Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION


After Going Downtown and A Store Like No Other, local historian Russ Gourluck pictures the Legacies of the Winnipeg Tribune

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They called it Black Wednesday.

At 9 a.m. on Aug. 27, 1980, the president of the Southam newspaper chain stood on a desk in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom and announced that the money-losing daily was shutting down.

To many of the journalists, the perennial-underdog paper had been more than just a place to work. During decades of colourful competition with the Winnipeg Free Press, the scrappy "Tribbers" had put in crazy hours in a haze of cigarette smoke, bonded over countless drinks at the St. Regis or the Press Club, and even slept at the office in their drive to get the best stories and photos.

Ninety years of passionate publishing abruptly came to a halt.

"It was like a sudden death to them," says Russ Gourluck, author of the new book Picturing Manitoba: Legacies of the Winnipeg Tribune (Great Plains Publications, $29.95).

"The shock was profound," recalls 40-year Tribune veteran Val Werier in the book's introduction. "Families for successive generations were adherents of the Tribune. Staff members were household names. It was an important voice in the life of the community."

After the closure, the staff dispersed -- a number of them now work at the Free Press -- and the Tribune's "morgue" of some 2.5 million clippings and 250,000 photos and negatives was archived at the University of Manitoba.

Gourluck, a retired school principal whose first popular-history book was A Store Like No Other: Eaton's of Winnipeg (2004), realized while doing the research for Going Downtown: A History of Winnipeg's Portage Avenue (2006) that the Tribune photos were a precious record of life in Manitoba, from fires, blizzards and floods to politics, family life and fashion.

"They were taken originally to illustrate news stories. Now they illustrate an era," says the author, who grew up in Wolseley in a Free Press-reading family but subscribed to both papers when he reached adulthood.

Gourluck will launch the softcover book Sunday at 3 p.m. with a talk and slide show at McNally Robinson Polo Park.

Picturing Manitoba recounts the lively history of the Tribune through interviews with former staffers such as Werier, Jack Matheson, Frances Russell, Jan Kamienski, Jim Shilliday, Buzz Currie, Dona Harvey and Vic Grant.

Grant scored one of the great scoops in Trib history when he got the story that Bobby Hull had signed with the Winnipeg Jets for $1 million.

There are memories of now-deceased personalities like Vince Leah, Gene Telpner and Lillian Gibbons, one of Manitoba's first newspaperwomen.w

But it is primarily a photo book, showcasing about 400 black-and-white images captured by Trib photographers such as Gordon Aikman, Hugh Allan, Frank Chalmers, Gerry Hart, Gregg Burner, Jeff De Booy and Jon Thordarson.

Gourluck wanted to celebrate what the "shooters" achieved in the pre-digital era when photography required great technical skill. The Trib photographers were also resourceful and ingenious in their unceasing efforts to scoop the Free Press. "They were often under-appreciated for what they did," he says.

Gourluck and his publisher were determined to do justice to the photos, so they tried not to crop or reduce them. Many are given a full page. The most-represented decades are the 1960s and '70s, when smaller, faster cameras and telephoto lenses began to allow photojournalists to shoot more quickly and capture more spontaneous images.

The most powerful image in Trib history, Gourluck says, was probably the famous 1967 shot by the legendary Chalmers of a distraught woman named Lena Birch being evicted from her house by the City of Winnipeg.

The photo was chosen by the Canadian Press as one of the 100 best photos of the 20th century and was the Canadian news photo of the year.

One of the recurring themes that Gourluck heard in his interviews was that nearly all Tribune journalists started as lowly "copy boys" (women were scarce) and learned on the job. Friendly competitors from the Free Press sometimes showed the ropes to Tribune rookies on beats such as city hall.

"The older guys taught you to be a reporter or photographer," says Gourluck. "They didn't have a lot of use for formal training."

When Gourluck has done book signings for his affectionate, photo-rich tributes to Eaton's and Portage Avenue -- both Canadian bestsellers with sales of about 6,000 copies each -- older people have flocked to him to share memories triggered by his work. He expects the Tribune book to have a similar effect.

"The only frustration is that people tell you stories that you wish you had heard before you finished the book," he says. "They're nostalgia books."

Gourluck is already working on his next one, a celebration of our most colourful neighbourhood to be called The Mosaic Village: A History of Winnipeg's North End. Its release is planned for the spring of 2010, to coincide with 100th anniversary reunion of St. John's High School.

He hopes to gather memories from as many as 200 North Enders. This time he is starting with interviews rather than "paper research."

"I've learned from the first three books that the best stories come from people -- not from books and not from archives."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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