The Record - still here 20 years af­ter dev­as­tat­ing fire

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - By Sharon Mc­cully

It was one of those bone-chill­ing nights that En­vi­ron­ment Canada is­sues ex­treme weather fore­casts about. But the bit­ing cold didn’t de­ter Record staff from hud­dling around the huge blaze as they watched The Record build­ing go up in smoke.

The call came just be­fore mid­night Jan. 2, 1999. “The Record is on fire!”

I was there within 10 min­utes but al­ready a large num­ber of Record staffers were at the scene watch­ing flames on the Delorme Street build­ing shoot into the sky. Among them was then-pub­lisher Randy Kin­n­ear who man­aged to grab a few files and a com­puter be­fore the build­ing ex­ploded in flames.

Fire­fight­ers put up a valiant ef­fort, but by morn­ing there was noth­ing left but a burned-out shell with dan­gling elec­tri­cal wires and some spec­tac­u­lar ice sculp­tures.

It was not a great build­ing, to be sure. A few months ear­lier, Ra­dio Canada had used The Record news­room, and its an­ti­quated equip­ment, as a back­drop for a se­ries on turn-of-the-cen­tury news­rooms. The cam­era­man en­thused about the vin­tage type­writer and old oak desks. (Yes, there was a bot­tle of whiskey in a drawer.) But for those who spent a good part of their work­ing lives there, the ro­tary tele­phones, three-legged chairs and air, heavy with ink and cig­a­rette smoke, were part and par­cel of the place where award-win­ning sto­ries were ham­mered out and staff be­came fam­ily.

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The morn­ing af­ter the fire, a Delorme Street neigh­bour of­fered ware­house space to house any equip­ment that could be sal­vaged. Record staffers, un­so­licited, showed up and be­gan sift­ing through the rub­ble, heavy with worry that their liveli­hood, and the Town­ships’ 101-year-old English-lan­guage daily news­pa­per, could be gone for­ever.

With­out a press or any of the equip­ment re­quired to pro­duce a news­pa­per, it was not a stretch to think that Que­becor might seize the op­por­tu­nity to walk away from the small English news­pa­per with de­clin­ing rev­enues, take the in­surance money, and call it a day.

In­stead, the cor­po­ra­tion sent out its top guns and pulled out all the stops to get The Record back on the street in three days.

Pierre Fran­coeur, chief of op­er­a­tions for Que­becor’s dailies, and a for­mer Sher­brookois, un­der­stood the im­por­tance of The Record, and be­came the pa­per’s chief ad­vo­cate.

"I am here to con­firm that The Record is here to stay in the Town­ships and Que­becor will con­tinue to sup­port it,” he told staff and re­porters who had gath­ered the day af­ter the fire. Fran­coeur noted that the es­sen­tial el­e­ments of the pa­per - spirit and brains - were still in­tact. “It is the con­tent of the pa­per, the peo­ple who do the work and the peo­ple who read it, that make a pa­per, and start­ing to­mor­row, we will have that again,” he said.

A makeshift of­fice was quickly set up in a build­ing owned by the Eastern Town­ships School Board at 257 Queen Street in Len­noxville, and while re­porters worked from lap­tops and cell phones, the pro­duc­tion crew saved pre­pared pages on CDS and ed­i­to­rial staff drove to Que­becor’s plant in St-jean-sur­riche­lieu with CDS (Dial-up In­ter­net was not ad­e­quate to send large files – and, we only had one tele­phone set up to take calls).

In the midst of the chaos, one el­derly woman called to com­plain she didn’t get her pa­per. I ex­plained The Record was de­stroyed by fire the day be­fore and all the equip­ment and the press had been lost. There was a pause be­fore she asked, “Well, am I go­ing to get it to­mor­row?” Her re­sponse was in­dica­tive of the im­por­tant role the news­pa­per plays in the lives of Town­ship­pers. For many, read­ing the daily pa­per was a house­hold tra­di­tion for gen­er­a­tions – one of the few con­stants in a chang­ing land­scape. Pierre Fran­coeur, amused, or­dered Tshirts for the en­tire staff with the tagline: “The Record - Al­ways There.”

The heart­warm­ing sup­port of the com­mu­nity, ad­ver­tis­ers and sub­scribers fueled the de­ter­mi­na­tion of Record staff to ac­com­plish the near im­pos­si­ble. The Len­noxville mayor and coun­cil­lors showed up one day to set up a buf­fet lunch and served Record staff. Be­ing si­t­u­ated next to Lor­raine’s bak­ery was a mixed bless­ing - a sup­ply of fresh donuts would ap­pear in the of­fice daily from read­ers who would gift us with treats and en­cour­ag­ing words as they stopped by to pay for their sub­scrip­tion re­newal.

It was a Her­culean ef­fort to get the pa­per back on its feet 20 years ago and many of the same peo­ple are still with The Record, la­bor­ing daily to keep this im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tion of the English­s­peak­ing com­mu­nity alive. Be­cause we know that once there is no fur­ther ev­i­dence of our schools, churches, com­mu­nity groups and lead­ers, we will have for­feited our fu­ture as a com­mu­nity, and al­lowed the ef­forts of our fore­fa­thers to be for­got­ten.

RECORD AR­CHIVES

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