Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

When the 'Women's Section' meets real life

Women like Jane Burrows and the powers of the press

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Over the holidays, I ran into friends, old and new, who were asking about this, my food column, which I've written for Pique since 2007—if you can believe it.

New pals often assume that since I write a food col, as it's known in journo shorthand, I'm a foodie. Long-term pals, or anyone who reads me regularly, know nothing's further from the truth. The only reason I took over the food slot years ago for Pique founders Bob and Kathy Barnett, whose influence is still felt, was I realized food is a powerful trope you can use to talk about everything from politics to history to climate change, and more. You even get to toss in recipes once in a while.

Of all the leaps from food you can take, though, the one that seems to throw people off is art. The conversation usually goes something like ... Art. Huh. You talk about art in a food column? You betcha.

For the whole time I've been writing this column, and longer, I was working on a degree at Vancouver's Emily Carr University of Art and Design. When I was a skinny Grade 1 kid, I stumbled into art classes at the Edmonton Art Gallery after winning 75 cents and a red ribbon for a circus painting that won first place at the Edmonton Exhibition. There was no turning back.

I studied graphic arts long before I knew there was such a thing as journalism school. And when I landed in Whistler to take a job at Paul and Jane Burrows' Whistler Question, which I went on to buy, I started the local arts council as a way of bringing more art in its many forms to Whistler. It was my first big lesson in the true power of the press.

When you own the local newspaper, whether you intend to or not, you naturally use it to embed whatever you value. Yes, local issues like whether an elementary school is needed, or new culverts should be added to stop wash-outs on Highway 99 are all important, and we covered those. But in my case, my not-so-secret agenda was the arts.

Always remember, ads are free for newspaper owners, no matter how big they are or often they run, plus I got to run huge articles with impunity about all the arts council events and other art happenings without having to convince anyone else it was important. When there are few central news platforms (Charlie Doyle's cleverly-named Whistler Answer was one of them) the power you wield, and your ensuing responsibilities, are all the heavier. Which brings me to Jane Burrows.

It wasn't just holiday visits that got me thinking about newspapers and things like art, and how the two may or may not shape a community. It was also the passing of Jane over the holidays.

Jane and Paul Burrows—equal partners in the founding of the community's first newspaper, the Whistler Question, as they were partners in everything else for the past 50 years—went on after those heady days of 1980s Whistler to become dear friends.

Jane taught me much about the art of life when you're a strong, smart woman negotiating a world where men with their ingrained values and interests did, and still largely do, hold the reins of power. A world where topics like "food" and "art" are usually relegated to the soft sections of both newspapers and life—the so-called "women's" sections.

But what happens when you're a woman who's also interested in bigger things in life, and in making traditional "women's things" of bigger importance?

To start, I was pretty surprised that Jane had to "interview" me along with Paul when I applied for my first job as a Question-able reporter. Once Paul delivered his machine-gun questions in the old Question office near the Husky station, he announced, now we're driving to Alpine Meadows so my wife, Jane, can meet you.

Luckily, she and I hit it off. No surprise, what with two strong, die-hard Canadian women who grew up in the old-school "hewers-of-wood, drawers-of-water" culture—she from the gold-mining heartland of Kirkland Lake, Ont.; me from the "Oil Capital" of Edmonton—at the same kitchen table. (Much of life is still shaped around kitchen tables.)

Jane was curious and unpretentious, as many newspaper owners are not, and I could tell in a heartbeat she was as ethical and trustworthy as Paul. They were both key players in early Whistler, including its ratepayers' association, and it was clear they loved their community and wanted to know what kind of a young, up-start reporter they might be sharing the reins with. Responsible newspaper owners would want nothing less.

Jane was direct, but never interfered, even after I bought the paper. She was always a good, practical reminder that whatever topic was important to residents of a growing ski resort was also important to its newspaper. That included my interest in embedding art at Whistler, which she supported without reservation.

Given her long-time roots in the community and the fact she was one of the first teachers at Myrtle Philip Community School, her "thing" were issues of concern to parents and families of the day, whether it was kids' lessons on the bunny run or at the new community centre. Those kids are now adults shaping Whistler.

I don't think Jane consciously meant to, but she was also a constant flagbearer for the many women who shaped Whistler—women who had far greater talent, intelligence and reach than could be confined by your typical household kitchen or to your typical "women's" roles. The Myrtle Philips; the Florence Petersens; the Christine Rodgers; the Isobel MacLaurins; and the Joan Richozes of early Whistler.

It's amazing how many women have shaped the bent of this town, which actually says as much about the women as it does the men.

What's just as interesting is how many women have shaped the local newspapers and, therefore, the community—and still do today. It's not lost on me it was the inseparable husband-wife team of Jane and Paul Burrows that wielded the enormous responsibility of curating the news so ethically and so well and, later, it was Bob and Kathy Barnett who did the same. In between I, with a woman's take, held the reins for a while, as Stephanie Matches also did at the Question. Now two more women, Sarah Strother and Clare Ogilvie, carry on the legacy of strong women-powered newspapers at Whistler.

Jane and her ideas live amongst us, still.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who has a large place in her heart for Jane Burrows.

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