Jack Sigvaldason, publisher of 6 Northern newspapers, dies at 84

'It's a huge loss, as a friend and an inspiration,' said Bruce Valpy, editor and CEO of NNSL.

Sigvaldason recognized for lifetime achievement in 2012

Jack "Sig" Sigvaldason, founder of Northern News Services, passed away late Thursday night. (Submitted by Mike Bryant)

Jack "Sig" Sigvaldason, founder and longtime publisher of Northern News Service Limited, has died following a "brief illness," according to an obituary on the company's website.

NNSL includes six northern newspapers: The Yellowknifer, Kivalliq News, the Inuvik Drum, the Hay River Hub, Nunavut News, and News/North in the Northwest Territories.

"It's a huge loss, as a friend and an inspiration," said Bruce Valpy, publisher and CEO of NNSL. "It's a little daunting to have to move ahead with the papers ... without him."

Valpy said Sigvaldason's passing was "quite sudden."

"He and I had been working together almost every day," he said.

According to a biography written for Sigvaldason's Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association Silver Quill award in 2008, he began his career at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1952. Shortly after, he founded his own advertising firm, Sigvaldason & Associates.

Sigvaldason, pictured with a 'mobile news cruiser' at a Canada Day Parade in Yellowknife in the 1970s. Sigvaldson founded The Yellowknifer in 1971 after he was fired from News of the North, which he later acquired. (Submitted by Mike Bryant)

But in the late 60s, his sister married a northern bush pilot and Sigvaldason began planning a TV documentary on his brother-in-law's work. His long love affair with the North began shortly thereafter.

In 1969, Sigvaldason took a role as editor of News of the North at a time when, by his own account, only nine communities had telephone service. In an interview with JSource, he said he connected with remote communities by illegal hand radio.

He was fired two years later "for antagonizing the territorial government, the federal government, the municipal government, the Indian Brotherhood, Inuit Tapirisat and the majority of advertisers," according to the biography written by the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.

In 2012, Sigvaldason received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation for 'an unprecedented contribution to journalism in Canada.' (Submitted by Mike Bryant)

Lifetime achievement award

Sigvaldason then started TheYellowknifer, Yellowknife's community newspaper, with journalist Jack Adderley. In 1972, he established Northern News Services, later purchasing News of the North in 1979 and renaming it News/North.

He​ served as publisher until June 30, 2017, when he bought out his longtime business partner Mike Scott.

He was a fierce journalist... He loved people stories. He loved community journalism.- Bruce Valpy, publisher and CEO of NNSL

"[Sigvaldason] was on the street. He was in the grocery stores, the coffee shops, the bars, the courtrooms, the government offices," said Bill Braden, the first journalist on staff at The Yellowknifer. "So he connected so strongly and so passionately with the people in the community."

In 1995, Sigvaldason became a pioneer in the world of online publishing, helping to build NNSL's first website himself.

"I remember seeing him banging away at code and trying to learn this stuff," said Valpy. "He was instrumental in getting that [website] up."

In 2012, Sigvaldason​ received a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation for his work in the North.

Valerie Pringle, a juror for the Canadian Journalism Foundation at the time, said of Sigvaldason "the fact that he created this feisty, profitable mini-newspaper empire in the N.W.T. and Nunavut, serving 60,000 people in two languages… is a massive achievement and the centrepiece of a 50 year career."

"[He] would always take ideas a little further than expected. It was a little frightening at times, but that's why it was fun to work with him," said Valpy. "He was a fierce journalist... He loved people stories. He loved community journalism."

The NNSL offices are closed on Friday out of respect for Sigvaldson's passing.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story identified Bruce Valpy as the editor and CEO of NNSL. In fact, Valpy is the publisher and CEO.
    Aug 10, 2018 2:18 PM CT

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