Last Thursday night around 8:00 pm, Yellowknifer and Northern News Services lost its publisher, Jack Sigvaldason.
On our masthead (see opposite page), I am listed as publisher. But in my mind, Sigvaldason, who started Yellowknifer in 1972, was and will always be the publisher. Long ago he set the standards of Yellowknifer‘s coverage – fairness, accuracy, people first, lively stories.
Our reporters, editors, now I as publisher strive to meet those standards the best we can every issue. To do anything less would be to invite the professional wrath transmitted by the bushiest eyebrows this side of Iceland.
Much can be said about how much Sig taught young journalists starting their careers at Yellowknifer but I am going to use this valuable space to speak about Sigvaldason the person.
After working with him for 30 plus years, I put Sig up among those who have shaped the mythical allure of the North by force of their personalities – Stu Hodgson, Bob Engle, Fred Henne, Georges Erasmus, Nellie Cournoyea, James Wah-Shee, Gina Blondin, Cece McCauley, Tom Butters, Piita Irniq, Willy Laserich, Joe McBryan, Alex Debogorski, Pat McMahon, to name more than a few. There were many more on both sides of the treeline. Sig loved telling stories about these people, the stories he did on them and just as often the stories he didn’t do on them.
Sig was a big fisherman, or at least he talked like one. I never saw him fishing. He used to have a 14-foot boat he called the Silver Bullet that, with its over-sized outboard, rocketed over waves (he said) like no other boat could. That boat likely motored more miles attached to the back of his ancient gray Ford Ranger than it did on the water. He was too busy building newspapers to spend much time bobbing on the water. Still, he did favour a drink of dark rum and lots of laughs after the work was done. People have their own stories about late deadline days at the Gold Range diner.
On the burning issues, Sig had a very open mind. If discussion went on too long about any particular subject, it was brought to an abrupt close with a defiant glare and the words: “There shall be one but God (in this newsroom) and his name is Sig!”
Over the years, I came to know he wasn’t always right. The problem was I wasn’t sure when he was wrong. When I told him as much, he smiled like a Cheshire cat, Santa Claus eyes twinkling, neither confirming nor denying.
As managing editor, I did the hiring of the young reporters. Occasionally, an enthusiastic new hire would ask about NNSL’s dress code. My reply would be: “You just have to dress better than the publisher” which meant a T-shirt or sweater, rumpled dress pants, sturdy shoes or sneakers. I saw only Sig exceed that dress code with a suit and tie two times, once in England when he received an award from the International Society of Weekly Newspapers Editors, and when he accepted a Lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation at a gala in Toronto.
One on one, you could never have a better friend than Sig. He wasn’t terribly sociable but he was fiercely loyal and tolerant.
I am now conscious of having gone over Sig’s preferred 500 word count.
Bottom line is, although we here at NNSL have lost a good friend, great leader (“Always ask why, why not!”), mentor and visionary, NNSL will carry on as it has since Yellowknifer was laid out on his kitchen table. Sig’s hand will remain firmly on the tiller.
Bruce Valpy is publisher and CEO of Northern News Services