The New Kid on the Block

Publisher Casey Lessard with his very supportive mother Rita Lessard.I’m sure some people think it takes about a day or a week to make a newspaper, but with a birthday of May 16, Grand Bend Strip comes into the world about nine months after it was conceived. I think that’s appropriate because I view it as my baby, and it’s likely the only one I will ever have to give birth to.
My girlfriend, Angela Michielsen (she’s one half of the Stone Angels profiled in this issue) has been very patient while I pursued my dream to become a newspaper photographer. We were living together last winter after I left the television news business to try to pursue freelance work full-time. As a starving artist, fate offered me an amazing opportunity when I was at the peak of my despair. I moved to the cottage country town of Haliburton, where I did photos and some stories for two weekly newspapers and a summer weekly. I was told hard work would pay off, and it did (make no illusions: working for a small-town newspaper is not the place to make your millions). Not only was the lifestyle wonderful, I made good friends and worked with the best in the business. That was evident at the recent Ontario Community Newspapers’ Association awards, where we earned top honours for newspaper of the year (both won in their readership class) and another dozen awards. Among them, I received two: best feature photo and second best photographer of the year. Hard work does pay off.
Throughout that time, I’ve wanted to return to the area where I was raised, and work on building a life with my girlfriend in a town close to our families. Not many good jobs come up in the newspaper industry around here, so I thought I’d create my own.
I could see how difficult it was to know what there is to do here other than lay on the beach or get drunk. Grand Bend is a tourist destination, so people should have a simple way to find out what’s going on.
And that’s why Grand Bend Strip focuses on literally anything that you can do with your precious spare time. At the Motorplex or the Playhouse; on the water or in the air; sitting at the bar or walking the fairway; at the beach or in your kitchen: we give you enough ideas that you won’t have time to do them all this week. In fact, we give you two weeks worth of ideas.
Sometimes I feel like I’m all alone doing this. I don’t have a corporation backing me, and no salespeople or graphic designers. It’s me selling the ads, drawing them up, interviewing and photographing the people you see in the paper, and me picking up the newspaper at the printing plant. My fingerprints are on every page of the newspaper you are reading, and that feels great. I hope you can feel it, too.
Many others have left their mark on this project, directly or indirectly. My advertisers are supportive local businesses and I encourage you to tell them what you like about this paper during your next visit. I have great contributors like nature writer Jenipher Appleton, chef James Eddington and pro golfer Cameron Rankin; these people know what they’re talking about, and I’m proud to have their names in these pages. Deserving thanks go to Martha Perkins, Greg Hoekstra, Jessica Young, Lance Crossley, Steve Galea, Darren Lum, Bryn Weese, the rest of the staff at the Haliburton Echo and Minden Times and the people who live there. Thanks to my amazing Haliburton roommates Jamie Hurley, Bruce Bozec and Teddy Penn. Carmen Kinniburgh at the Canadian Cancer Society has been a great supporter as has Mike Rennie. Working at CKCO/CTV in Kitchener funded my education, and former news director Larry Rose gave me my first break in the television industry. Colleague James MacDonald at CNN Hong Kong and his wife Heather have always inspired me. Working at the Woolwich Observer in Elmira resulted in my first Canadian community newspaper award, and I earned two more after their glowing recommendation to Haliburton. I also wish pirate sailor Matt Jaques could be here to be part of this adventure.
Most deserving of credit are my families: my brothers, their wives and kids; my aunts and uncles; and the Michielsens, Masfrankcs and Martins. All of them give encouragement; some their time and money to get me started.
My girlfriend, Angela, and my mom and dad are my biggest fans, and I couldn’t do this without them. All three have done whatever they can to do help my dreams come true, and I can’t thank them enough.
If you’ve read this far, I also want to thank you. My goal is to give you a very personal newspaper that is a testament to the power of getting off your butt and doing something.
All of us have that power, and when it comes to your leisure time, sometimes you need a hand figuring out how to spend it. Volunteer, take up a new hobby like birding or golfing, soak up the culture of live theatre or drag racing, enjoy a good meal, spend some time in the garden.
Grand Bend Strip is dedicated to giving you ideas for things to do around here. And yes, that includes laying on the beach or sitting on the patio. We simply advise you to also try something else this week.
Finish reading this paper, but keep it around for a couple weeks. Show it to a friend from out of town, and brag about the people making great things happen in our community. Write us a note and tell us what else you like about the Grand Bend area. Share your experiences so others can discover something new.
And if you run out of ideas, remember our motto: For a good time, Strip!
Casey Lessard