It was January of 1993. I had just finished six years of university angled at two liberal arts degrees that all but assured my unemployability. And sure enough, the only regular business I was doing at the time was with the welfare office at 355 Ste-Catherine St. West.
I was essentially squatting in my then-girlfriend Lizzy’s Clark Street apartment, bumming Gauloises and running up a sizable tab at Harry’s dep on Duluth. As it happened, she’d read a story about a new alt-weekly that was about to begin publishing. Desperate to get me out of her house, she told me I had a way with a love letter, and that I should apply to write. Less helpful was she when I asked just how, exactly, I was going to include that on a CV.
I applied anyway. I walked down to the newly christened Hour offices, then on St-Denis, and gave Editor-in-Chief Martin Siberok a CV, the gist of which was: "Dislocated Ontarian with no experience, and clearly even less pride, seeks plum writing gig at upstart alt-weekly." Shocked that I didn’t get a call-back in the 48 hours following, I returned and hit quizzical staffers with my feathery resumé yet again. And then I called every other day for two weeks until Martin took pity and offered me a freelance assignment: 750 words on local band Megalo.
I was on my way. To where exactly I wasn’t sure, but hell, it was better than 355 Ste-Catherine West.
The Megalo story appeared in the Feb. 18, 1993, edition of Hour. I thought I was famous. Nationalist Quebec media pundit Josée Legault was on the cover (mostly because, I still think, Hour’s first news editor, Peter Wheeland, had a crush on her) and inside were stories about a possible serial killer in the Gay Village, a biting op-ed piece by L’Action Montréal’s Jeremy Searle on downtown urban decay, and no less than four theatre stories, tabernac.
Later that year, when a full-time editorial job opened up, Martin called again. Wheeland was waiting for me with a six-pack of St-Ambroise when I walked beaming out of Martin’s office. It was a welcoming gesture that touched me deeply, as the offering of hops does among men. I’m certain that, at the time, the only person happier about the impending paycheque was Harry over at the dep.
It was an exciting time to be in alt-weeklies, which were peaking in terms of their relevance and viability. So-called "alternative" publications really and truly were alternative, giving voice to dissident notions while supplying a platform independent of mainstream media for detailed subcultural and grassroots, community-oriented reporting. The weeklies were where you looked for information that was understood to be too niche or too risqué by a popular press that really didn’t, at the time, seem to understand much about the fringe political and avant-cultural underpinnings of the city, the things that spoke to Montreal’s soul and not its readership demographics. Heady days, indeed.
The fight against globalization became one of the hallmarks of Hour (courtesy of later news editor Lyle Stewart), as did native, immigrant and gay rights (thanks to columnist Richard Burnett’s outspoken Three Dollar Bill) as well innumerable other unpopular causes that escaped the pages of the dailies. Montreal independent music roared into the international spotlight under our watch, and we had several music columns chronicling the ascent (including Locals At Large, which I wrote for over 10 years). And in a city possessed by dance, theatre, literary and visual arts scenes that have never lacked for excitement, just the voices to support them, Hour has been a consistently mouthy proponent.
The late-’90s were boom times for alt-weeklies, and with success came expansion: in 2000 Hour and sister paper Voir moved into bigger digs downtown at, go figure, 355 Ste-Catherine West.
In the years since, with the migration of content to the intertubes – now the rightful home of that which we once called "alternative" – and in the wake of a truly crippling recession, the print industry, right across the board, has fallen on difficult times. Hour is no exception.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. My time here at Hour – for reasons ostensibly economic – is one of those things. C’est la vie, indeed. I will look for new challenges, and in the meantime I’m told that Hour will take a different shape in coming weeks. I look forward to reading it.
I owe everyone I’ve worked with a huge debt of gratitude, and though there simply isn’t the space – a line I’m looking forward to not using for at least a little while – I would like to thank all of my fellow editors of the last 18 years, individually amazing people all, the vast majority of whom are still among my best friends to this day. Also and especially the wonderfully gifted freelance writers, photographers and illustrators who’ve graced Hour’s pages over the years. Thank you, as always, for making us look good.
And of course my deepest appreciation to all of you who have ever picked up a copy of Hour and read it or put it to, er, other practical applications (it all counted the same as far as our pick-up numbers were concerned). It has been an honour and a pleasure to serve you as a member of the Hour team, and I will miss it more than can be put into words. Thank you.
It’s said that relationships that start in a bar end in a bar. I’ll extend that to say that relationships that begin with a beer, end with a beer, though I guess this time the St-Ambroise is on me.
Go Habs go!