The County Chronicle has lived up to its name for more than 20 years – keeping a record of the lives of people in Antigonish County.
Its author – Dawn Currie, former Casket reporter and editor – has decided the time has come to end the popular weekly column.
“I have had lots of fun doing it, but I thought it was just time to go,” she said.
Over the years, as Currie notes in her final column appearing in this week’s edition, the Chronicle has celebrated many ‘new beginnings.’
“I enjoyed the connection with our readers,” she said.
That ‘connection’ through her weekly window to the community began while she was a reporter with the newspaper. With some encouragement from then editor Jacqueline Walsh and publisher Donald Gillis, Currie created the Chronicle to enhance her ongoing coverage of the issues and people of Antigonish County.
“They thought a column of county news and happenings would be a great idea for our paper,” Currie said.
At the time, she noted Eileen Cameron Henry, a long-time writer for the Casket, penned Around Town and County, which Currie said was a standard since during the Second World War.
“It was certainly Dawn’s initiative to give a wider scope to our news reporting because it had focussed a lot on town news and not so much on the county news,” Walsh, the Casket’s retired editor, said in a phone interview from her home in Calgary.
“She brought it to us to initiate such a column to let the people in the county have a voice in the town’s newspaper as such,” Walsh said, adding her and Gillis “embraced her idea very heartily.”
Walsh described the Chronicle as “bringing another dimension to the newspaper.”
“It enriched the town peoples’ lives to find out what their neighbours were doing and the accomplishments they made,” she said.
Walsh added it enhanced the Casket’s role – “one inherent for any community newspaper” – of creating a recorded history of how people are living.
“The column helped [recognize] people who were going about their everyday lives doing good things, doing things maybe that didn’t seem important, but affected the lives of other people.
“There is a record of that now and I think that’s good for the community – not just for Antigonish but the province as well – to show how people in different parts of the province run their lives and how they care for one another,” Walsh said.
She noted Currie is a “people person,” which made her an ideal person to pen the Chronicle.
“She has a really keen-eye for what people are doing and how their lives are going,” Walsh said, adding she engages people in conversation with great ease.
Walsh said her former colleague developed a tremendous network of contributors.
“I don’t know how she did it. They were faithful,” she added.
That network – the friend and former colleagues agreed – has been a key to the column’s success.
“I went to each councillor and asked them if there was anyone in their community who might be willing to – once a week – give me a little bit of news,” Currie recalled of the Chronicle’s beginnings.
Along with her correspondents, she said she was “out and about” as a reporter and picking up tidbits of information.
“It really wasn’t too difficult to fill up that space,” she said.
Without her contributors, Currie agreed the Chronicle would not have worked. Over the years, she approached some people to provide information, while others came to her.
“They helped people in their communities get to know their neighbours,” she said, noting the special efforts of Dianne Rennie, who delivered news from her beloved home community of Pomquet.
“She was a treasure. I could not replace her,” Currie said of the late Rennie.
Over the years, Currie said the Chronicle became a connection to the community, particularly for those away from their Antigonish homes.
“I think that was important to our readers,” she noted.
Nevertheless, Currie said there were critics, recalling some people referring to the Chronicle as a gossip column.
“I tried very hard for it not to be that. I reported birthdays, weddings and people coming and going, but I don’t look upon that as gossip,” she noted.
When she started, Currie said her children were teenagers, which provided a connection with that segment of the community.
“I knew a lot of teenagers then, so if anything happened to them I would put it in, whether they moved east or west or whatever,” she noted, adding other milestones such as graduations, athletic and academic accomplishments were also included.
“I thought it would serve as a chronicle of a span of years.
“Some people would have kids now and if they read the originals they would be able to say. ‘was that you mom or dad?’” she laughed.
Currie said completing the weekly column became more challenging after her retirement as editor more than a decade ago, which took her from the day-to-day interaction with the community associated with working at a newspaper.
“I had to rely on others more,” she noted.
While writing her final column, which appears below, Currie said she looked back at Chronicles from years gone by.
“I thought some were pretty good,” she laughed.
Initially, she said writing the farewell column was challenging.
“I had no idea how I would do it. Then I thought ‘oh, God, this is the end so you might as well make it short and sweet,’” she said with another of her signature heart-warming laughs.
End of an era
The final Chronicle marks an end of an era for the Casket – the close of more than three decades with Currie’s by-line on its pages.
“She knew and understood the community’s heartbeat,” Ken Sims, Casket publisher and CEO, said, noting his happiness in having Currie as his editor when he joined the newspaper more than 11 years ago.
“Community newspapers like ours differ from metropolitan papers as we are the paper of record from birth to death – we record it all. If you really want to know what is going on the communities we serve, community papers provide that.
“With Dawn, she knew that was important and delivered like no one else,” Sims added.
He said her laughter, warmth, sincerity, compassion and dedication to serving her community will be missed.
“We, as a company, were extremely lucky to have her extend her services beyond her retirement,” Sims noted.
For Walsh, Currie’s “outgoing and giving nature” was reflected in her work.
“One of the hallmarks of her news stories was that she was extremely fair to everybody. She gave both sides of the story; she went out of her way to make sure what she was saying was correct, and I think that is plus. Some people are not that meticulous,” she said.
When people read her work, Walsh said that they will “really get a pulse of what the community was all about through her words and through her stories.”
“I think that is her legacy to the Casket,” she added.
With the ink dry – or at least the final key stroke struck – on the last County Chronicle, Currie agreed the title for column was a fitting one.
“It is certainly a chronicle for those years in a way. From that point of view, I am proud because I think I achieved what I wanted to do.”