The Beacon… Then and Now

By Jim Gerwing

Twenty five years ago the James Bay Newspaper Society emerged from a remarkable history of local community newspapers. The pre-curser to the James Bay Beacon was a newsletter that then became the James Bay News started by Bob and Marg Pankowski, running from 1972 to April of 1992. The James Bay Beacon then took up the torch in May of 1992 to carry on the newspaper tradition in our community.  One of its first steps was to find a new name. The James Bay Beacon was selected. It is interesting to compare some of those first issues with today’s.

There are some obvious differences. The masthead has changed somewhat. The number of pages has increased from a normal 12 to the usual 24 to 28 now. Advertising costs have tripled. Dramatically different layout and printing methods have occurred, from cut-and- paste to fully computerized systems. Gone are the days when volunteers laboured into the wee hours to produce the templates which had to be transported to a photo shop, then to the printer. Now a one-finger jab on the computer sends everything to the printer. Although early on it had to resort to requests for donations to keep it solvent, The James Bay Newspaper Society has now been operating in the black for a number of years. Circulation has increased from 6500 to 7500, reflecting population growth.

As the Beacon has grown over the past twenty five years, the community around it has grown. Community organizations are doing much the same as today; the Community Centre, the Project, the New Horizons, all are advertising basic services they still offer, though meals at the Centre have gone from $5.00 to $7.50. The James Bay Neighbourhood Association was then called the Neighbourhood Environment Committee (NEC), but its struggles with city hall are similar to what it deals with today: population density, environmental concerns, and community input into decisions.

Much like today, the paper did not report news stories. Yet, the November 1992 issue did report what the police called a “malicious” fire, which destroyed the grandstand and storage buildings at Macdonald Park and damaged many of the nearby homes and yards. Neighbours had heard firecrackers during the night; the area was well-known as a hangout for local youth. Damages were assessed at over a million dollars. No injuries resulted from the fire.

Some organizations seem to have disappeared. COPS (Community Oriented Police Station) is gone. Its purpose was to assist police in keeping folks in James Bay safe from crime. One irate letter to the Beacon called the organization “neighbourhood snoops,” and wrote, “I have the right to walk the streets without being monitored by people hiding in the bushes.”

As I make my way through some of the old issues of the James Bay News, I see how much some things have changed since 1972.

James Bay Square has seen its tenants change drastically since then. The only business still open today is Hairtrends. The Safeway store has given way to Thrifty’s. Gone are a bath boutique, a bakery, a smoke shop, a film shop, among others.

Parliament Mews has also lost most of the old businesses, including a hardware store, a bakery, a ladies wear, a goldsmith, a pizza joint, and a meat shop. The pharmacy has changed hands, but the Bank of Montreal is still there.

One of the interesting features that the Beacon has continued is the forerunner of “Peekin’ at the Beacon.”

Despite the rapidity of change in our lives here in James Bay, there are still some things that never change.

The Cairns of Beacon Hill Park

Poem: St. George for England (and St. Pancras for Scotland)