- High River and the 'Times': An Alberta Community and Its Weekly Newspaper
In this perceptive and well-researched study, historian Paul Voisey traces the sixty-year history of the High River Times, a weekly newspaper owned and operated by the Clark family - Joe Clark's grandfather and father. Two themes underpin the narrative. First is Voisey's very readable and informative account of the historical development of the High River area, one which draws on the author's extensive personal background and research. Second, Voisey shows the uniqueness of the weekly newspaper, and how and why its distinctive viewpoint unfolded through time. The results are insights into the travails of the rural press, the issue of small town homogeneity, and how editorial strategies reflected High River's changing priorities for its future.
Voisey shows how the High River Times was an agent of homogenization. The paper concentrated on presenting local news only, rather than reporting on outside events, or following critical journalistic practice for that matter. Mindful of the danger of antagonizing subscribers or advertisers, the weekly Times took the middle road, steering towards consensus whenever possible. The practice of avoiding controversial and partisan issues meant that its coverage both supported and reflected perceived community ideals. Thus it was acceptable to offer Nativist sentiments or to criticize big-city life. It was more risky to take a stand on Prohibition or on the issue of amalgamation of school districts. The reasons were as much practical as philosophical. Unable to compete with the dailies for current news but needing a healthy subscription list, the Times was forced to counter with purely local news written in a lively style and which tried to mention every subscriber at least twice a year. By focusing on the contributions of ordinary individuals, and by avoiding any reference to social inequities or internal divisiveness, the Times presented a misleading and roseate view of town life. [End Page 365]
A second important theme was the role of the Times in boosting the town and area. In an excellent discussion, Voisey notes the barriers to success faced by small towns as they tried to promote themselves to the outside world. However, as Voisey shows, town promotion did not stop with the collapse of the settlement boom after 1914. Although agriculture and ranching remained the cornerstones of the town's economy, the Times reflected changing times by concentrating on other alternatives. It tried to market the town as an oil and gas centre. It seized upon High River's potential for tourists, and later was in the forefront of the move to cast the town as an enduring symbol of the Old West. Given the current frenzy of many small towns to promote themselves by fanciful allusions to their historic individuality, the ongoing efforts by the Times to redefine the town's uniqueness demonstrate a historical continuum hitherto unrecognized.
Considering the attention Voisey gives to ranching, it is surprising that he does not plumb the Times's response to the cataclysmic period between 1921 and 1935 when plunging prices and high tariffs pushed the industry to the brink of survival on at least two occasions. Instead, Voisey deals with the Times's promotion of dude ranches in the area. Maybe the Times was silent on the plight of the ranching industry. Either way, Voisey's failure to mention it seems an oversight. Though he deals with the Times's strong stand against Aberhart's anti-press legislation, he may have missed an opportunity to integrate local sentiment even more meaningfully when he gives scarce comment to the attempt by the High River constituency to recall its MLA, who just happened to be William Aberhart. How did the Times cover the proceedings as they unfolded, and if it did not, then why?
Nevertheless, this is a fine book. Nominated for the Alberta Book Awards scholarly book of the year in 2005, High River and the 'Times' documents how two men, father and son, articulated their aspirations for the town they both...