Editorial: At 140 years young, The Expositor continues to move with the times

The North’s oldest newspaper begins Vol. 140 this week, celebrating the advent of our 140 years of serving Manitoulin with the launch of a new website that celebrates all things Manitoulin.

 A lot has happened since our founder W.L. Smith first arrived on these blessed shores with youth, enthusiasm and lugging along an antiquated hand-powered press. While momentous events swirled across the globe, Mr. Smith got down to business reporting on those events, but most importantly, those stories of the events taking place in Manitoulin Island’s communities.

 While the British Empire was beginning to make serious headway in the Anglo-Zulu War, Great Britain and the Russian Empire were playing ‘The Great Game’ of empire, signing a treaty which would create the state known today as Afghanistan and in New York, Madison Square Garden received its name. From that fateful day in May 1879 and through the 140 years since, this paper has plied its greatest strength—reporting the matters of public debate deemed important to the citizens on Manitoulin Island, as determined by those same citizens.

 It is a policy that has remained consistent throughout the paper’s long history, and one that publisher emeritus Rick McCutcheon credits with its success. Mr. McCutcheon and his wife Julia have been in the publishing business for just shy of 50 years (Mr. McCutcheon recieved his Golden Quill Award last year) and now their daughter Alicia’s hand is firmly on the helm. 

 “A newspaper’s success, and its longevity is certainly one measure of success, is based in large part in providing its readership with the information it requires at any given time,” noted Mr. McCutcheon in an article celebrating the paper’s 125th anniversary. “There is a fine balance, in marketing terms, between leading and following its readership, and a successful newspaper will usually follow its reading audience, providing its readers with information about, analysis of and comments on key community issues of the moment.”

 Mr. McCutcheon points proudly to the paper’s motto “who dares not offend cannot be honest,” and remarks that it stands as a reminder to its editorial staff and publishers of its implied promise to its readers. Unlike far too many of today’s publications however, The Expositor refrains from applying gratuitous offence.

 “We have been incredibly fortunate in the support we have received from both our subscribers and our advertisers,” said Mr. McCutcheon. “It is a mutually beneficial relationship, to be sure, but in a time when media is becoming more and more concentrated in large corporate chains, the support of community has allowed us to not only survive, but to grow incrementally, year after year.”

 The Expositor has thrived through a time of great upheaval in the newspaper business, but just as it had to elbow its way into the Manitoulin market 140 years ago when seven papers called Manitoulin home, The Expositor has excelled and thrived by remaining true to its roots and by refusing to shrink from the challenges of change. Local is not just a catchy marketing line for us, it underpins the very foundations of our mandate.

 The Expositor also owes its success to having attracted an incredibly dedicated and talented group of people throughout its long and storied history. From the writers who investigate and craft the stories to the administrators and technical production support that make everything come together in a sustainable manner to the many distribution points where copies of The Expositor can be found each week—it is truly a team effort.

 It is through the dedication of our staff that we were able to publish this paper on time in August 2006, despite struggling to put a paper together in the aftermath of a devastating downburst that caused a region-wide loss of power on the Monday night.  In fact, not only publish, but also providing as complete a coverage of the event as it was humanly possible to accomplish. As most folks were still huddled under shelter, The Expositor staff were heading out, cameras in hand to record the event as it unfolded.

 Our editorial room walls may be lined with plaques and accolades, including the 1983 Michener Award for Public Service Journalism, but each of us agrees that the greatest award is getting stopped in the street by a reader expressing gratitude and congratulations for a local story well done. There are very few occupations in life where that sort of thing takes place and we are always very grateful when it does.

 While The Expositor has prospered through the years, it has always maintained a staunch tradition of giving back to the community. More than 60,000 free tourist maps have been distributed over the first two years since their inception, providing an invaluable resource for local tourism operators, their clients and other visitors to Manitoulin. The decision to not use the map as a venue to sell advertising was a conscious one for this paper and the resulting product is all the better for that decision.

 This week another free resource is being launched in the form of a website that will help visitors and locals alike better enjoy that which Manitoulin has to offer.

 Historically, this paper has patriotically endorsed Canada’s involvement in two world wars, cautioned against the blind involvement in a couple of ill-considered American adventures in the Middle East, but always has remained true to the men and women of Canada’s armed services.

 During the wars, free copies of The Expositor brought news of home to our brave men and women both overseas and at home. In fact, among the first references in print of the term Haweater was contained in the body of a letter home from a soldier in the Second World War published in our pages. The Expositor lent support to the building of a new regional cenotaph in Spring Bay, as well as the later monuments commemorating the efforts of serving women at home and abroad and a student monument which pledges that “We shall never forget.”

 The Expositor led the charge in the battle for a new ferry to Manitoulin, creating a furor that eventually led to the establishment of a government ferry in 1937. At the other end of the Island transit, The Expositor lent its weight to the establishment of vehicular traffic on the Little Current swing bridge and thanks in large part to our efforts, the first cars began to roll across the structure in 1945.

 The Expositor has always stood ready to challenge the establishment at every turn with good effect. Its challenge of the checkerboard development of Carter Bay in the 1970s led to a halt in that development and a change to Ontario’s legislation on lakeshore development.

 The Expositor stood staunchly against the building of a nuclear reactor on the shores of the North Channel and the LaCloche foothills and through the years The Expositor raised awareness of plans to quarry many of the region’s landmarks.  Thanks to the efforts of folks like the late Barney Turner and people like Anne Casson, Roy Jeffrey and a host of others, regions like Casson Mountain are safely nestled within the protective arms of Killarney Provincial Park.

 The Expositor always does its best to ensure the debate is heard. We endeavour to remain a strong advocate for political activism.

 In the 1990s local issues such as whether the shoreline allowances should remain in the public domain were covered extensively. On a national level, the concerns of the First Nations and the controversial Governance Act and its continuance of the patronizing attitude of the “white man’s burden” were championed by The Expositor. The paper kept up continual pressure for the settlement of the residential school issue and the proper recognition of the impacts of that outrageous policy and has advocated on behalf of the Day School survivors as well.

 The Expositor was the only Northern Ontario newspaper in the 1980s to challenge the Ministry of Natural Resources’ use of controversial chemical pesticides in battle against the spruce budworm—a challenge taken up by North Bay MPP Mike Harris when he moved that the Bill Davis government use the more benign becillus theringensis instead.

 This paper has continued that tradition with its involvement in the debate over the use of Garlon IV.

 While highlighting debate on issues of the day, The Expositor has also attempted to bridge the divides that sometimes threaten to split neighbours, friends and family—seeking to bring understanding of both sides’ positions to the greater public. While editorially The Expositor has often taken a stance on an issue, when it comes to delivering the news we strive to maintain balance and fairness in telling all sides of a story.

 The battle against the scourge of cormorants has often dominated both the front pages of The Expositor and its editorial pages. On the issue of the voracious fish-eating birds, The Expositor has stood strongly in favour of efforts to control the creatures, but we have not shied away from airing the views of those who disagree. 

 One of the curious accusations we sometimes receive on ongoing news story coverage is when a reader challenges us for “changing sides,” when all that we have been doing all along is reporting the facts of the matter as they become available to us. In the reporting of the news, The Expositor takes great pains to steer clear of stance to let the reader decide for themselves on the merits of the case.

 Some have criticised the amount of coverage we give to events in Manitoulin’s First Nations communities. For that we have no apology. We celebrate our unique position as a bridge and hope to act as an agent of reconciliation in action, not simply by mouthing noble sentiments and fine words. We are everyone’s newspaper.

 On the other side of the divide, there are those in the First Nations communities who express outrage that we only report on “bad things” that happen in their communities. To those voices we offer a simple challenge: read any given week’s edition. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people. To sweep the ills of any community under the carpet and ignore the pain and suffering caused acts as a barrier to changing things for the better. But within the pages of The Expositor each year the positive outweighs the negative several times over.

 Visits by politicians of all political stripes are recorded, and wherever possible interviewed in order to bring their views to our readers. Celebrities with a cause like Hurricane Carter have found room for their stories, as have local people who have accomplished great things, such as country music sensation Crystal Shawanda, the inductions of so many of our local country musicians into the Great Northern Opry, as well as our many outstanding Ontario Junior Citizens of the Year—the latest being the incomparable young water warrior from Wiikwemkoong, Autumn Peltier.

 The Expositor has also chronicled sad events like the passing of individuals of note and the demise of Island institutions such as the Manitoulin Livestock Co-operative and its historic annual cattle sale and the departure from the Island of Farquhar Dairy’s Mindemoya creamery—each recorded for posterity, chronicling in their time those facets of a way of life that are becoming more endangered with every passing year. In the 130th edition of The Expositor, the hopeful campaign to save the venerable Norisle from oblivion was noted, a battle that still goes on to this day.

 On the religious front, The Expositor has chronicled the first-ever Manitoulin ordination of a Catholic priest (Father George Gardner) and has attempted to foster greater tolerance and understanding with articles on less well-understood faiths such as the Christedelphians.

 As the 21st century and technology have come to play a greater role, many of The Expositor’s stories are archived online and our use of Facebook and Instagram grows with each passing edition. Streaming video newscasts are also becoming a part of our online lexicon and our newest staff member has enhanced our capacity in that regard exponentially.

 For 140 years, the Manitoulin Expositor has sought to bring the issues of interest to its readers to the fore while fostering lively debate—but all our efforts would be for nought without the support of our loyal subscribers and advertisers. 

 The Expositor’s longevity is a reflection of the vibrancy and tenacity of the people of Manitoulin Island and its many friends both at home and abroad.