Q&A

Swerve shuts its doors after 14 years of featuring ordinary Calgarians and their extraordinary lives

Swerve Magazine closed down Friday, ending a 14-year long run as one of the most innovative, award-winning weekly city magazines in North America.

'It helped create a really interesting, eclectic, vibrant city'

The 10th anniversary cover of Swerve Magazine, which closed its doors Friday after 600 editions.

Swerve magazine closed down Friday, after 14 years as one of the most captivating weekly magazines in Canada. Swerve's creator and its first editor, Shelley Youngblut, spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday about the publishing life —and death — of one of the city's most beloved publications.

Q: What did you think when you heard the news?

A: I was surprised at how devastated I was. I think we all knew that it was going to come. Magazines, in general, die. They die early deaths. So to have a magazine that lasts 14 years is exceptional under any circumstances. But it was always a struggle to keep a magazine going that was owned by a newspaper.

And at the very end, obviously — with all the cutbacks Postmedia has been going through — it's more of a miracle that it lasted as long as it did.

Q: Let's go back to the beginning. What was the genesis of Swerve?

A: Back in 2004, Malcolm Kirk, who was the then-editor [of the Calgary Herald], had come over from the Province in Vancouver. He wanted to do something like Fast Forward in the Herald to bring down the age demographic [of Herald readership].

And there was a hockey strike! They actually had money in the [sports department] travel budget [for Flames beat reporters] that they had to spend or they would lose it — and so Malcolm hired me. I created magazines for a living, and he said, would you create a magazine for Calgary?

And I knew they weren't going to do it because no one ever [ultimately] says yes [to an expensive magazine launch] So I created the magazine I thought was kind of cool and, god help me, they said yes!

A month later, we were publishing a weekly that lasted for 600 issues after that.

Wordfest CEO Shelley Youngblut created Swerve Magazine in 2004 in just six weeks with a pool of Calgary Herald sports department money that was available due to an NHL players lockout. (Wordfest)

Q: What was the magazine's mandate, and how did it change from when you started to when it ended?

A: It had a mission. Right on the very first masthead, which was that we were going to broaden the definition of what Calgary could be.

I don't think it in any way veered — or swerved — from that mandate. I think that was its mandate from Day 1.

The last issue was published at the beginning of July this year.

I think it helped create a really interesting, eclectic vibrant city.

Q: What were a few of your favourite stories?

A: One of my favourites was the Macleod Trail Expedition.

That was [by] Harry Vandervlist, who's a professor at the University of Calgary. We were sitting around, and Harry said, how long do you think it would take to walk Macleod Trail? And I said, I don't know. Why don't you do it?

There was a great story very early on about the villains of Stampede Wrestling, who I'd grown up with.

Where's Torquemada now? Where's Bad News Allen?

I was really proud of the fact that we told stories about ordinary Calgarians who were truly extraordinary.

And so there was a story about the guy who robbed the bank — it was called Rocky's Road. Jeremy Klaszus wrote it.

We wrote about the preacher with the loudspeaker about City Hall.

We wanted to know what made these people tick.

Q: What about the photography? Makes me think about George Weber.

A:  George was our saint. George documented the hotels [like] the St Louis, the Cecil, the King Eddie.

He also told incredibly goofy stories, like the time we brought a Queen impersonator to Calgary and we actually got her into different places like the C-Train.

And he talked the Calgary Zoo into letting a Queen impersonator go in and hang out with the elephants.

Q: What have we lost with Swerve gone?

A:  This is going to sound really unhumble, but the opportunity to be great.

We won 50 awards internationally. We were the voice that people outside Calgary looked at and went, 'Whoa! What's going on in Calgary?' Writers wanted to write for us. Photographers. Illustrators.

What we've lost is a focal point for those kinds of interesting conversations about who we are and what we care about [as a city].

Q: Will there be a memorial service to Swerve?

A: Absolutely. [On Aug. 24] we're having a good old Irish wake. I am now working at Wordfest, which is basically Swerve in three dimensions. We're going to have it in the Wordfest space [at Central Memorial Library].

Founding editor of Swerve, Shelley Youngblut, tells us what Swerve Magazine meant to readers, freelance writers and the Calgary arts scene. 6:14

Anyone who contributed to, or was featured in Swerve, is more than welcome to come have a toast  — let's commemorate the good times. And I have to say, the Calgary Herald did publish what was the most interesting magazine in North America for 14 years.

You have to give them credit for that.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

    About the Author

    Stephen Hunt

    Digital Writer

    Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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