T.W. Paterson has been writing the Chronicles for 20 years for the Citizen. (Citizen file)

T.W. Paterson has been writing the Chronicles for 20 years for the Citizen. (Citizen file)

T.W. Paterson column: 20 years: Thanks for the memories

Last week the Cowichan Chronicles entered their 20th year in the Cowichan Valley Citizen.

By T.W. Paterson

Last week the Cowichan Chronicles entered their 20th year in the Cowichan Valley Citizen.

With the special Remembrance Day editions this amounts to almost 2,000 columns and, taking a general average of 800 words each, something over 1.6 million words.

That’s more than twice as many words as Tolstoy’s ultra-classic War and Peace — and I’ll leave any further comparison right there.

Yes, I’ve repeated myself over the years. I offer as an excuse that you can’t keep a good story down, particularly when events in the news make it topical or relevant to a current issue.

By way of proof, it’s often suggested to me, particularly by readers who are recent arrivals to the Cowichan Valley, that I write about this or I write about that — subjects that I have in fact covered previously. Even those who have been faithful readers over the years forget.

Which reminds me of a business acquaintance who predicted, when I began writing a weekly Nanaimo history column as well as the Chronicles, that I’d be “starved for material in four months”.

My answer was that, in four months, I’d have more to work with than when I started. Historical research is much like digging a hole: the more you dig the bigger it gets. Every visit to an archive in search of a single lead invariably unearths two, three, or four more. And they in turn…

He was referring to Nanaimo historical content. Well, that column ran for 10 years and only died because of the financial distress of the publisher. But for that I’d probably still be writing it with no end of material in sight.

Simply because there’s no end to the stories of those who’ve gone before and paved the way for us latecomers. Theirs is a collective achievement so great that I’m often humbled when trying to tell their tales in mere words. Even more so when I think of the legions of men and women who built this land but whose names and personal accomplishments — whose stories — have gone, for the most part, unnoticed therefore unrecorded.

Because then I have little to nothing to work with: No ‘facts,’ no Chronicles.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without the Citizen. I’ve had a succession of owners, publishers and editors over those 20 years. Only now can I admit that I originally offered it to the ‘other paper’ first. Why? because the Leader was the senior of Duncan’s two newspapers and they regularly ran historical vignettes by a staffer.

Which perhaps explains by the managing editor neither acknowledged the sample column I left at the front counter nor returned my phone calls. So I spoke to the Citizen’s Tony Kant who began publishing it in the very next issue.

Since then the column has graduated to twice-weekly, thanks, over the years, to history-friendly editors Shannon Miller, Brian Wilford and, now, Andrea Rondeau. For much of that time Shirley Skolos was the beneficent publisher. All of them made me and the Chronicles at home.

I’ve also enjoyed the benefit of those who’ve helped me dig that hole (research) I described earlier. Friends such as the late Doris Benjamin and wealth of information and former Cowichan Valley Museum curator Priscilla Lowe, to name but two of many. And, of course the present curators and staffs of the Valley’s excellent museums who’ve always been generous in their responses to my queries or requests. (Which presents the perfect opportunity here to plug the volunteers who keep our museums up and running — thank you all for your ongoing contributions to preserving our heritage.)

Then there are my readers, many of whom have taken the trouble, on the street, in the bank, at the gas bar or by phone, email or letter — to tell me how much they enjoy reading these columns. You’ve no idea how gratifying it is to be so acknowledged. No, I can’t take your compliments to the bank (dang it). But if I’d been writing all this time without your encouraging feedback, I might well have — probably would have — despaired.

You’ve also given me a good sense of the demographics of the Chronicles readership which I originally feared would be a “guy’s thing”. But so many women have confessed to being followers that gender doesn’t appear to be an issue.

Which brings me to readers’ ages. I originally thought that the Chronicles would mostly appeal to middle-aged and up. But not always so and it’s particularly gratifying when a younger person expresses an interest. They’re the future and I need to believe that I’m passing the torch. To think that the fascination for our history is going to follow me to the grave would be devastating.

The reality is that history, significant and otherwise, is being made every minute of every day. Not all of it good, unfortunately, but that’s the very essence of the human drama. Anyone who truly believes that history is dull and boring simply hasn’t been paying attention. War, love, hate, sex, crime are boring? Not the last time I looked.

Neither are the stories of heroism and achievement, often — in fact, almost always — by so-called ‘ordinary people.’ So I’ll keep on ‘chronicling’ as long as health permits and without fear of running out of stories.

Again, thank you one and all, Citizen readers.

(Editor’s note: Thank you, Tom.)