During my lifetime, I was fortunate enough to know two of Canada’s most noteworthy independent newspaper publishers – Jack (Sig) Sigvaldason of Northern News Services Ltd. fame and Jim MacNeill of the infamous Eastern Graphic of Eastern Prince Edward Island.
Sig’s untimely passing this past week had me reflecting on the two men, their approaches to the industry, how they beat the odds in the birthing and raising of their respective publications, and what I took personally from each man.
Anyone who knew either of these men would not be surprised to learn alcohol played a significant role in my fondest memory of each.
Sig came to visit a few years after I started my tenure at Kivalliq News and, after a day of “walkabout,” as he alluded to our trek around the community, we retired to his room at the Siniktarvik Hotel where he unveiled a large bottle of 18-year-old scotch.
He had, indeed, come bearing gifts.
During the next few hours, the man told me stories about the early days of raising the Yellowknifer, working countless hours in his kitchen, and plotting his revenge on all the government agencies and financial institutions that denied him help in the early days because they didn’t believe a market existed for what he envisioned.
As the amber liquor lowered in the bottle, so to did the wall that often exists between employer and employee.
That evening was the only time I truly caught a glimpse of both Sig’s off-the-wall sense of humour and how deeply his hobby of painting affected his soul, and both fascinated me.
As the evening passed us by, the only time I spoke at length about anything was when Sig wanted to know how it truly felt when I blew out my knee and my dream of a career as an NHL goalie was dashed forever.
What got me was that it wasn’t the curiosity members of the writers and journalists fraternity share that fueled his questions. He was genuinely interested in my spirit, and how I choked back the disappointment and was able to focus on a different career path.
I am glad I told him that evening how much that meant to me.
Our time together that evening came to a close amid gales of laughter as I had to contact my then wife, Debbie, to come down to the hotel and guide me home, lest I lose my way.
Sig could be tough as nails when the situation called for it, but I always found the man to be fair and appreciative of loyalty and hard work – two traits that have very much gone missing in today’s world.
Because of my extended stay in Rankin Inlet I never got to know the man as well as I would have liked, but I will always have a deep respect for what he accomplished in this crazy industry, and I can look any person in the eye and say he always treated me fairly.
Being from Cape Breton, I don’t mind tough and I greatly respect fair.
Jim (MacNeill) was known as a rabble rouser and approached things a bit differently than Sig, but the two men shared an unrivalled passion for their craft and their publications.
I smiled quite broadly earlier this year when it was announced that Island brewery Copper Bottom Brewing was launching a new craft beer in Jim’s honour, named, appropriately enough, Rabble Rouser Red.
Those who knew Mr. MacNeill would surely realize he would think that there could be no greater honour bestowed upon him.
I would like to think Sig would share that sentiment, but preferably a bottle of smooth single malt – easy on the palette, but brimming with fire on the inside.
The industry has lost a true pioneer with Sig’s passing, and many of us who were fortunate enough to spend some private time with him have lost a true kindred spirit.
Until we meet again, Sig – may you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you’re dead, and be met by a chorus of cead mile failte!