COLUMN: ‘Big shoes to fill’

A new reporter’s introduction to the Boundary

Hi. I’m Jensen, the new reporter for the Grand Forks Gazette and Boundary Creek Times, as of last Wednesday.

That’s a sentence I’ve typed into dozens of Facebook chats and emails, and said many times over while shaking hands with new neighbours, not even a week into my time here in town. In reply, I often get a “Welcome!” before any further questions get asked.

The next line from the folks I meet is almost always the same: “You’ve got [big or huge] shoes to fill.”

My predecessor, Kathleen Saylors, came here for her first job out of J-school, much like me. (Fun fact: we were actually in the same class together in first year at Carleton University, before I left to do a degree in French on the west coast). Kate reported diligently and with compassion. She made sure that stories from Grand Forks and the Boundary were read across the country when the flood happened and her reporting ensured that they wouldn’t be forgotten. She also reported in rubber boots — big shoes indeed.

I called her when I was offered the job. Kate, where should I live? What do you do there for fun? What about the stories?

She answered all of those simple questions, but above all, she emphasized the people. The people there care, she insisted.

I saw that on my very first day. At the Whispers of Hope AGM last Wednesday, voices got loud and changes were made. Thank goodness for a colleague who offered to come along, giving me a play-by-play and the deep background I needed to understand the issues at play. Despite whatever side anyone was on, someone there suggested, everyone’s ideas were expressions of what they thought a safe and supportive Grand Forks could be.

Off in a corner, I stood out like a… well, like a city kid new to Grand Forks.

I grew up in the Lower Mainland, mostly, and have gone to university in Victoria and Ottawa. Naturally, I have a tough time answering when people ask where I’ve come from. Most recently, Charlottetown, P.E.I. Before that, Ottawa and Nelson.

I’m also the youngest of four kids, meaning that as a child, the stenches of at least one sibling’s feet steeped my ski boots and skates before I got a whiff, handed down with resume advice, hints on how to fix my bike and cooking tips.

I’m torn when Sweden play Canada in hockey and when Denmark play Sweden in soccer, when the tensile strength of my family ties is tested. Though I only lived in Calgary from birth to age three, I frequently relive the near-glory of the 2004 playoffs when the Flames came within a few millimetres of a disallowed goal of winning a second Stanley Cup.

Before I could speak coherent English sentences I was saying “Bonjour!” to strangers in Quebec campgrounds without knowing what to say when people replied. Today, I’m as comfortable travelling with Voltaire’s Zadig as I am with Douglas Adams’s Arthur Dent. My German, Swedish, Spanish and Haida lexicons are growing, too, quick enough to pick out key words but not so speedy as to be able to knit them together and throw them back into a conversation.

Now, I’m fresh off finishing my master’s of journalism degree at Carleton, where I spent two years reporting in the home of Canadian bureaucracy, Ottawa. But while I was there, I always knew I wanted to come home (“home” being someplace with mountains). I also held onto the idea that I wanted to do local journalism.

Reporting last summer in Nelson cemented that goal in my head. When I took photos of the high school graduation, parents called to get the pictures of their children crossing the stage. When I reported on Greyhound cuts, bus users became vocal about the need for replacement services. With every story, readers showed me that what I reported on mattered to them. I know that Kate saw the same thing with her work at the Grand Forks Gazette and Boundary Creek Times.

There’s a lot to explore in the stories, communities and people along highway 3, so I hope you’ll join me, say hello and remind me of those big shoes to fill.

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