Turning the big 4-0

Bonnie Learning
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The Labradorian celebrates four decades of serving central and coastal Labrador next week

Jim Kelland, son of The Labradorian founder Louise Kelland, flips through the bound copy of the first issues of the paper from 1974 at his family’s print shop. The Labradorian celebrates its 40th anniversary this week.

It all started in the living room of Louise Kelland’s house on MacDonald Drive in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in August of 1974.

That’s when and where the first issue of The Labradorian was put together — 40 years ago next week.

“We really needed a newspaper (in Labrador) that people could really depend on,” Louise recalled of the beginning.

“There had been so many attempts in previous years by different people, but none ever lasted — I think The Northern Reporter may have been the longest lasting, before The Labradorian.”

She said her vision for The Labradorian was to have something completely local.

“Back then, we were still getting the newspapers from St. John’s, and they would have one page dedicated to Labrador news,” she said.

“We wanted something with local opinions, birth, death and wedding announcements, police reports, columns, council news, and classified ads for no charge.”

Louise said the very first issue — published by the family at their home on Aug. 30, 1974, at a cost of 25 cents — had a sensational front-page story, with the blaring headline “Wild Shoot-Up.”

“Shades of the old Wild West seemed to strike our town a few days ago when the RCMP responded to a complaint that a local youth had been shot in the foot with a .22 calibre rifle,” the article said.

“Part of the activities included a ‘shoot-the-beer-bottle-out-of-your-buddy’s-hand’ contest, which was followed up by a Wild West ‘dance.’ This took place when one person was forced to dance while others fired bullets into the floor around his feet.”

Louise recalls that the second issue, dated Sept. 6, 1974, had an article that went national across the country.

“The story was about the Simpson-Sears catalogue, called ‘Ripped off Again,’” said Louise.

“I had gone to Nova Scotia to visit my mother, and looked at a copy of a catalogue she had, and compared it to one I had at home (in Happy Valley-Goose Bay).”

She found out the company had actually been printing two different versions of its catalogue — one for Newfoundland and Labrador and one for the rest of Canada.

“They looked exactly the same, except for the pricing,” she said.

“Everything in (our) catalogue was more expensive.”

As if dealing with shoot-outs and discriminatory pricing weren’t enough, The Labradorian also captured its share of glamourous moments in time, including interviewing some of the world’s most famous movie stars.

“John Travolta came through here a lot, as he flies his own planes,” said Louise.

“He came through back in 1980, and I owned the gift shop in the airport at that time. He was very gracious and let us interview him, and told us he would be coming back through in 10 days’ time, as he was headed to the Cannes Film Festival in France. He said he wanted a copy of the paper with his interview when he came back.”

Travolta, indeed, came back 10 days later as promised, and Louise had a picture of Travolta in the following week’s paper with him holding up the issue of The Labradorian in which his initial interview and picture appeared.

“Remember, this was at the very height of his career, after the success of his ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ television show and his movie, ‘Grease.’ He was a very nice person to interview, very gracious. I think he didn’t mind speaking to us because he knew we wouldn’t tell the international press where he was and cause a frenzy.”

 

The early days

Louise recalls the early days of putting together The Labradorian, with everyone working together like a well-oiled machine. Louise wrote most of the copy and took pictures and a team of kids collated the legal-sized paper by hand on production day — including her sons, Jim and Johnny, and a large number of their friends.

“I remember cases and cases of paper in our house,” laughed Jim. “We had to have everything on hand for the winter when the boat stopped running, as the cases of paper couldn’t be flown in.”

Louise recalls the circulation was about 800 when she first started, and it eventually rose to 3,500.

“I remember all the kids tumbling off the school bus on Thursday afternoons and putting the paper together.”

The paper started to be printed in the family’s print shop — Labradorian Printers — in 1976, but as the circulation grew, Louise realized the need for outside help.

“In 1980, we went to Robinson-Blackmore to have the paper printed, and they used newsprint,” she said. “At that point, we had to increase the cost of our paper to make up for the extra printing cost — from 25 cents to 30 cents.”

Louise said it also made for a more serious deadline.

“We had to make sure we got that paper to the airplane to make sure it got printed on time,” she said.

“We never missed an edition ever, except for our scheduled break at Christmas and our one week break in summer.”

Jim remembers that the papers had to be at the airport for 1 p.m. on Sundays, and distribution days were on Tuesdays.

“If anything big happened between Sunday afternoon and Monday or even Tuesday mornings, we would print up an updated news insert and place it in the printed papers,” he said.

The first newsprint edition hit the stands on April 3, 1980.

“People were fine with the newsprint,” Louise said. “They were just happy we didn’t go broadsheet.”

She said support for The Labradorian was always phenomenal.

“Advertising was always at capacity, classified and social items were always full, readers were interested in everything — the police reports, the council news, theatre movie listings, television listings. We also had many columnists, many of whom have remained secret in identity to this day, known only to me.”

Louise occasionally flips through her hardbound copies of the early issues.

“It’s amazing …you can really get lost in them,” she said. “It just takes you back in time.”

She’s proud to see The Labradorian celebrating its 40th anniversary.

“It goes to show when you start off with nothing, you have nothing to lose,” she said.

“It just steadily climbed from the very first issue. It was always a great feeling of accomplishment each week to see The Labradorian newspaper out there.”

Louise sold The Labradorian to Robinson-Blackmore in 1987, to focus on other businesses she had at the time. It changed hands several more time over the years and is now owned by TC Media.

 

bonnie.learning@tc.tc

 

Organizations: The Northern Reporter, RCMP, TC Media

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Wild West Nova Scotia Canada Cannes France

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