By Arnim Joop
On April 27, I have lost a good friend who was my mentor.
When I immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1988/89 and was looking for a job as a journalist in Alberta, I obtained a list of all the community newspapers in this province, and my wife Susan and I drove all the way from Wetaskiwin, where we first lived, to southern Alberta, and we stopped in every small town on Highway 2, and I dropped off my resume at all these small newspapers. The reception was not overwhelming, because many of those community newspapers had only a few reporters, but when we reached the small town of Cardston south of Lethbridge at the end of the day, we were greeted by a friendly, jolly and tall gentleman who needed a reporter for his “Cardston Chronicle”, and that gentleman was Mr. Dan Barr.
Dan, a Canadian with Scottish ancestors, was sceptical and asked me how good my command of the English language was, because I had a heavy German accent, but he promised to read my resume and get back to me as soon as possible. A few days later, he phoned me and offered me a job, so we drove back to Cardston and then to Lethbridge with Dan where he signed an Offer of Employment at the local office of Employment and Immigration Canada, and this document became my entrance ticket for Canada.
A few months later, I started working for the “Cardston Chronicle”, and that became a very interesting and memorable chapter in my life. During the next two years, I learnt a lot from Dan and his wife Marie. Dan was the publisher and a jack of all trades who did not only sell advertising for the newspaper but was able to repair anything, and Marie was the editor. I learnt how to use a computer, develop films and photographs in the dark-room, improve my English, and many other things. And Dan, who liked to call me “the damn German”, sent me to many seminars where I was able to spruce up my journalistic skills.
Working with the Barrs was a challenge at times, because both of them were powerful persons with strong characters and smart business people, but they didn’t always agree with each other, and sometimes the staff was caught in the middle of their arguments. That gave me the idea to create a weekly column for the newspaper which I called “Behind Barrs.” Both of them loved the idea, and I wrote my column every week and talked about a variety of topics, and it became quite popular among readers.
When I worked at the “Cardston Chronicle”, I had to cover rodeos, small town parades, many high school basketball games, minor hockey, curling, meetings of school boards and the Municipal District of Cardston, and town council meetings in Magrath and Raymond, which were all new to me, but I learnt a lot and have many fond memories of that time. One time, when there was a municipal election coming up, I had to interview some of the candidates, and most of them were farmers, and it was harvest time in southern Alberta, so they didn’t have time to meet with me. One of them agreed to be interviewed, but I had to meet him on one of his wheat fields where he was driving his combine. His wife drove me there when she brought him his lunch, I climbed on the combine and interviewed him while he was making his rounds with the combine.
One of the highlights for me, working for the “Cardston Chronicle”, was the renovation of the Mormon Temple in Cardston and its rededication in 1991 when we published a special section with stories about the history and significance of the Temple. On that important occasion, Premier Don Getty and several cabinet ministers visited Cardston, and I had the opportunity to interview one of the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Dan was not Mormon but a very community-minded businessman. He was a long-time dedicated member of the Kinsmen Club, and a proud member of the Masonic Order, and an active member of the Cardston and District Chamber of Commerce. And he was passionate about people who were less fortunate. For example, before I worked for him, I read in the “Cardston Chronicle” that he had an employee, Jerry Cahoon, who was living with cystic fibrosis and worked for the “Cardston Chronicle”, doing advertising design and graphics, and Dan kept him on his payroll even when he was very sick and couldn’t work anymore until he died at age 33.
Dan’s motto was “Work hard and party hard.” We worked long hours, but it was a lot of fun, because we were a good team, and when the paper was done, we had many social gatherings at Dan’s and Marie’s house, celebrating Christmas and birthdays together. Every Monday was the production day for the “Cardston Chronicle” and the “Raymond Review”, when we put the papers together, and it was always a long day without breaks, but my wife Susan, who worked as a nurse in long-term care at the Cardston Municipal Hospital, often cooked delicious meals for the whole team which were appreciated and enjoyed by everybody. We were like a happy family.
But this happy family fell apart when Dan and Marie separated and sold the “Cardston Chronicle” in 1990, but I was able to find a new job and worked two years as a reporter for the “Lethbridge Herald” in Taber.
When I started my own newspaper in 1995, a monthly publication for German-speaking people in Alberta, and a second paper in 2008, the multicultural community newspaper “Mill Woods Mosaic” in southeast Edmonton, Dan gave me some good advice, but he admitted that he did not always make the right decisions when he was in business.
When I found myself in a challenging situation, I often asked myself: “What would Dan Barr do?” The newspaper industry is not an easy business, especially in times of crisis, like we are experiencing now, but Dan has taught us with his cheerful attitude how it can be managed without getting burnt out by the daily stress.
We stayed in touch with Dan over the years, he visited us several times in Edmonton, and I think he was proud that his former reporter, “the damn German”, started his own newspaper business and became “reasonably successful.”
Dan Barr died in Lethbridge on April 27 which was his 77th birthday. Rest in Peace, my good friend! I miss you.
Arnim Joop is a German-Canadian journalist and publisher and editor of two ethnic newspapers which are based in Edmonton.