J. Kevin Dunn is a beekeeper and freelance photographer living in Penticton, B.C.
Like so many Canadian journalists, my first staff position on a daily newspaper was at the Moose Jaw Times-Herald. It was 1989 – pre-internet, pre-word processor, pre-computer graphics, pre-colour in print, pre- so many things.
My first day on the job, I remember walking out onto the "Golden Mile." There wasn't a soul in sight. The air was a Saskatchewan dry kind of February air. I felt a scratching at the back of my leg and looked down. A tumbleweed – an actual tumbleweed – was trying to roll past and I was was the only thing between it and who knows where.
My time as photographer at the Times-Herald was an intense blip in its 128-year history. Never before and never again would I be given such licence to scour the streets, comb the countryside and mine the tenement houses for content, characters and their stories.
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If I came across a "winner" I'd rush back to the newsroom, process my HP5 film in warm water (to speed up the job) and crank out a quick 8x10 in the darkroom. While it dried, I'd hammer out an info line with a typewriter that often skipped the letter "I" (very inconvenient since most words contain an "I"). Using a pair of black metal scissors, I'd literally cut out the cutline and glue it to the water-spotted print, put that into a manilla envelope, lick a stamp and send it on to The Canadian Press before 4 p.m. in hopes of meeting the next day's deadline.
Oh, the irony of such hustle! My images were anything but time-sensitive. They actually made time stand still – as though the Earth's axis forgot to spin Moose Jaw with the rest of the world. But they received a lot of play, with comments from editors ranging from "Is this real?" to "How can we not print this stuff?"
During my short tenure on the prairies, I drove hundreds of kilometres down dusty roads in either the Times-Herald's rusty red Hyundai Pony or my old Plymouth Valiant. (I photographed on my days off, too.) In the winter, it was so cold the tires went square if the car was left to sit longer than it took a cup of coffee to cool. These sojourns led me to love images of rural farm life and ultimately led me to become a farmer myself.
I owe so much to my experience at the Times-Herald. Everything I've become started there in earnest, and I was sad beyond words to learn about the demise of my alma mater. The last edition was published on Dec. 6. I only wish I could have been there to lift a plastic glass of cheap chablis with the last remaining staff before they closed the doors on a Canadian icon. If I could reclaim that gorgeous neon sign that marks the front door, I'd drive it down the road and plant it in my favourite field near Assiniboia for the tall grass to wave at.