Citizen at 35: 'Citizen' community outreach evident in partnerships, awards
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
This month, The Citizen is celebrating the 35th anniversary of its first issue, which also means three-and-a-half decades of community outreach from a newspaper owned by community shareholders.
From its very founding, The Citizen has reached out into the community in order to be successful. In 1985, Keith and Jill Roulston, along with the late Sheila Richards, went out into the community selling shares in a new newspaper that would cover Blyth, Brussels and their surrounding communities. It’s not a stretch to say The Citizen wouldn’t even have been founded if it wasn’t for the trust and support of its community.
As a result of that foundation, The Citizen has spent 35 years fostering its relationship with the community, earning its trust and support all over again every week. As a result, North Huron Publishing has forged years’ worth of relationships with organizations that trust The Citizen to help spread the word about their special events.
For years, The Citizen has produced special issues for the Blyth Festival for its annual theatre season and the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association for its annual reunion. More recently, The Citizen has been producing an annual issue for the Huron County Plowing Match.
This year, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, The Citizen produced special issues for the Threshers and the Huron Plowmen’s Association, in addition to the Brussels Agricultural Society, which was forced to cancel the annual Brussels Fall Fair for only the second time in its history.
Over the years, The Citizen has produced special issues for local village homecomings and anniversaries, as well as events like the Blyth Rutabaga Festival and a months-long series ahead of the 2017 International Plowing Match in Walton, culminating in a 52-page special issue for the event.
“The collaboration that we had with the team at The Citizen was a contributing factor that led to success of the 2017 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo. The profile stories and the coverage of the events leading up to September, 2017 assisted in creating engagement and excitement from residents, businesses and government,” said Jacquie Bishop, chair of the 2017 IPM. “The heart and soul of IPM 2017 was captured in all the articles written whether it was the logistical challenges, the weather oppositions, the partnerships developed or all the accomplishments. Feedback on the souvenir newspaper that The Citizen produced was tremendous. It was so beneficial for the attendees to learn of the area, understand the people behind the match, gain awareness of the businesses that advertised and then had the information to explore Huron County as we know it.
“Thirty-five years of success is because of the dedicated people that deliver this publication each and every week. We are so fortunate to have this quality, prize-winning newspaper in our neighbourhood where the personnel go above and beyond while continuously working together with our communities to spread the news.”
One of The Citizen’s longest standing partnerships has been with the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association, producing a special edition for its reunion every year. Association President Judy Sloan said she regards The Citizen as a true community partner to the association.
“When I think of The Citizen the first words that come to mind are ‘Community Partner’. For countless years, The Citizen has published a souvenir edition to coincide with the Blyth Steam Show. All of us at the Threshers look forward to it and our members and campers are checking early in the week to see if it is out yet,” Sloan said. “This year, [Publisher Deb Sholdice] contacted me about doing it even though we had to cancel our show. They wanted to do something to remind people of the Threshers weekend. They even mailed it out to all our members!
“[Editor Shawn Loughlin] and staff at The Citizen and their continued show of support for the Threshers results in more interest and attendance at our show. They are a true community partner.”
While The Citizen hasn’t traditionally produced a special issue for the annual Brussels Fall Fair, the newspaper teamed up with the Brussels Agricultural Society for a special section this year, despite the cancellation of the fair. Members said it was a great way to keep their event on the minds of residents.
“The Brussels Agricultural Society recognizes the invaluable partnership with The Citizen newspaper over these many years. The Citizen has helped us reach the Objectives of Agricultural Societies (as stated in the Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act, 1990), which are to ‘encourage an awareness of agriculture and to promote improvements in the quality of life of persons living in an agricultural community,’” said President Zoellyn Onn. “Without The Citizen, the Agricultural Society would not be able to promote our events and recognize community achievements (i.e. fair results) to the entire local community. We can reach many people in our community with posters, via our website, or on Facebook, but not everyone is connected to the internet. Therefore The Citizen newspaper remains our best resource, providing information to everyone in Brussels and surrounding communities about the activities and events of the Brussels Agricultural Society.”
The Huron Plowmen’s Association says it has been thankful for all of the support The Citizen has given the organization in recent years, which has helped propel the annual Huron County Plowing Match forward.
“The Citizen has printed a special Huron County Plowing Match issue for the past number of years and has distributed this throughout Huron County. It has highlighted past and present events, related to our local matches, as well as advertise the upcoming match. In particular, the 2017 IPM hosted by Huron County was extensively profiled,” said President Brian Wiersma on behalf of the Huron Plowmen’s Association. “These special issues have served to identify our local plow people, our Queen and Princess of the Furrow young women, and our local members involved at the Ontario Plowmen’s Association, the parent organization. As will it has served to recognize the endeavors of our local competitors beyond the county matches (i.e. the IPM) the Canadian Plowing Competition and the World Plowing Competition. We the members of the Huron County Plowmen’s Association are thankful for the exposure these issues afford us. We very much appreciate the expertise assistance and co-operation we receive from all who identify with The Citizen.”
One of The Citizen’s most enduring relationships has been with the Blyth Festival, which Citizen founder Keith Roulston also co-created alongside James Roy and Anne Chislett. That relationship between two similarly-minded organizations has been crucial to Blyth.
“There are obvious things I could say about the essential role of The Citizen in the life of Blyth Festival: the advertising space in front of local eyes, the honest reviews, the depth of history that colours the reporting on Festival shows and events, and the unparalleled platform that is the ‘Festival Edition’. But the thing that knocks me over year, the most inspiring thing is the way it helps build that singular sense of community that I believe truly changes everybody involved, just a little for the better,” said Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt. “See, the artists who come to work at Blyth, the actors and directors, designers, carpenters, painters, props makers and lighting technicians, the whole array that makes the Festival what it is, often come from all over the country. Whitehorse, to Vancouver, to Halifax, to St. John’s. There are stalwart stars who have returned year after year, but there are also many, every year, who are completely new to us and have often never even set foot in Huron County.
“There is a novelty, before they arrive, in getting a phone call from the local paper. They often comment on it, hope they’ve said the right things. And when the edition comes out, they sometimes laugh about the picture used, or are surprised by what made it into the interview. And of course that’s fun.
“But the transformative thing is what happens when the readers of The Citizen, and the artists in the town start to interact. When local people on the street stop an actor and say “I see you were born in Whitehorse” or “so you play the piano too, do you?” or “I see you studied in France for a spell” and what happens is the strangers stop being strangers, and the actors stop just being actors, and the town comes together in the way that only Blyth comes together. Friendship form, and hold, and I really do think a lot of it is because of what The Citizen does, and has always done: it lets us get to know each other. And maybe this year more than any other, the privilege of that seems really clear. We’re lucky to have you, and grateful for all you do. Here’s to 35 more years of The Citizen.”
One distinct way The Citizen has sought to give back to the community that has given so much to the newspaper is through the annual Citizen of the Year Awards.
Beginning in 1985, The Citizen’s first year, North Huron Publishing sought to honour unsung heroes from Blyth and Brussels, celebrating their volunteerism and their drive to improve their communities. This began with Cal Krauter in Brussels and Evalena Webster in Blyth.
In the years since, dozens of worthwhile community members have been named Citizens of the Year and the award has been a true expression of the community. People are nominated by their neighbours and friends, the winner is then chosen by a panel of past winners and the community is invited to an in-person celebration (before the COVID-19 pandemic) to celebrate volunteerism.
Because of the nature of the award, being nominated and chosen by their fellow community members, many winners say they felt a tremendous sense of honour being named the Citizen of the Year.
“I was deeply honoured,” said Steven Sparling, the 2004 Blyth Citizen of the Year. “I grew up here, chose to work and invest here, so it was a great honour for me.”
Sparling also said what sweetened the pot for him was that he won the same year that Jeff and Cathy Cardiff were honoured as Brussels Citizens of the Year. To be recognized alongside members of a family he regards so highly, Sparling said, was even more important for him.
“When I won the Citizen of the Year for Brussels back in 2007, it was two-sided for me,” said Doug McArter. “I appreciated the accolade, but also realized that so many others in the community could have received the award as well. It was humbling to know that some folks thought of me as a Citizen of the Year at that time and nominated me that year. As good community members, we all care what happens in our small part of Huron County and we just try our small part to make it better for everyone.”
Long-time Blyth Lions Club member John Stewart, who won the award in 1996, said he was “certainly honoured and very surprised” when he was named the winner of the award.
Another Blyth Lion and the Blyth Legion President Ric McBurney, the 2017 winner, said he was surprised to win, but that it felt good to be honoured by his fellow citizens.
While the award has regularly honoured lifelong residents of the community, that hasn’t always been the case, and 2002 Brussels Citizen of the Year winner Jo-Ann McDonald said winning the award meant even more to her because of that.
“It was lovely to be named Citizen of the Year. It was really an honour as far as that goes,” McDonald said. “It was special because I came into the community; I wasn’t a born-and-raised Brussels person.... It was really, really nice to be recognized for my many years of effort.”
Blyth’s Steve Howson said he was “quite honoured” to win the award. He, like so many volunteers in the community, doesn’t do it for the recognition, he said. Being involved with the Blyth Lions and local hockey association has just been a passion for him, especially with his involvement in hockey when his children were playing.
Past winners of the award in the Brussels area are: Cal Krauter, 1985; Wayne Lowe, 1986; Jack Bryans, 1987; Ida Evans, 1989; Bessie Johnston, 1990; Betty Graber, 1991; George Langlois, 1992; Howard Bernard, 1993; Joanne King, 1994; Frank Thompson, 1995; Audrey Cardiff, 1996; Leona Armstrong, 1997; Neil McGavin, 1998; Beth Earl, 1999; Lyle and Alice Brothers, 2000; Nelva and Spence Scott, 2001; Jo-Ann McDonald, 2002; Kathy Bridge, 2003; Jeff and Cathy Cardiff, 2004; Clara Blake, 2005; Phyllis Mitchell, 2006; Doug McArter, 2007; Nora Stephenson and Fran Bremner, 2008; Rene Richmond, 2009; Jim Prior, 2010; Cathrine Campbell, 2011; Jim and Lois Lee, 2012; Yvonne Knight, 2013; Dave Stephenson, 2014; Sandra Cable, 2015; Jean Davidson, 2016; Elaine Armstrong, 2017, Doug Sholdice, 2018 and Mary Douma in 2019.
Past winners of the award in the Blyth area are: Evalena Webster, 1985; Frank and Cenetta Bainton, 1986; Winona McDougall, 1987; Margaret Whyte, 1989; Simon Hallahan, 1990; Dr. Richard Street, 1991; Bill and Maxine Seers, 1992; Margaret Caldwell, 1993; Helen Gowing, 1994; Don Scrimgeour, 1995; John Stewart, 1996; Janet Amos, 1997; Betty Battye, 1998; Robb Finch, Dave Cook, Brent Scrimgeour and Doug Walker, 1999; Murray Siertsema, 2000; Charlie Shaw, 2001; Lavern Clark, 2002; Bev Blair and Thelma Johnston, 2003; Steven Sparling, 2004; Don “Barney” Stewart, 2005; Lois van Vliet, 2006; Janice Henry, 2007; Joe Hallahan, 2008; Brock and Janis Vodden, 2009; Jean Nethery, 2010; Kay Hesselwood, 2011; Steve Howson, 2012; Barbara Bosman, 2013; Marian Hallahan, 2014; Nellie Mason, 2015; Ernie Phillips, 2016; Ric McBurney, 2017, Carl Nesbitt, 2018 and Jane Smyth in 2019.