This might come as a surprise to some readers, but 2021 just might have been my most enjoyable year as editor of the Georgia Straight. Despite the pandemic. Despite the horrible heat wave that hit B.C. last summer. And despite the growing evidence that the climate predicament—which we’ve been covering extensively since the 1990s—was turning out even worse than many scientists expected.
So how on earth could anyone consider this a good year? Well, first off, the paper survived. We managed to avoid a newspaper graveyard already populated by the departed Vancouver Courier, StarMetro Vancouver, 24 hours, Xtra! West, West Ender, Asia Pacific Post, North Shore Outlook, Richmond Review, Burnaby News Leader, and other local publications across the region.
I used to tell the founder of the Georgia Straight, Dan McLeod, that he survived his share of publishing tycoons—including the Southams, the Aspers, Conrad Black, and David Radler. That was on McLeod's way to becoming the longest-lasting publisher of a single newspaper in Canadian history.
But our current team, led by company president Kirk MacDonald and anchored by senior editor Martin Dunphy, continued putting out the Georgia Straight through the first 20 months of a pandemic, which was an equally daunting task.
For that, I personally want to thank all the organizations that put their trust in us by placing advertisements in our print edition or on our website and other platforms. I also want to thank the Liberal government for introducing a wage-subsidy program that enabled us to do what we love through the greatest economic contraction of my lifetime.
As a result, the Straight maintained its tradition of nurturing the arts. We provided groundbreaking journalism on the climate crisis. We shone a light on the antivaccine movement while not letting the provincial government off the hook for underplaying the airborne nature of COVID-19.
Through the pandemic, Mike Usinger delivered the liveliest liquor writing in the province at a time when more people were seeking some liquid courage to get through tough times. I felt we had an outstanding Golden Plates issue, celebrating those in the hospitality sector who've shown such resilience in the face of adversity.
The Best of Vancouver issue was a blast and the editorial team did a terrific job with the Pride issue. And thanks to Steve Newton, we continued to be at the forefront of events coverage.
I’m particularly pleased about how we’ve given a voice to a multiplicity of identities that make up this country. Our covers, which are designed so well by Miguel Hernandez, demonstrated the diversity of the city in ways that no other mainstream media outlet can match. We’re not perfect—nobody is—but rest assured that this remains a priority.
From the Black community in Canada, we featured Giller Prize winner Ian Williams, visual artist Émilie Régnier, antiracism activst Markiel Simpson, and opera star Measha Brueggergosman on separate covers in 2021, as well as another cover story on a health project led by Hogan's Alley Society.
One of my favourite covers of the year was an inspiring David Cooper photo of Heart of the City Festival artist in residence and residential-school "thriver" Kat Zu'comulwat Norris. Another cover story featured the Snotty Nose Rez Kids and another featured Squamish Nation councillor Orene Askew, who's of mixed African and Squamish ancestry.
Plus, our Canada Day cover story examined why many in the community, including Indigenous public-policy expert Ginger Gosnell-Myers (Skusgluums), felt this was a time for reflection rather than fireworks.
Then there was Miguel Fernandez's beautiful LunarFest cover, featuring Indigenous Taiwanese artist Reretan Pavavaljung, whose family was involved in the Coastal Lanterns project with members of the Point-Cannell family from Musqueam.
Filmmakers drop their drawers
The chef of the year on our Golden Plates cover, Nutcha Phanthoupeng of Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine, hails from northeastern Thailand.
Others of East Asian ancestry on 2021 Georgia Straight covers included actor Amanda Sum as the Mad Hatter in this year's East Van Panto, members of Onibana Taiko, violinist Chloe Kim, MP Jenny Kwan, filmmakers Ryan Mah and Danny Berish (they actually appeared naked on the cover!), actor Valerie Tian, and Asian-Canadian Special Events Association managing director Charlie Wu.
From the South Asian community, we featured NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, UBC AMS vice president Eshana Bhangu, actor-singer-dancer Krystal Kiran, cultural navigator and branding expert Mo Dhaliwal, and author and broadcaster Riaz Meghi on Georgia Straight covers in 2021.
Justin Trudeau (who also appeared on a cover) likes to say that diversity is Canada's strength. Judging from the breadth of talented and inspiring people who appeared on the Straight's covers in 2021, it's hard to argue with that.
But we didn't ignore topics that the Straight has been focused on for many years. The climate, including wildfire smoke, was the subject of five cover stories in 2021, LGBT+ issues were featured in three of the five cover stories in the month of July, and even the city's beloved crows received a cover.
I’m also happy that the pandemic demonstrated that the race baiters who blamed rising real-estate prices almost entirely on foreign money were wrong.
At the start of the pandemic, immigration plunged. Out-of-country buyers comprised a negligible portion of the housing market. Yet there still weren’t nearly enough homes to meet local demand. Our coverage has withstood the test of time.
I appreciate the efforts of real-estate reporter Carlito Pablo and one of our contributors, Ng Weng Hoong, for having the courage to go against the conventional wisdom.
I also appreciate other contributors who continued filing thoughtful and often provocative columns to our website, such as Gurpreet Singh, Sarah Leamon, Eric Doherty, Shauna Sylvester, Tim Louis, Martyn Brown, Jean Swanson, and David Suzuki. Patti Bacchus was also a great contributor in the past.
Do I have any regrets about the past year? Sure. I would have liked to have provided more in-depth coverage of Vancouver civic politics and the ongoing toxic-drug crisis. However, the pandemic, a blazing real-estate market, the discovery of unmarked Indigenous graves at former residential schools, a federal election, and the effects of rising greenhouse-gas emissions also required attention.
We plan on increasing local political coverage in 2022, which is a municipal-election year, and this week’s year-end cover story is an indication of that. Rest assured that we haven’t forgotten about civic affairs, even if it often played second fiddle to COVID-19 in 2021.