A Family Business

The Charlottetown Guardian was started before 1900 by a Scotsman named Mr. Burnett, and it was now run by his four sons. I had read the newspaper growing up so I was thrilled when my application for employment was accepted.

My job was in the circulation department doing typing and filing, plus, since the general office was near the front door, I also worked at the counter, where people could buy a copy of the paper or put in a classified ad.

About a dozen people worked in the general office, plus the nearby offices of three of the sons, making for much traffic. Lots of people to get to know. Two girls close to my age — late teens or early twenty’s — plus two elderly women, who wore out-of-date clothing, and were treated with respect. I learned that they were still working because they could not afford to quit! There would be no pension from the Guardian when they did; this was 1950, doubtful if government pensions were available, or they would be very small. There was a man with some mental disability who worked there too. He was totally loyal and so trusted by the bosses that he carried the cash deposit to the bank at times, and did other errands.

I worked in the circulation department with two men, father and son, whose nicknames were Bomber and Babs. Bomber had been in the armed forces with one of the bosses, so they got away with lots of breaks, to talk about hockey or whatever was happening. This made it necessary for me to diplomatically break up these sessions when work really called for their presence.

A great thing about working in a small newspaper was that we were always in touch with what was currently happening in the city or the world.

The second floor included the newsroom where news editor and reporters had their space. I was interested in the huge dictionary which had its own stand. One of the reporters became a long-term friend. She was from Winnipeg, had worked in the Arctic, and was a Baha’i, and introduced me to a wider world view. Some of her reporting assignments such as town meetings seemed to be so boring that I realized I would prefer to be a feature writer on selected topics. But she had the steady job!

The Linotype machines, keyboard operated, were also on the second floor. There were five or six men and one woman working these. Everything in the paper had to be written on these machines, in lines, using hot metal which quickly become solid. This was exacting work. We had proof-readers who found any flaw. It was also dangerous as there was some lead in the hot mixture. These matrices were fitted in such a way that they would fit on the huge presses which printed the newspaper.

The press that printed the daily paper was run at night, but there were special editions which had to be printed in the daytime, and we office people were able to see the process. Huge rolls of newsprint were lifted in place, barrels of ink were required. There were many moving parts that had to be kept oiled. It was dangerous but exciting for the men who ran the press.

We had our own cartoonist at the Guardian, an idealistic young man from one of the north-eastern States. When I had some free time I would climb the wooden stairs to his hide-away office on the top floor, and if he was free we talked of many things. He could have some cartoons done in advance, such as something for Christmas, but had to be always ready for a cartoon suitable for a breaking story.

One event we all enjoyed was the visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1951. The cavalcade was to pass just in front of our building so all the staff were given flags and took places on the street corner. I felt like a kid again, waving a flag.

I had been at the Guardian for three years and the urge to see other places was getting stronger. The day came to leave. All the goodbyes, etc., had been said, but as I reached the door someone came forth with a beautiful suitcase, a gift from the staff. More goodbyes and thanks. And I walked away with my new suitcase and headed for new horizons.

by June Maginley, 2012


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