Saying goodbye tough after so long

Change is hard . . . I’m on the edge of tears a lot these days as I enter the final week of a 16-year career with the Trail Daily Times.

I’ve taken the position of city editor with the Kamloops Daily News, where I’ll have a larger news team plus a seasoned journalist as my direct boss. It’s going to be an exciting new challenge but it’s bittersweet to be leaving our home and community, as well as coworkers I have spent more time with than my spouse.

I drove over from Nelson all those years ago after my editor at the Nelson Daily News suggested they’d hate to lose me, but the managing editor position at the Times was a great opportunity for me to move up from being a reporter.

I nearly drove off the bridge as I craned my neck around to look again and again at the enormous smelter that loomed over the town. Short of a brief glimpse of Hamilton, I’d never seen anything like it.

Trail’s charms were not so obvious back in July 1995. There was no Communities in Bloom challenging residents to beautify the city, no murals brightening up the core and even the river view along the Esplanade was obscured by an ugly concrete wall.

My three new reporters were friendly, but wary – mistrustful that a whipper-snapper of age 26 had any clue what she was doing and wearied by a steady stream of editors that proved incompatible with the job for one reason or another.

Like the city itself, it took some time to crack beneath their surface and gain their trust. But once they opened up – both the reporters and residents – I began to see that Trail’s allure lay in less obvious places.

I tasted it in home-cooked meals lovingly shared with my new Italian neighbours, where we’d imbibe in wine and laughter, plus I got to know the neighbourhood by walking their dogs.

Researching a story, I sampled honey straight from the comb as an apiarist in Rossland’s Happy Valley discussed his passion for raising bees.

The vast selection of unusual products touted by the family-owned grocery stores in Trail, Rossland and Fruitvale were mind-boggling, and the staff and management’s friendly service made less-personalized shopping experiences fade from memory.

And the area’s passion for its hockey teams outshone anything I’d seen for the Flames in my hometown of Calgary.

On a personal level, one relationship ended and a new one started that eventually became my happy marriage and instant family with four stepchildren.

I learned how to dive in the icy waters of Champion Lakes, took Spanish, mountain-biked the trails in Rossland before work in the summer and cross-country skied a quick 10K at Black Jack in the winter.

I saw 14 countries, survived five publishers, four owners, two redesigns and watched countless weeklies – both online and hard copy – enter the market with hopes of rivaling our product, only to eventually be ‘KO’d,’ as one publisher ecstatically called it, by the Times.

I discovered that calls from grieving relatives of children who’d died in a tragedy never got any easier and those from readers happy with something we’d published would inevitably brighten any day.

There was a lot of change in the industry, too, over the years. There was no Internet in my early days – no email to tend to or Google to use for quick searches of mundane information like how to spell ‘Interac’ (the cash machines at every retail outlet).

We still processed black and white film in the darkroom and made the prints, then a driver took the photos and printed pages to our press operation in Nelson every morning. A wire editor in Vancouver provided a daily package of provincial, national, opinion, lifestyle and other stories.

Now we’ve got a stream of stories pouring into our computers from the Canadian Press wire service, updating via satellite every minute. Our pages are delivered to the printers via the electronic highway, rather than on highways 22 and 3A. There’s a lot less time for an editor to write and a lot more of the day eaten up by computer tasks.

But old is not necessarily better as I look back at past papers. The broadsheet format with its black-and-white photos was very grey and dull at times, while the new compact style with all its colour positions is a much more attractive read.

So while change can be difficult, it is the spice of life and we all must set sail on its waters at some time or another.

Thus, as I head off, set to start a new chapter in both my professional and personal life, the final scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ jumps to mind.

All the West Kootenay communities I lived in over the past 17 years – Nelson, Warfield and Winlaw – had their charms, but like Dorothy said to the scarecrow, it is Trail and its people I will miss most of all.

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Tracy Gilchrist works her last day on Thursday. Retired reporter Ray Masleck will return in the interim before a new editor is hired.