There are a few things in Cartwright locals count on: the sun rises, the winter comes, and their weekly newspaper appears at the post office by noon on Thursday.
But, after 122 years in print, the Southern Manitoba Review is closing.
"It’s a little bit like the glue that binds people together," said Colleen Mullin, the CAO of Cartwright-Roblin. "It’s going to be missed."
Vicki Wallace, 67, planned to end her one-woman show running the outlet in 2020 — then the pandemic hit. The paper has around 650 subscribers, some of whom have moved across the continent (or to Switzerland) and still want to keep informed on the area’s happenings. Seniors make up the paper’s main fanbase.
"I just thought, ‘OK, I’m just going to ride this out. I’m not going to fold during COVID,’" Wallace said in an interview. "(Some seniors) love to get that paper — it’s the high point of their week."
She continued, filling space previously used for photographs with editorial pieces and other written works — there weren’t many town happenings. But, it’s now time to retire, Wallace said.
Her career has been a labour of love, passed on by family. She’s spent 37 years zipping around town, documenting Cartwright’s big and small events.
One Cartwright post office worker said Wallace was the person you’d give a story tip to on the street. She was always around — at the grocery store, in the coffee shop.
"You stretch out your day," Wallace said. "It’s like, ‘OK, I was going to do that today, but now somebody’s called and said I should go over there, because something’s happening and I should take some pictures.’"
She won an award for her coverage of the village’s 2007 rink fire.
The paper espoused updates on locals forming an independent school, to keep their high school students from being bussed out of the community. It brought a local angle to international events, like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
"It’s not unlike (Wallace) to be (at the office) into the wee hours," said Jamie Dousselaere, Cartwright-Roblin’s head of council. "You’d go by her office late in the evening sometimes and the light would be on. She’d be there putting some of the final touches on the paper."
“You’d go by her office late in the evening sometimes and the light would be on. She’d be there putting some of the final touches on the paper.” — Jamie Dousselaere, Cartwright-Roblin’s head of council
His favourite section is the historical column: Wallace elaborates on past moments and facts in the community, in decade increments.
"Vicki was really dedicated," Dousselaere said. "She kind of took the reins and ran with (the paper), and she did a really stellar job."
Some locals plan their post office trips around the newspaper’s weekly arrival, according to a postal worker. The paper is older than its readers and ingrained into the community, the worker said.
But, Wallace won’t pass the torch to any of her children — it isn’t feasible.
"I did have family members interested, but we went all around it, one way or the other, and the finances were prohibitive," she said. "I’m by myself and don’t need a lot, but as far as younger people with families, it’s not enough."
When she joined the newspaper in 1984 — her dad was entering retirement — there were about 900 subscribers and plenty more advertisements, including from Ottawa and the province. Though Manitoba’s government still submits some advertisements, the revenue’s nothing like it was, Wallace said.
“I’m not sure what will evolve here, but I have confidence that my community will figure out how to keep going and how to keep in touch." — Vicki Wallace
So, it’s unrealistic for the family to continue printing pages filled with Cartwright content.
"I’m not sure what will evolve here, but I have confidence that my community will figure out how to keep going and how to keep in touch," Wallace said.
Three nearby newspapers will continue coverage of the community, but it could be fragmented, according to Cartwright-Roblin’s CAO.
"We need to advertise… in a newspaper having general circulation," Mullin said. "We can advertise them on our website… but not everybody is tech savvy."
The municipality is deciding whether they need to advertise in all three newspapers, in order to reach locals, since there won’t be a central news source.
"We’re struggling right now," Mullin said.
Three nearby newspapers will continue coverage of the community, but it could be fragmented, according to Cartwright–Roblin’s CAO.
Some locals said they’d never imagined the Review would end. It began in 1899 by an 18-year-old Robert Stead, who went on to become a prolific author.
Stead married Nettie Wallace, and when the couple moved west in 1909, Nettie’s brothers took on the newspaper. Vicki Wallace’s father, Harry, eventually became owner and worked well beyond the age he should’ve retired, Wallace said.
She first entered the office as a five-year-old, catching newspapers flying out of the folding machine with her sister. As a teenager, she’d answer the phone.
The Review morphed with shifts in technology, including an in-house printing press, computerized typesetters, and, in 1992, desktop publishing.
It’s been an exciting ride, Wallace said.
"It’s not exactly an easy life, but it’s so interesting," she said. "There’s always something new."
She’ll continue to be the village’s history buff post-retirement, with plans of writing for the local historical society and museum.
"I just want to be encouraging to the newspapers out there," she said. "It’s just really important, as far as keeping us informed of what our governments are doing."
The Manitoba Community Newspapers Association has 37 weekly community newspaper members. Three papers — in Altona, Carman and Grandview — are not members.
During the pandemic, 11 weekly papers have shuttered (not including the Review) — seven Postmedia publications, and four from Glacier Media. Some newspapers have started in response to the closures, while other existing outlets have expanded coverage.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.