Yellowknife — a capital city with no national newspapers

Saturday: that’s the day in the week that I traditionally reserve for the reading of as many print editions of newspapers as possible.

But in Yellowknife, I discovered that you can no longer buy any daily print newspapers from the South — that means there’s no Globe and Mail, no National Post, not even an Edmonton Journal. Not on Saturdays and not on any other day of the week.

A woman at a Yellowknife pharmacy where I used to find newspapers during previous visits told me that it’s been nearly a year since the distributor for daily newspapers from the South went out of business. Since then, no one’s picked up the distribution, she said.

And that’s in a city of 20,000, the capital of the Northwest Territories.

Yellowknife, lots of people, buildings and no national newspapers. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Yellowknife, lots of people, buildings and no national newspapers. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

You might think there would be enough people in this city to support newspaper distribution — especially since it’s still costly for many to gain access to internet that’s fast enough to read the online editions of southern dailies with ease.

But I’m even more shocked because even in Iqaluit — Nunavut’s capital, which lies further to the north — you can buy newspapers such as La Presse, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette and Globe and Mail to the Sunday New York Times — although the Sunday edition arrives a day late — and Yellowknife, unlike Iqaluit, is connected to the southern road network and is served by many more flights in and out of the South than Iqaluit.

Newspaper-wise, all you can find in Yellowknife to read are copies of the Nunatsiaq News or local Yellowknife papers.

At the local co-op store in Yellowknife, I find a Nunatsiaq News. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

At the local co-op store in Yellowknife, I find Nunatsiaq News. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

That’s fair enough, because people need to know what’s going on in the city and the North, but it’s disturbing to think that people in Yellowknife — many of whom are also newcomers from other countries — are left out of the larger Canadian dialogue on politics and other national issues, particularly during a federal election period.

With no newspapers to read, here’s what you can do on a Saturday in Yellowknife:

  • shop for food (reasonable compared to other places in the North or at Walmart (with same the stuff as in the South) or buy alcohol at the liquor shop (impossible to do in most other places in the North);
  • take a walk to admire the houseboats on Great Slave Lake, the changing leaves on the trees and still-blooming flowers;

    The birch trees turn a bright yellow colour at this time of year, reminding me of Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

    The birch trees turn a bright yellow colour at this time of year, reminding me of Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

  • visit the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre; and,

    A display of northern footwear at the Prince of Wales Norther Heritage Centre. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

    A display of northern footwear at the Prince of Wales Norther Heritage Centre. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

  • eat some Ethiopian food at a recently-opened restaurant.

    A mixed platter at the Zehabesha restaurant in Yellowknife. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

    A mixed platter at the Zehabesha restaurant in Yellowknife. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

You can also sample a variety of fast-foods, drink all the Tim Horton’s coffee you want or drive on paved roads with stop-lights.

You’ll also see buses, recycling bins, trash cans — in short, a lot of the service trappings of a fully-functional southern Canadian city.

You might think that this makes Yellowknife a better to live than colder, treeless and expensive Nunavut, but this makes it even more scary in my opinion that in Yellowknife, because there are no newspapers, many residents don’t know what’s going on outside the city — unless they listen to the radio and watch television.

In any case, they’re basically shortchanged of access to a news medium that, despite its financial challenges, is still thriving and which Canadians living in territorial and provincial capitals take for granted.

Is this your first time reading this blog? If so, check out earlier posts, including my “Like an iceberg” series on being a journalist in the Arctic during the 1990s. You can find all the links to that here.

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