Saying goodbye to the ranters, ravers and cookie thieves in our midst

FROM CURRENT WRITERS

“It’s with a heavy heart I say goodbye to the Westender, which for 68-odd years has been delivering arts and entertainment news to Vancouver. It’s a sad day for those of us who love print media and it’s a dire situation for ever-diminishing arts coverage, including theatre criticism.

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In the heyday of newspapers, playwrights, directors and actors stayed up all night after opening night just to catch the early edition reviews. Newspapers ruled!

Even after much of the reviewing went online, publicists were always wrangling for reviews to go into the print edition, as if, somehow, it was more legitimate. An actor could carry the review around, read it over coffee, tuck a clipping into a wallet, send it to his/her grandma in Yellowknife.

Criticism is not dying; indeed, it’s proliferating. What is disappearing, however, is criticism in print media, as well as the ‘professional critic’: one who earns a living from writing criticism and who sees almost every show in town – the good, the bad and the ugly – and is prepared to sit down and write 650 words or less week in, week out.

I have had the privilege of being that person for the Westender for the last six months and, before that, for the Vancouver Courier for more than 20 years.

And so while the Westender staff have been shuffled into jobs with other Glacier community papers, the freelancers have been cut loose.

Arts coverage will be spread even thinner and that, in a city that calls itself ‘world class,’ is a travesty. Who will pick up the pieces?” —Jo Ledingham

 

 

“I’ve been writing for the Westender for more than five years and reading it for decades. While it has gone through several editors, the vision has remained consistent: to put out a paper that highlighted the incredible arts, culture, food and fashion scenes that make the West End – and the rest of Vancouver – such a vibrant, exciting and interesting place to be.

In writing about local restaurants, chefs, bartenders and sommeliers, I have seen firsthand the great value that the newspaper had for the hospitality industry, especially as local print coverage diminishes daily.

It has been an honour and absolute pleasure to be part of such a dedicated and talented team, hear readers’ feedback (good and bad), and read my fellow writers’ often thought-provoking and always-entertaining words.” —Anya Levykh

 

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Members of the Westender team on stage with their hardware at the 2017 B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association Awards. - File photo

 

“It’s heartbreaking to see another local news source vanish from our city, especially one that’s been around as long as the Westender has. No one reports on the everyday stories that affect our lives like local newspapers do; as they diminish and disappear, a little bit of our history does, too, and along with it, a whole lot of accountability.

More than anything, the Westender did a great job of covering food, drink and lifestyle seriously and thoughtfully in a city that is obsessed with all those things. What a sad loss this will be for Vancouver.

I’ve been privileged to write the Westender’s weekly Alchemist column over the last year. I’ll miss it, and hope you do, too, but more than that, I’ll miss everything the Westender brought to the table.” —Joanne Sasvari

 

 

“For as long as I have lived in Vancouver, Westender has been my weekly snapshot of what is going on in the city. When I founded a small business offering public wine tasting events, I became part of that landscape. I was always grateful to the coverage Westender provided and have particularly fond memories of doing a photo shoot for the cover of the Christmas issue in 2012. A couple of years later, Westender found a place for me as its wine columnist.

Besides being a pleasure, writing for Westender has played a crucial role in keeping me rooted here and connected to my local industry as I travel. A huge and heartfelt thank you to Robert Mangelsdorf and Kelsey Klassen, who were the editors during my tenure, as well as to the rest of the dedicated staff.” —Michaela Morris

 


FROM FORMER STAFF

“My very first regular, professional writing gig was as a theatre, film, and occasionally book reviewer for the Westender in my mid-20s. This was a time in my life when I was living on dust bunnies and hand-outs (when, years later, I did my back taxes for the year before my first byline in the paper, Revenue Canada had no record of me having made literally anything), but I was still dumb enough to believe that a cultured life of the mind was my birthright whether or not I had money.

The small sums that I received for my reviews admittedly didn’t do much to change my overall financial picture, but cashing those little cheques was better than paying out of pocket for an education in the arts, which is what I was getting. For several years, I got to watch, think through, and pick apart movies and plays, brilliant and terrible, sort out in my own words what made them fail or succeed, not only on someone else’s dime, but for a few quarters of my own that I could rub together.

As it happens, as I remember it, I started writing for the Westender in the same year that I met the love of my life; the woman with whom I recently celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary; the woman who is downstairs right now trying to get some sleep across the hallway from our almost-four-year-old daughter while I write this in my home office; the woman who watched me aghast on an early date when I shoplifted bulk section cookies because hey, who had money for cookies? And if there was no money for cookies, certainly there was no money to show a good time to a very smart, attractive prospective partner. Only I had a ticket to nearly every new show in town, with a plus one; we would go to the theatre, sometimes to a film (although usually, the movie screenings for critics were in the morning; keep that in mind next time you’re reading somebody’s pissy deconstruction), our courtship expensed for by way of my exceedingly part-time employment, and then after our dates I would go home and try to write down thoughts compelling and interesting enough to prove that it was worth overlooking that time I stole cookies.

Newspapers die, and it’s always sad, but this one cuts deep. My city, my own life story in and of the city – they would have been, and will be, weaker for this loss. A few years after I stopped freelancing, started focusing more on comedy, I made it onto the cover of the Westender with several of my comedian friends. With what I’d learned from writing for the paper, I’d been able to get somewhere worth writing about in the paper. I have money for cookies now, even tickets to plays. I made good friends writing for the Westender, people whose writing I still love, and will have to try to find elsewhere now, scattered across the internet. I’ll miss holding their work in my hands.” —Charles Demers

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Comedian and former theatre reviewer Charles Demers (middle back, with friends) on the cover of a 2011 edition.

 

“Many of the writers and artists who worked at the Westender (then called the West Ender) came of age in the late 1960s – that turbulent and transformative period of youth: peace, love, rock ‘n’ roll. The 1970s saw the counter culture continue with its love-ins, interest in the paranormal, and questioning everything, shifting into Trudeau (senior), the end of the Vietnam War and oil shock.

In the 1980s, Kitsilano grew up and moved to the West End and continued to challenge the establishment. We covered the community’s desire to rock the boat – from bucking city hall on issues like commuter traffic, which was ruining liveability, to [exposing] landlords who were evicting long-time tenants, to addressing social issues, such as the exploitation of children for sex.

West Enders had a strong social conscience, but these grown-up hippies also had energy, jobs and no kids. It was party time. Great food – Fresco’s, Hamburger Mary’s and dozens of other restaurants, simple and sophisticated. Which came first – clubs or coke? Who knows, but there was a nightclub for interests from grunge to glam; curiously the biggest splash – two floors of glitter and cocktails (I think it was called Viva or Club Viva) – has gone without a trace.

The brilliance of the editor Kevin McKeown is, I think, that he hired a mix of people – young and old, experienced and novice, gay and straight, and directed them to cover the West End like a rash. We covered politics and entertainment, but also wrote about schools, parks, local authors, family reunions and small socials. In those days, the proof of a newspaper’s connection with readers was the size of the classified section and the length of community calendar. The West Ender had the community calendar and drag queens, naughty classifieds and church services. It was black and white and read all over. Then it was all over.” —Kate Trotter

 

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Former editor Kevin Dale McKeown (eating cake) with Bob Mercer, 1982. - Courtesy Kevin McKeown

 

“One particular WE story worth noting had a major political impact on the city and eventually the province: reporter James Oakes had been doggedly covering notorious landlords Zen & Aquilini, who owned many West End apartment buildings. This was leading up to the mayoral election, in which incumbent Jack Volrich was being challenged by an upstart city councillor by the name of Mike Harcourt.

As I recall, Volrich was in the lead, until our intrepid in-house paparazzo, Franco Citarella, who never missed a social occasion, especially in the Italian community, was at some banquet where Mr. Aquilini was seated at the head table next to the mayor. He got a good shot of them together looking to be the best of friends, which appeared in the next edition, just before the vote. Volrich lost the West End and therefore election. Harcourt did a good enough job as mayor to later become B.C.’s second NDP premier.” —Mark O’Neill

 

 

“The Westender was my life in the 1990s and early 2000s, so the newspaper’s death today hurts my heart. I was a young beat reporter and entertainment writer in those early days, fresh out of journalism school, and a new arrival from the wilds of Aldergrove. I learned the ropes at the old Davie Street office, on the third floor in the building behind where Joe’s Grill is today. I interviewed a pre-stardom Sheryl Crow in that restaurant, just after she’d finished a stint as backing vocalist with Michael Jackson’s band. 


Agnes Thom, editor in the late 1980s, hired me, and my first day on the job was Boxing Day 1989. I went on to spend many years on Ted Townsend’s editorial staff along with Janet Smith, Mary Frances Hill, Doug Shanks and others. Later, with Carlyn Yandle in the big chair, the good times (and good publications) continued. 
I covered the Vancouver music scene when grunge and “alternative” rock exploded, and I practically lived at bars like The Town Pump, Starfish Room and, of course, the Commodore Ballroom, when Drew Burns ran the place. I still tell stories of seeing Nickelback’s first ever concert in Vancouver (Town Pump), the Tragically Hip at the Railway Club, the Foo Fighters’ debut at the Commodore during the Music West festival, and also that time they opened for Radiohead at a record label’s party at the old Expo site the Rage, and so on. Those were exciting times on the entertainment beat.


I remember covering city council when Gordon Campbell was Vancouver’s mayor. Plans were drawn to build massive residential towers in Yaletown, which was then just a seedy warehouse district, and also create an “entertainment district” on Granville Street. How’s that party zone these days? I rarely make it there, having moved to the ’burbs with wife (Wendy Caul, a former Westender sales rep) and children many years ago.


In 1994, I missed the so-called Stanley Cup riot, only because I was so sad the Canucks lost the big game, I went home to bed early that night. The next morning, I awoke to news of the riot. I scrambled to the office, which had moved to Kitsilano by then. On deadline that day, we pulled together an all-riot edition that later won an award. Funny. 


Like that riot coverage, a lot of my Westender work was written and published pre-internet, so I guess much of it is just… gone. That’s sad. I have a few clippings of stories in a box somewhere, a reminder of my 14 years at a newspaper that meant so much to me.
 Today, I work at the Surrey Now-Leader – still on the entertainment beat, for the most part. It’s good – a great job, in fact – but nothing like working the Vancouver scene in the 1990s, let me tell you. 


So long, Westender, and thanks for so many great memories.” 

—Tom Zillich

 

 

"My first job out of school in 1981 was part-time receptionist, then classified and display advertising [for the Westender]. My fave campaign was “Dial-a-Sailor” during the Sea Festival. Great memories of fun times and hard work to get the paper out every week. Best wishes to all the old crew: Eric, Bruce, Mimi, Pip, Doug, Darrell, Tim, Roy-Boy and Gail-Girl. So sad to learn if the demise of this great community paper." —Nancy (McGeer) Beaty

 

"A community newspaper is a necessary forum for local voices, and often provides news and arts coverage unavailable anywhere else. It's a shame to see another loss of newspaper publication, and with it a loss of connection to the community.

For a while, I was a staff reporter at the Westender, with Tom Zillich, Janet Smith and editor Ted Townsend. I was also given a music column. I interviewed musicians including those up and coming, and/or less mainstream, but often equally vital or more, than the usual stuff given airplay.

All the news staff profiled interesting, local people in Vancouver. We went to city hall and parks board meetings, whenever government was involved heavily in local issues. We gave the LGBT community our attention. We maintained informed contacts on various issues, who ensured we were up to date on news and arts events around town.

It is sad to hear of the closing of this long-running, community focused newspaper -- a real loss in newspapers and for the community." —Daphne Osoba

 

 

“Very sorry to hear that you’re stopping publishing. Although I haven’t lived in Vancouver for several years, I still read the online edition from time to time and will certainly miss it.

My wife Carrie and I are former employees of the Westender and worked there in the early ’90s (back in the days of publisher Ken Wood). I worked in display advertising and Carrie started as the receptionist, and then moved to the classified advertising department.

Shout out to Gail, who may remember us.

To make a long story short, Carrie and I met at the Westender, became friends and then fell in love. We moved in together before moving onto other publications – myself to Richmond and Carrie to the Courier. We eventually left Canada and moved to Europe. However, our relationship will be one of the lasting legacies of the Westender – after meeting in 1991, and then getting married in 1995, we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in 2020 – along with our daughter, who was born 14 years ago.

All the best to all of you at the Westender and good luck in your new positions.” —Hans Phillips

 

 

“Sad to hear about Westender shutting down. When I first arrived in Vancouver in 2004, I remember brazenly walking into their offices with pitches for anyone who’d listen. They ended up publishing something small from me, which snowballed into a bunch of opportunities, like publishing a piece in The Tyee, then interning at Vancouver Review (also RIP). All of which led to me covering film and TV for Georgia Straight for three years. Now I’m at one of the few remaining alt-weeklies left in Canada (Now Toronto), trying to keep the lights on.

I dunno the specifics of the challenges the Westender folks were facing, but I do know that they are likely the same challenges we face, too. And the hardest part is that some solutions seem really close. Which makes it all the more frustrating ... and somehow worthwhile.
The best thing you can do to keep an alt-weekly alive is to stay engaged with them. Click, read and share their content all the time. It really helps drive up metrics, which is what advertisers are interested in. And those advertisers are the ones really keeping the lights on.” —Sean Minogue 

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