Abbotsford’s worst blaze in history occurred on Feb. 1, 1976.
It wiped out the Fraser Park shopping centre, destroying 19 stores and offices.
The fire also launched my journalism career, although I didn’t know it at the time.
My mother happened to be driving through town that morning, and saw the destruction. Knowing my keen interest in photography, and appreciating the magnitude of this news event, she rousted me out of bed and proclaimed, go forth and shoot.
I did, and by happenstance, met the editor of an upstart community newspaper competing with the Abbotsford, Sumas and Matsqui News.
He bought several of my photos of the fire aftermath, and that profile eventually led to an invitation from news editor Mark Rushton at The News to work for the bigger, established newspaper. The competitor folded in due course, and I was by then a bonafide photojournalist and darkroom technician for Abbotsford’s venerable community newspaper that turns 90 this year, and which we’ll officially celebrate tomorrow.
Eventually, I put down my cameras and turned to writing and editing words, and that sealed my career course through several community papers and freelancing adventures which took me through the Lower Mainland and even overseas.
The changes at this paper and in the business since that fateful day in 1976 have been major.
Ancient Underwood typewriters, which linked to hot lead typesetting, gave way to the first computers. They were little more than word processors with glowing green screens, but they were at the time state of the art, and we were hugely impressed with the technological transition.
The ASM News was eventually shortened to just the Abbotsford News.
In the early 1960s, Cec Hacker sold this paper and sister publications in Chilliwack and Mission to a British company, the Liverpool Post and Echo Holdings.
That firm became Trinity Holdings, and its executives eventually decided in the 1990s to divest themselves of their Lower Mainland community newspaper properties.
Up stepped David Black, adding The News and other Valley papers to his successful chain of community papers, which began in the Cariboo.
By this time, newspaper subscriptions were all but phased out, with advertising clients making their buys based on mass distribution rather than single copy sales figures.
Technology would loom large once again in the ’90s, as electronic pagination – or page building – moved from traditional compositors to editors and reporters, with the advent of the Apple Macintosh computer and publishing software.
The community newspaper industry was now on par with the major dailies in terms of computerization.
In the decade following, this paper and its sister Black Press publications – numbering over 100 – would be part of the most dramatic change to sweep the newspaper business.
The Internet and social media created unimagined new dimensions in the distribution of information.
The News now has the most heavily visited website of all Black Press papers, featuring video, slideshows and a web-first news policy.
Yet, despite all those phenomenal technological changes, the core of what we do remains the same – reflecting the community, delivering information specific and unique to it.
The Abbotsford News has existed as a vital news source for 90 years, and it will continue to be far into the future, in print and multi-media platforms.
If the past nine decades are any indication, the years ahead will be an exciting and challenging ride.
Happy 90th, News!