Stepping into history

A new editor feels the weight of the past as she settles in.

Barbara Roden

The Journal

I have in front of me a picture of a man sitting at a desk. An open ledger lies in front of him, and he has a pen or pencil in his right hand. The desk is covered with papers and books, ink bottles and a pen stand; there’s a neatly-wrapped parcel, tied with string, perched on top of a large journal. A cluttered bookcase is behind him, and beside it sits a heavy safe, while a large map is pinned on the wall to his right. A naked light bulb hangs down over the desk, and a wastepaper basket, half-filled with crumpled paper, is at the man’s feet. A window behind him, and a door to his right, let in the sunshine.

Anyone familiar with the Journal building will be able to identify the office in which the man sits; it’s what we now call the morgue, behind the publisher’s desk. It’s changed a good deal since the picture was taken—the door and window are long since covered over—but the safe visible behind the man is still in the building, although not in the morgue.

The man is Robert Dalziel Cumming, and the picture was taken not long after he became editor of The Journal in 1912. By that time the paper was almost two decades old; it had started as The B.C. Mining Journal in 1895, moved into its current building in early 1898, and became The Journal shortly thereafter.

Thus it is that, as I settle into the editor’s job at The Journal, I find myself a part of history, after several years of writing about it. Of course, we’re all a part of history, all the time, because history isn’t something dry and dusty that happened many years ago to people who wore funny clothes; it’s a living thing going on around us every day. It’s just that it’s hard for us to think of it that way, as we don’t have the necessary distance from it, and don’t yet know how things—our own lives included—will turn out in the end.

As a case in point, I offer up the fact that 31 years ago I took a one-year diploma course in Journalism at what was then the Richmond campus of Kwantlen College. The course taught every aspect of journalism, from writing, reporting, editing, and photography (we took and developed our own pictures) to the physical lay-out of a paper, which in those days was done manually. I still remember the thrill when our first issue of the college’s newspaper, The Kwantlen Comment, was delivered, and we were able to see the fruits of our efforts in print.

I fully intended to make journalism my career, and then life got in the way, as it has a habit of doing, and I went down a different path. That long and winding road has, however, led me back to journalism, and a place in a timeline that stretches back more than 120 years.

Although I won’t be working in the same office that Cumming did, I’m conscious of following in his footsteps, and shall try to be worthy of him and all the others who have come before me. Let this exciting new journey begin!