in rapid-fire Swahili that I was starting work the next morning, or preferably within the hour that same evening.
So began many great friendships born of weekly production-day (and night!) doses of sheer panic and invincible teamwork — Paul and Jane of course, Pauline, Kathy, Anita, Glenda and so many others.
Thanks to all of you for such great memories!
Shayne Le Poer Trench
Always full of surprises
The Question was my entrance into British Columbia, pulling me away from the prairies I called home with the allure of writing about Olympic athletes. Little did I know that it would become one of the most rewarding experiences of my lifetime.
Then again, this publication has always been full of surprises.
Before arriving here, it defied logic to me that this small paper with a strange name tucked away in the mountains attracted national awards like a magnet. But I quickly learned that The Question’s acclaim and excellence was a reflection of its people — not just the dedicated folks who worked hard to share Sea to Sky stories each week, but the passionate readers in Whistler and Pemberton who cared deeply about their community.
Saying farewell to The Question is strange, like seeing that one friend you thought would be a local for life leave town. Whistler won’t feel quite right without it. But there aren’t many institutions in this resort that can boast a legacy of more than 40 years. That in itself makes The Question a true Whistler success story, and one that we’ll miss reading a new chapter of each week.
A place to learn
I grew up in Pemberton and knew from an early age that I wanted to be a reporter.
In high school I worked for the Pemberton Valley News, learning everything I could about the news industry and had a wonderful experience. After graduation I moved to Kamloops to continue my education at TRU. In the summer of 2011 I was fortunate enough to get an internship at The Whistler Question.
I learned so much at The Question. I was welcomed with open arms, allowed to ask as many questions as possible and given the freedom to come up with my own articles, as well as follow up on leads and sharpen my photographic skills.
My most memorable story that I wrote (and one of my favourites to this day) was covering the first gay marriage in Whistler. I met these two happy, wonderful men who were overjoyed to share their love. That story really made me understand the connections that small town newspapers have. I was able to share such a simple story to most, but a groundbreaking one to so many and I was honoured to do so.
While I am sad to hear of the closing of The Question, I am happy to have the memories.
Nicole Doutaz (Davis)
It was with sadness that I read in The Question on Jan. 9 that the newspaper’s last edition will be Jan. 23.
I was publisher of the Question from 2000 to ’05 and I was fortunate to work with an amazing group of people in an incredible community. A lot of hard work goes into the making of a community newspaper, especially when you want to provide the community with the best information possible.
Through that five-year period, The Question was honoured with many awards including, I believe, five consecutive awards for Canada’s best community newspaper in their circulation category. That’s a reflection of the effort put in by all staff.
Whistler, for some 24 years, has been a lucky community enjoying two very good newspapers. I know going forward that Pique will continue its strong editorial coverage, keeping Whistler well informed. But today I would like to remember my time in the community with those incredible staff members and say thank you for your contributions. Well done Questionables.
Starting a career
Getting a job in journalism is difficult these days. Getting a job in journalism as a recent grad with limited experience is nearly impossible.
So when I applied to be a reporter at a small community newspaper in Whistler, I wasn’t expecting much to come of it. By the time I pressed send on the application, I had already applied to countless jobs — many in far less desirable locations. I grew up in Ottawa and had never been further west than Alberta, let alone B.C.
But when I got the call, I accepted on the spot and was driving across Canada two weeks later. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to articulate my gratitude to this little paper, its editor, Alyssa, and our publisher, Sarah, for taking a chance and giving me my first real opportunity to work in the industry I’ve dreamt of working in since I can remember, in one of the best places on earth.
Thank you to The Question, its readers, our sources and all my Whistler Publishing coworkers for giving me a safe space to learn and grow, both as a journalist and in general. It’s the biggest privilege to tell this mind-blowingly amazing community’s stories — from ski competitions to byelections — and to have had even a tiny hand in this paper’s four-decade history. I can’t imagine any better place to have started my career.
Full of memories
During a conversation about the closing of The Question, I was reminded that I have been the longest full-time employee to have worked at the paper.
That really hit home for me as I hadn’t, until that moment, attached any significance to that. As I read the words of our columnists in our last few issues, I was reminded of how important The Question has been to many people in Whistler — recognized as a source of truth, as opposed to some versions of news that often tends to pollute the internet these days.
Over the years, I had the best experience working with some pretty amazing people — many of whom are now like family to me.
We shed some very big tears and had some huge laughs together, witnessing many zany events along the way. From crazy conspiracy theories to heart–wrenching stories to skittering critters, we pretty much saw it all go through our office.
The Question was a factor in my personal life. Years ago, my mom read an article about an upcoming event at which she thought I should volunteer. I ended up meeting my wonderful future husband there.
Other times, I felt great pride at seeing my mom twice adorn the cover: once for protesting against something she firmly believed was not in the best interest of her fellow Whistlerites and, another time, for having been voted Citizen Of The Year.
For many years, thanks to some very understanding and supportive publishers at our (truly) community newspaper, most of the staff’s children spent many afternoons during their childhood playing, doing homework and napping in the staff lounge after daycare and school while they waited for us to finish up — creating memories and reinforcing the importance of family being able to intertwine with work.
The Whistler Question has been a part of our lives and our community for a very long time. I have loved it and will mourn its passing.
Everyone learned something
I was on my university newspaper before moving to Whistler, so it was natural that I was interested in getting on board The Question.
My first job in Whistler was table bussing at The Creekhouse. I also started working for Greg Griffith and Chris Speedie, shooting tourist photos on the top of Seventh Heaven.
Skiers would be so exhausted by that T-bar tug to the top, and so astounded by the sudden view, they were easy pickings for photos. I offered a free photo, which would be ready at the end of the day. At about 1 p.m., I’d skedaddle down to the Village, take my colour neg film to Rick at Whistler One House Photo and go change into my street shoes.
Then I’d hitch or walk to the top of Alpine Meadows to Greg Griffith’s home photo lab with my raw, uncut negs. This was a surprisingly big lab with automated print developing — pretty cool, really. I had to work fast to get back to his shop by about 3:30 p.m. in time to staple photos to a sandwich board. I got a percentage of the sales. Quite the job, but it was good on fine weather days with big crowds. All pre-digital, which is remarkable thinking about it now.
I submitted some photos, and maybe a story or something, to the paper. Mike Youds gave me a chance, and both he and Larry McCallum were generous, friendly and great mentors to becoming a better reporter.
We may forget, though, that a lot of the time, it was a tough slog to put out a decent paper every week. We were all working harder than we probably should have, especially for the income we were earning, but it was because we loved our community and were proud of what we produced together as a team effort each week. There were some perks, like being acknowledged by members of the community for the work we did. Sometimes you’d get to attend nice events and meet great people.
But I think the best part of working at a newspaper is having the opportunity to go out every day and ask lots of questions to fascinating people who usually know much more than we do, gather quotes and assemble it together into something that everyone learns something from, including the people we interviewed.
Thank you Paul
It is a sad moment in the history of Whistler to see the end of our Whistler Question newspaper. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the founder, Mr. Paul Burrows, who deserves a lot of credit for his foresight and his sense of community.
Knowing Paul, as a municipal councillor, a businessman and a damn good volunteer, he will always agree with the best decision for the betterment of Whistler.
It is an incredible business that recorded our history for 41 years. Knowing that all the staff will be moving on to the Pique Newsmagazine — great decision!
Thank you, Paul Burrows, for all you have done for our community.
Kudos, to all those who were, and will always be, a big part of our lives in the history of Whistler.
P.S. Here’s to you Paul Burrows. You always have been and always will be a great part of our community. Thanks for being there.
Bye Whistler Question!
Thinking in ‘newspaper years’
If those of us who’ve known the crazy joy and torment of owning and operating a newspaper can be forgiven for regarding them as some kind of demanding, but much-loved pet, then you’ll also forgive me for thinking of newspapers as existing on an equally unique plane.
As dogs’ lives are measured in dog years, with seven dog years equalling one human one, a newspaper with all its inherent intensity and compression also exists in a time warp of, say, three newspaper years to every human one.
If you’re buying all this, then Paul and Jane Burrows, or Mr. and Mrs. B. as we Questionables called them, nurtured The Whistler Question through its first five years — make that 15 newspaper years — and into its youth. And I, taking over in 1981 first as editor and later as owner and den mother/publisher, saw it through its next five, hair-raising “teen” years and into young adulthood.
Nothing like the closing of a newspaper to get former staffers “talking” about their time together in the trenches — and that alone tells you lots: most of us early Questionables have remained steadfast friends.
It was an important time in our lives. For many, it was our first newspaper job, launching us into creative careers that have stood the test of time in whatever years you measure with. For starters, The Question launched cartoonist Geoff Olson; Anita Webster, a successful public relations consultant; graphic designer, Mona Houle, Vancouver Sun arts reporter Kevin Griffin; journalist and historian Stewart Muir; Mick Maloney and Craig Spence who went on to the Vancouver Courier. And me.
It was an important time in The Question’s life. It was finding its sea legs as a real community newspaper.
And it was an important time in Whistler’s life. The Village was a smattering of buildings risen from the old garbage dump like a bunch of Lego interspersed with vacant lots. Blackcomb didn’t have a single ski run.
In the early ’80s, it felt like Whistler was run by a bunch of “kids” — 20-somethings, 30-or, God-forbid, 40-somethings. The paper was no exception. I was the youngest publisher in Canada at the time and one of only two women running a newspaper in B.C. (the other: “Ma Murray” in Lillooet.) The whole scene was fuelled by the kind of Young Turk energy that only young people possess. We were giddy with success, in spite of, or because of, the challenges we surmounted.
But something extra happens in good newsrooms no outsider can understand. All that thinking, all that synergy and adrenaline to meet deadlines that never forgive you, whether you’re sick, busted your leg, or forgot the bank deposit on the roof of the truck on the way to the bank in Pemberton adds up to something far greater than the sum of its parts.
What anyone can understand, though, is when they have a good newspaper in their hands. And The Question was very, very good.
It won award after award for our reporting, our editorials, our “questioning” everything as any good arm of the fifth estate should do, all as the great experiment called Whistler unfolded. The Question was there every step of the way.
I’m sorry you weren’t there — pre-computer, pre-email, pre-internet, when typewriters and waxers were the technology of choice. You’d have heard typesetter Pauline Wiebe pipe up if she disagreed with the facts in our hard-written copy. You’d have heard the curses and howls as we assembled hard copy into flats for the printer under steam-cooker pressure: the luxury of e-mailing digital files was a dream. The flats went to Vancouver by Greyhound every Tuesday, 6 p.m. sharp. You were either on the bus or off.
All of us who brought you your stalwart newspaper are better for the experience and, I hope, you are, too.
In newspaper years, The Question is now 120-something as it sails off to the great newsstand in the sky. But don’t be sad. The mercy of it all is that years ago out of The Question, both literally and figuratively, grew the Pique. It was started by Bob and Kathy Barnett, who met and fell in love working in those hallowed Question offices, Bob honing his chops as editor, Kathy hers on the newspaper business side.
What Bob and Kathy achieved with Pique, and what Pique will continue to achieve, especially since all current Questionables are joining the team, is a happy and natural extension of The Question.
If a cat has nine lives, and I’m sure a dog has even more, we can’t begin to count how many more lives a good newspaper like The Question will have.