Today is an incredibly nostalgic day for me, as I sit in the newsroom surrounded by ringing phones and deadlines, writing one of my last article’s for the paper.
Nine years ago this March, I submitted my first article to The Review. I wrote it late at night during a snowstorm, as tears ran down my face. My very first article for The Review was about the collapse of the Gourmet du Village factory in Morin-Heights, which caved in under the weight of nearly 15 feet of snow and ice. It was an incredibly personal story for me to write, detailing the death of three women. One of those women was my aunt. Sharon Kirkpatrick and two wonderful women I had known since my childhood lost their lives that day. It seemed poignant that the woman who had encouraged me to become a reporter, and who was perhaps my biggest supporter, was the subject of my first article. It made me feel so sad. But I felt a bit like she was watching over me. I still do.
I still have a hard time walking into snow-covered buildings and I often recall that first story, which inspired so many others which followed.
Thinking back, I can’t help but laugh about how green I was when I first started. Matthew Talbot was my editor at the time and I must have driven him nuts with my horrible headlines. Articles I could write. Headlines baffled me. I’ve always been a wordy writer and it took me a few months to master the art of writing concise headlines. When I realized you were able to inject puns into the headlines, it became much more fun. My apologies to those of you who are not fans of puns; my writing occasionally becomes entangled in dark and punny humour.
Perhaps the most miraculous thing about being a reporter in a small community is how many doors this job has opened to me. I have been welcomed into hundreds of homes and businesses and I have had the privilege of sharing people’s stories.
For those of you who have not been there, let me say that the ice cream factory in Lachute lives up to all expectations. On a tour of the facility a few years ago, I was struck by the fact that Willy Wonka could happily live in a factory that drips chocolate from the ceiling and has assembly lines of ice cream and chocolate.
As a reporter, you are always on call and you need to be ready to drop what you’re doing and run on a moment’s notice. A few years ago I was attending a press conference when I received a tip that there was a massive washout in Lachute. Multiple beaver dams had breached and a section of road nearly 30 feet high and equally wide had simply washed away. It was pouring rain and I was dressed in a skirt and high heels when I arrived at the very muddy scene of this disaster. I totally destroyed my shoes. But I got some great photos while I was interviewing the Lachute fire chief at the edge of a cliff where a road used to be.
I have had the opportunity to interview premiers and prime ministers, local politician and budding athletes. Every story has been unique and each one has left an impression on me. After interviewing Luc Martin about his recovery from war and his work with the Soldier On Fund, I was inspired to take up archery. His was perhaps one of the most open and frank interviews I ever conducted. Martin’s tales of Afghanistan were vivid, as were his stories of recovery from a roadside bomb, which permanently affected his balance and left him with serious physical and psychological injuries. He is perhaps one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. One day I’ll be cheering for Luc Martin when compound archery is introduced at the Olympics. I wouldn’t be surprised if he brought home a gold medal.
Every story becomes a part of you. The stories change how you see the world and some of them make you appreciate life just a little bit more. A few years ago I had the opportunity to write about a young woman named Meg and the community which rallied around her when she was preparing for a double lung transplant. I cried alongside the community when Meg died and I think of her every single time I see an ad for organ donation.
As reporters, we see the world a little differently. We sit on the outside and try our best to be fair and unbiased in our reporting. This doesn’t mean that we don’t cry when our local firefighters get injured, or when children go missing. It just means that we work that much harder to report concisely on the facts and to help rally the community when it is needed.
On numerous occasions I’ve been told that I’m “too nice” to be a reporter. I always saw it differently. I draw strength from my writing and courage from those who are brave enough to share their stories with me. I’m a big believer in kindness and charity and I feel that in a small community such as this one, kindness is a strength, not a weakness.
A community newspaper is more than just words on a page and ads in a newspaper. It is the place where news spreads and where community-building starts. I have been part of a team that actively seeks to make our community a better place. It’s been an honour to work for an award winning newspaper that is truly dedicated to delivering the truth and to building the community.
I’m sad to leave, but excited to be leaving for a job that will continue to afford me the opportunity to affect positive change and to help Eastern Ontario to grow. As the new Economic Development and Communications Officer for the Township of North Glengarry, I will be helping to promote Ontario’s Celtic Heartland. It’s an exciting opportunity and a big change. I look forward to continuing to work with many of you and know that I will still be applauding your celebrations and tearing up along with you as I read about your exploits in The Review.
My deepest thanks for sharing your stories with me and for allowing me to be your voice.
My deepest regards,
EXPERIENCE Vankleek Hill
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