50 years ago, an idea was born

September 30, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Tom Claridge

It was 50 years ago this fall that I was confronted with a challenge that ultimately led to the foundation of the Orangeville Citizen, which this month marks its 47th year of publishing “Your Community Newspaper.”

The occasion was a conversation in the fall of 1971 with my Dad, Fred M. Claridge, in which he disclosed his intention to sell The Free Press and Economist, Shelburne’s only newspaper since his father, T.F. E., as owner of the Shelburne Economist, purchased the rival Free Press in 1929.

The proposed purchaser was someone from Newmarket or Richmond Hill, and the purchase price was $75,000. After a chat with wife Pam, I agreed to the price with a stipulation that we could come up with $1,000 and Dad would take back a $74,000 mortgage.

At the time, I was a reporter for The Globe and Mail living in Etobicoke and knew only that T.F.E. had spent thousands of dollars on improving the paper’s production facilities, including a new press purchased from the Queen’s Printer in Ottawa, a new Linotype, a folder capable of assembling up to 12 pages, and a scanner capable of producing printable photos.

Unfortunately, Canada was in the midst of a printing revolution, with community newspapers moving from hot type to cold and advertisers following suit by supplying photographic images instead of mats that could be converted to lead images.

As a result, just about everything in the composing room became worthless and we set about building an addition to the plant for an offset press that was owned by a handful of community papers, which could turn out 20,000 copies in an hour.

The new press and the conversion to offset printing were both accomplished in February 1974, and one thing we quickly learned was that we needed more work for the press. 

Another thing that became obvious was that Shelburne’s downtown area was deteriorating and more and more residents were shopping in Orangeville, partly because the Thomson-owned Banner was circulating free copies of a flyer, an enormous contrast to the situation when the Banner was owned by the McKitterick family and covered County Council for the Shelburne and Grand Valley papers.

My conclusion was that the only way for the other papers to survive was to launch a locally owned paper to compete with the Banner by distributing free copies and attempting to match the chain paper with its news coverage.

The Citizen opened in mid-September in an office three doors from Town Hall, and it has survived even by a revenue-crushing pandemic. 

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