Hello, Cloverdale

Jennifer portrait for print

Originally published September 2, 2009 in the Cloverdale Reporter.

By Jennifer Lang

Four years ago, I landed back in the Lower Mainland after a long stint in northern B.C. – a region affectionately known as Beyond Hope by its fans.

A place derided as The Vast Wilderness by its critics.

If you’ve ever made a major move, you’ll agree. It’s a bit like surviving a natural disaster. You lose your house, your job, your friends, even your dog (okay, so she was actually the neighbour’s) – everything familiar.

You are forced to adapt to strange new circumstances. Like figuring out where the grocery store keeps the coffee and memorizing a whole new cable TV channel lineup.

It’s an adjustment.

And now I’m about to take another big leap – into the editor’s chair at the Cloverdale Reporter.

But let me rewind a little.

I moved to Terrace, a bustling logging town-in-transition in the mid ’90s, fresh out of journalism school. I planned to stay six weeks. After all, it was a brand-new paper. It would probably fold by Christmas, I rationalized.

But one look at the sign posted above the toilet at work – The Minister of Forests Sat Here (a reference to then-North Coast MLA and eventual premier Dan Miller) – and I was intrigued.

Obviously, this was going to be fun.

Terrace may have felt pretty remote, but it was a great place to be a reporter.

Over the years, I had a front row seat to everything from the Nisga’a Treaty and the Skeena Cellulose crisis, to B.C.’s first MLA recall campaign and massive school closures, to name a few.

On the job I met five sitting premiers and one prime minister, even a celebrity or two.

Best of all? Getting to know folks in all walks of life. Some became friends. Others valued contacts.

Some, like the Second World War vet who still maintained his trapline at age 89, or the retired painter and plasterer who lovingly recreated his Irish hometown in miniature on his front yard, became a little of both.

In 2005, two papers, a few seasons on Channel 10, and various freelance gigs later, I made the difficult decision to leave. It was time to be closer to family, and to figure out if I still belonged.

It was sad leaving. Friends gave us all their Canadian Tire money and wished us well.

Since returning to Metro Vancouver, my resume’s been a little more varied, filling in at various Black Press community papers for months, weeks or even a few days at a time.

I missed the luxury of covering ongoing issues as a staff reporter with regular beats, but I enjoyed the variety, and was grateful for the work.

I got a break in 2007 when Black Press hired me to cover the trial of serial killer Robert Pickton. As the complex, year-long trial unfolded, I learned from some of the country’s best reporters, picking up clever note-taking tips, sage advice about digital storage devices, and the oft-ignored importance of plain old observation.

I also came away with a greater understanding of how the grip of drug addiction – and the stigma of prostitution – work to place society’s most vulnerable in harm’s way.

And that the tentacles of despair from the Downtown Eastside, and the web of evil surrounding the killer, reach into virtually every community in British Columbia.

More recently, I’ve continued to write freelance articles on everything from business stories to arts and sports features. Once, I even got to try milking a cow. (Not to be missed!)

But novelty aside, and the butterfly-feeling you get when you’re about to make the leap into something new, I’m excited – and relieved – to be getting back to my roots in community journalism.

If my years as a reporter have taught me anything, it’s that everyone has a story to tell.

Cloverdale, I can’t wait to hear yours.

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Listening to family of the victims speak outside the Pickton trial.

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