This year marks the 130th anniversary of The Chilliwack Progress. In celebration of the occasion, we asked four former editors and publishers to submit feature articles on their years at B.C.’s oldest community newspaper founded in 1891.
By Lloyd Mackey
It is approaching half a century since I occupied the editor’s chair at The Chilliwack Progress. That chair sat at the juncture of a diverse, sometimes congenial and occasionally raucous community of 35,000.
My time at The Progress spanned from 1967 to 1972, when I cut my journalistic eye teeth, mostly as a reporter, then from 1975 to 1980, as editor.
One evening, during my reporting years, my then-editor, Brian McCristall, received word that a truckload of bananas had struck a train on Highway 1 at a level crossing just east of Vedder Road. Brian dispatched me to the scene, where bananas and a racked-up tractor trailer truck were strewn about.
One of my bystander interviewees unearthed a colourful quote from an eyewitness: “J____ C_____, the SOBs are alive.” Said SOBs were the driver and passenger of the banana truck.
The story was the first of many, written by myself and colleague Barb Stanbrook-Schmidt, covering the quest for a rail overpass.
Soon I moved from the reporter role to some Victoria legislative coverage for The Progress and about 30 other community newspapers. In another year, Edna (then a teacher who I met and married in Chilliwack in 1969) and I headed to Toronto where I was a staff writer for the 300,000 circulation United Church Observer.
Chilliwack beckoned us back in 1975, when I succeeded McCristall as editor.
The next chapter of the banana truck story emerged after I had been editor for a year or so, when Alex Fraser, then provincial highways minister, got a rail overpass built. (Yes, that was the Alex Fraser for whom the bridge is named.) I was able to track down the drivers of the banana truck. Long story short: They joined the train engineer mid-span on the locomotive to cut the ribbon for the new overpass.
I learned about conflict, collaboration and conciliation during those Progress years, guided by Cec Hacker, the publisher who hired me from the debris of a previously less-than-successful stint as a church pastor. Cec was a historian at heart and the son of a Methodist minister. He understood my quirks. And Brian taught me the practicalities of sensing a story, organizing a news room and getting along with staffers at The Progress on one hand, and community leaders, pacesetters and followers on the other.
Highlights of community activity during my editor tenure included:
• Controversies over farmland legislation that threatened to shut down Chilliwack economically
• And the move to merge the city and township into what is, today, the 100,000 population municipality of Chilliwack.
My journalism then and later was shaped by a desire to integrate my faith background with the real-life needs of community collaboration. In our editorial staff meetings, we often talked about the different communities within Chilliwack – agricultural, business, labour, military, education, faith, indigenous, immigrant, governance and so on.
My vocational link with The Progress ended in 1980. Life’s next stage involved earning an MBA at Simon Fraser University, then starting a newspaper designed to serve the Christian community, eventually called BC Christian News. Fifteen Ottawa Press Gallery years followed beginning in 1998. There I covered the “faith-political interface,” in the process writing books and columns about Preston Manning, Stephen Harper and many other faith-shaped Canadian leaders of various political stripes.
In retirement, having earned a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) at Toronto’s Tyndale University in 2015, Edna and I live in City Centre, Surrey, watching the high rises sprout. And every week, we read this newspaper on line, tracking Paul Henderson and his team as they carry on 130 years of Progress traditions.
Lloyd Mackey was the editor of The Chilliwack Progress from 1975 to 1980.