Two English professors who relocated to Prince Edward County during the pandemic have bought the local paper, the Picton Gazette.
The historic weekly, founded in 1830, is Canada’s oldest, fully independent community paper. Karen Valihora teaches at York University in Toronto, and Chris Fanning teaches at Queen’s University in Kingston.
“The newspaper office closed shortly after we moved here. We worried about its fate, and we thought that buying it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a role in sustaining and building the sense of community and of place at a time when they have never been so important. For intersecting economic and political reasons newspapers are under threat around the globe, and so are local businesses and the communities that support them,” said Valihora.
“Living here you can feel that the pulse of a rich and vibrant place like Prince Edward County connects you to the whole world. Every single issue of concern here — farming and agricultural land, labour ‘scarcity,’ real estate prices, Syrian and Ukrainian immigration, Indigenous reconciliation, environmental degradation — are also matters of, not just national, but global importance,” said Fanning. “Meanwhile, our universities are committed to expanding their role in the community. Part of that work involves transforming sophisticated and original research and scholarship into forms accessible and useful to a much wider readership,” said Valihora.
“We are excited to begin involving our students and colleagues in writing features that address the sense of place here, as well as provide a forum for research on issues of global concern – things like urban planning and the development of rural land, agri-tourism and the farm-to-table movements, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, and the importance of local and living histories.”
“Revitalizing the culture of a community newspaper offers an exciting way to re-think, re-orient, and re-frame the work the university does,” said Valihora. Both Valihora and Fanning are professors of the literature of the British eighteenth century. “It’s the period that saw the invention of a print culture. The daily newspaper and the novel developed through each other, and created a sense of a civil society, of a public and participatory life in the virtual community, the “republic of letters.”
We know just how transformative the technologies of reading and writing can be,” said Fanning. “The Gazette is a critical record of community life in Prince Edward County, and, like newspapers in general right now, it faces a critical fight for survival,” said Mr. Fanning. “It’s also a fascinating piece of living history, with an archive that goes back to 1830.”
The Gazette has been in the hands of the same family for 46 years. Ms. Jean Morrison, the former publisher, died in 2019. As recently as 2010, the Gazette was published twice a week.
“It’s going to take some thinking through, a redesign, and a focus on the digital delivery of the paper, but we are committed to keeping the print edition in people’s hands. It’s an important part of creating a sense of place,” said Valihora.