The Sackville Tribune/Tribune Post: Celebrating a Century of Journalism 1902–2002

What newspapers were being read by your great grandparents at the beginning of the 20th century? If they lived on the Tantramar, it was probably The Semi-Weekly Post which went back to The Sackville Post, first published on May 12, 1870.

In 1896, The Sackville Post was amalgamated with The Chignecto Borderer; and renamed The Semi-Weekly Post. Under the management of A.H. McCready, it now had a monopoly. With the founding of The Sackville Tribune six years later, readers were presented with a choice. A lead editorial in its first issue, dated February 13, 1902, introduced the new publication.

The Sackville Tribune has no excuses or apologies to make for its existence. It desires to be a public organ and not the voice of any faction, section or clique. Its motto Of the people, by the people, and for the people expresses its attitude. Devoted to the interests of the county of Westmorland, and in particular the parishes of Sackville, Westmorland, Dorchester and Botsford, it believes in giving special prominence to the business and interests of [the county] and to let other counties boom themselves. As The Sackville Tribune has introduced itself; next week it will come as an acquaintance, and it trusts, as a friend.

The newspaper was not welcome in certain quarters. The Conservative leaning Semi-Weekly Post was, at first charitably lukewarm; and noted that The Tribune was well printed and presented a creditable appearance. The Post (as it was familiarly known) had built up a faithful readership. Although Westmorland was considered a Liberal stronghold, the Tantramar area traditionally voted Conservative. To succeed, The Tribune would have to carve out a place for a Liberal newspaper in Conservative Sackville.

With the benefit of hindsight, those who predicted an early death for The Sackville Tribune, were underestimating the entrepreneurial drive of C. C. Avard (1875–1956), the owner and editor of the new enterprise. For more detail on his remarkable life see: The Many Sided Career of Clement Chandler Avard elsewhere in this issue.

It did not take long for the two newspapers to begin political jousting. A long awaited provincial election was called for Feb. 28, 1903. The Liberal oriented Tribune entered the contest with gusto. From the beginning of the campaign Avard confidently predicted We have not the slightest doubt that the Liberal Government [led by Hon. L.J. Tweedie (1849–1917)] will be returned.

Speeches by the Conservative Opposition leader [J. Douglas Hazen (1860–1937)] and his followers were treated with scorn. Toward the end of the campaign C.C. Avard became more blunt: Since the Liberal government will be elected to power, what advantage is there in sending opposition candidates to Fredericton? For the record, the Liberal government was returned, and the young editors predictions were proven correct this time.

Unfortunately, complete files of The Semi-Weekly Post and the later renamed Sackville Post are not available. One has to do a certain amount of detective work to

ascertain their precise stance on some issues; however, Avards highly charged rebuttals provide valuable clues. From the copies that have survived, The Post was undoubtedly as partisan as The Trib.

In 2002 it is easy to be critical of the black and white journalism practiced by these two newspapers. Yet it must be recognized that the same thing was happening in Moncton, with The Times versus The Transcript; or in Saint John where The Telegraph squared off against the Journal.

Canadian author John Ralston Saul, in a recent appearance on Maritime Noon, put this situation in context when he suggested that these early newspapers were forerunners of the contemporary phone in shows and Internet chat rooms. If nothing else, they managed to arouse public opinion in a manner unimaginable in todays often externally controlled media. Theyre also fun to read even a century later!

This brand of uncompromising journalism also sold newspapers. During the first quarter of the twentieth century both The Post and The Trib prospered. Once the latter was on its feet and Avard had paid off a $1,400 loan negotiated to start the paper; he established The Tribune Printing Company. By 1906 his business had reached the point where The Tribune moved into its own new building, which still stands on Main Street.

Throughout these early years, C. C. Avard continued to scout for new opportunities. In 1910 he established The Atlantic Advertising Agency and added regional advertising to his ever expanding business interests. The Sackville Tribune weathered the stormy days of World War One, the roaring twenties and even the depressing thirties with relative ease. Although Avard gave up editorial duties at the Tribune, he continued as President and Manager of the company.

His front page column From The Managers Desk became a fixture of The Sackville Tribune until his retirement. Throughout the Tantramar region, one question resounded each week: Whats Clem got to say today?

The Tribune Press also expanded its operations. During the 1920s Avard took over publication of the monthly magazine, The Busy East. Later, in 1933 it was renamed The Maritime Advocate. By this time the editorial policy and content of the magazine bore the unmistakable stamp of C. C. Avard. In 1937, at a time when other newspapers were going bankrupt, a major addition to the Tribune Building became necessary.

Each year saw an increasing list of books published by The Tribune Press. Almost all were by Maritime authors and featured regional themes. Esther Clark Wright, Grace Helen Mowat, Will R. Bird, J. Clarence Webster and Roland Sherwood, were among those whose works carried the imprint of Sackvilles Tribune Press. One in particular, W.O. Raymond’s The River St. John, reached best-seller status, with three reprints.

An example of Avards resourcefulness took place during the Second World War. When other newspapers were cuttting back, he managed to win a contract to print newspapers for American bases in Newfoundland and Labrador. Thus papers such as The Gander, The Propagander and The Honker began their life in Sackville.

Following the end of the war, change was in the air at both The Sackville Tribune and The Post. A.H. McCready retired from the helm of the latter in 1946. On June 3rd, of the same year, The Post was combined with The Tribune and Sackville returned to being a one newspaper town.

A year later, another important change took place. The Avard era came to an end with the purchase of the Tribune Press Limited by William B. Sawdon and Fred Johns. Later Sawdon was to buy his partners shares in the company.

The new owner and publisher, a native of Mount Stewart PEI, was a 1939 graduate of Mount Allison. Like other Tribune editors before and after him, he was editor-in-chief of The Argosy. A seasoned veteran of the Second World War, Sawdon served with the New Brunswick Rangers in the Western European and Italian campaigns. He brought to the Tribune Post not only a fresh outlook, but a new approach to journalism.

For the next twenty five years, the destiny of The Sackville Tribune Post would rest on his shoulders. Like his predecessor C. C. Avard Sawdon was, by his own admission, a staunch Liberal. However, in the operation of the newspaper, during his watch, a subtle but important change took place. Less emphasis was placed on controversial national and regional topics; with more attention being given to local news and reporting.

One of Bill Sawdons attributes was the ability to recognize talent in others. Over the years, the Tribune Post became a training ground for young reporters who subsequently were to find employment with major newspapers. A good example was Ken Bagnell, a native of Glace Bay. While at Mount Allison he helped cover the sports beat. Later, he was employed by the United Church Observer, Toronto Star, and the Globe and Mail. Bagnell became editor of the Imperial Oil Review and is still working as a free lance travel journalist.

Two others who fulfilled apprenticeships with the Tribune Post were Jon Anderson from Westmount, Quebec and Sackville native, Dick McDonald. Anderson later worked for the Montreal Gazette, Time Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. McDonald began his newspaper career with the Moncton Times and Transcript; and following a move to BC, was on the staff of the Richmond Review and Vancouver Sun. Unfortunately, the latters career was cut short by death.

While it would be wrong to imply that the new Tribune Post was always neutral; from the Sawdon years onward, the newspaper presented a more balanced view of politics. During one election campaign citizens were urged to: vote as you like, but vote.

This did not mean that Sawdon ducked controversy or that he was soft on contentious issues. His oft quoted motto was: Where all men think alike, few think much. This too, spoke volumes concerning his approach to journalism. For a time following his retirement, Bill Sawdon maintained an office at the Trib and continued an arms length interest in the newspaper. He passed away March 3, 2001.

This column cannot posssibly convey a complete history of The Tribune Post through to the present day. Instead, I will concentrate on the contribution of certain individuals who left a major mark on the newspaper. There is also another reason for brevity. Its much more difficult to be objective, the closer one gets to 2002. Any serious analysis of these years should be left to some future columnist perhaps in 2102.

The first name that surfaces is that of C.W. Moffatt better known as Scoop Moffatt. He graduated from Mount Allison in 1937 and earned his nickname while news editor of The Argosy. At the time, the University had a Press Club composed of Argosy reporters and others who had an interest in journalism.

Each member of the club acted as Mount Allison correspondent for a major newspaper in the region. Scoop regularly filed stories with no less than four dailies two in Halifax and one each in Saint John and Moncton. Well baptized in printers ink, he went on to serve The Tribune Post, first as an investigative reporter and later during the Sawdon years as editor. In each role he exemplified the same work ethic and dedication.

On browsing through Moffatts news stories and editorials, the reader is struck by their distinctiveness. Even Scoops unsigned articles are identifiable by their crisp, clear prose. It did not matter that many were written on the run, or completed just in time to meet a deadline. They were, and still are, a treat to read.

One of Moffatts important contributions was the compilation in 1946, of a handbook for the most central town in the Maritimes. Endorsed by the Sackville Town Council and Board of Trade, it gained a wide circulation. Today the handbook provides a valuable snapshot of mid 20th century life in the Sackville.

Another landmark in the life of this newspaper came in 1971 when Bill Sawdon sold out to a trio of Tribune employees Bill Freeman, Hilyard Cameron and David McKay. This event provides an opening to note the role of a key contributor to the more recent Tribune Post; and one who is still in our midst.

Before chatting with Dave McKay about his years at The Trib, Ill admit to being forewarned. A mutual friend told me Hes not likely to be very forthcoming, thats just not Daves style. Wise words they were; however, all writers leave tracks; making it easy to trace his career.

Following a familiar pattern, Dave, a native of Yarmouth, NS, graduated from Mount Allison. An English major, he too, served on the Argosy staff. He was also a member of the varsity football and basketball teams. Dave began his journalistic career with the Canadian Press, where he had the good fortune to work under the legendary Jack Brayley.

Then it was off to Moncton and a long stint for both the morning and evening editions of the Times and Transcript. Proof of his versatility came in the various hats that he wore. Among them were sports editor, news editor and editor in chief. Spotted by Bill Sawdon, he was lured back to Sackville where he remained for 26 years, retiring at the end of April 1990.

Again, it was not the McKay style to write front page editorials in the manner of Avard and Sawdon. Dave is remembered for his folksy column Here and Their– a pot-pourri of wit, wisdom, and observances of small town life. Especially hilarious are the accounts of escapades involving his own family; including one tale of a trip to the Annapolis Valley when the McKays became hopelessly lost on a short cut that became a long cut.

The best summary of Daves impact on this newspaper came at the time of his retirement. Then editor Hayden Smith recalled: The most important lesson Dave taught me was how to deal with people. You listen a lot and you ignore your natural impulses when accosted by a reader. Not a bad prescription for any writer.

No recent Tribune Post history would be complete without mention of its long serving sports editor, Wallie Sears. The wonder of it all, is that after more than forty years, Wallie is still pounding the keys as a free lance journalist.

Recently, I attended a meeting in the Town Hall. On the way in, my eye caught the Sackville Sports Wall of Fame. It reminded me that in 1993, Wallie was inducted as a member in the Builder category. Clearly, the same word might be applied to his contribution to sports journalism; both in the pages of The Tribune Post and elsewhere.

Wallie once confided that he had covered all sports from curling to lacrosse; and everything in between. It does not matter which sport, or at what level it is played, his reporting is, and was, always fair and even handed. In victory or defeat, at the old Allison Gardens or the new MacAulay Field, he is there, notebook in hand; an insightful reporter and builder. Readers of The Sackville Tribune Post have been well served by journalists such as Wallie Sears.

Its a long way back to February 13, 1902. Lets not forget that centennial celebrations look not only to the past, but also to the future. As publisher Vince Arbing and editor Scott Doherty plan ahead for The Tribs second century, its worth noting that many lively predecessors are looking over their shoulders. A few have been featured in this column.