Uncovering the Undercurrent of Bowen Island

In honour of our redesign: a history of Bowen's own news service, served up regularly for 44 years by a cast of colourful characters.

1975: “Newsworthy...informative…opinionated,” read the Undercurrent’s first tagline.

Born of a dispute between the Times of North and West Vancouverand its Bowen columnist Pat Weaver, the mimeographed, hand-stapled, three-page first edition had a 50-copy “run” and cost $0.15. Weaver had created her own newspaper in the wake of her column’s cancellation after a disagreement with the GVRD director of the day.

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An aside: our sister paper, the North Shore News, was too the result of a disagreement with the Times of North and West Vancouver: then ad-salesperson Peter Speck left the paper to create the flyer North Shore Shopper, which would go on to become the North Shore News. The Times folded soon after the North Shore News incorporated. (Ed. Note: is the Undercurrent therefore the better-behaved older sister to the News?)

The first edition of the Undercurrent from May 23, 1975.
The first edition of the Undercurrent from May 23, 1975.

 “Undercurrent: a current flowing beneath the surface: an underlying tendency, opinion,” read that first edition. Inviting letters, stories and any manner of submission, Weaver promised to insert any editorial as-submitted (no editing).

Twelve editions after she began her “free speech” project, Weaver took a two-edition vacation to the Maritimes and left the paper in the care of Larry Reid, only she never returned. And so Reid began his 13-year tenure as publisher and editor of the paper.

Among his many steps to “legitimize” the paper, Reid incorporated as the Undercurrent Publishing Corporation  in 1977.

“During the first year of the new life, [the Undercurrent] lost $1,700,” wrote Reid in a 1981 editorial. “Lots of people spend that much on beer, it was rationalized – so we just kept on.”

By 1981, the paper was up to 40 legal-sized pages and a circulation of 800. Though Reid had a ragtag team to keep the paper going: ad salespeople, columnists, reporters, typists, cartoonists and his sister Dorthey Moon, the printing job was getting to be unmanageable. So that year the Undercurrent became a tabloid.

“But  the content was the same,” wrote (very) longtime Undercurrent columnist Lois Meyers-Carter decades later. “Uniquely Larry.”

“Before email and fax, getting something in the paper required a personal visit to the Undercurrent office,” wrote Meyers-Carter in the 2012 column. “Larry was often crunchy but his sister Dorthea smoothed things over and made people welcome. Many islanders can confirm that delivering material to Larry was never dull.”

Spreading to the North Shore, the Undercurrent grew to 10,000 circulation, and while still Bowen-focused, included news from the mainland.

In 1988, Reid sold the paper to Eric Cardwell, owner and publisher of the Westender and East Ender.

Columnist, Felix Caleb, in his final column, reflecting upon the sale wrote, “Undercurrent has taken one more step toward perfection, but in doing so has it lost its soul?”

The Undercurrent in December 1993.
The Undercurrent in December 1993.

An unattributed article in 1996 (though likely penned by Meyers-Carter) read about the sale, “Editorial policies concerning pseudonyms and libellous material were circulated to the Bowen community. Subtly the paper began to change. Letters gradually became less outrageous but Bowen Islanders learned to cope with new rules.”

And so began the corporate history of the Undercurrent. The local rag has changed hands several times over the years. The Liverpool Daily Post & Echo bought the chain of three papers in 1990. Black Press bought the paper in 1997 and Glacier Media acquired the paper as part of a newspaper swap in 2013.

The Undercurrent front page has had many makeovers. From its beginning with undulating letters (Lois Meyers-Carter’s word)  to a light house accenting “Undercurrent” in the ‘90s.

The freshly redesigned January 31, 2019 edition of the Undercurrent.
The freshly redesigned January 31, 2019 edition of the Undercurrent.

The heron dates back only a decade to when the North Shore Outlook was looking after the paper, with the dynamic duo of Tracey Wait and Marcus Hondro selling ads and writing local stories respectively. Wait noted the need for something on the front page and suggested a heron. And so was born our new mascot.

The January 31 edition of the Undercurrent unveiled a new look, including a makeover for the heron. 

© Copyright Bowen Island Undercurrent

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