British Columbia

'Hippie newspaper' celebrates 50 years covering counterculture, environment, arts

If you look back to the turbulent times of 1967 when the Georgia Straight was born in Vancouver, it would be hard to say that it would be alive and well 50 years later.

Vancouver's the Georgia Straight vows to keep publishing despite evolving media landscape

Vancouver's the Georgia Straight publication was first distributed in the city on May 5, 1967. Many early writers were environmentalists and anti-war activists. (The Georgia Straight)

If you look back to the turbulent times of 1967 when the Georgia Straight was born in Vancouver, it would be hard to say that it would be alive and well 50 years later.

The newspaper was a product of its time. Baby boomers were coming of age and looking for alternative news sources to report on issues that were important to them.

Georgia Straight publisher Dan McLeod, right, faced criticism and legal action about his 'Summer of Love' newspaper launched on May 5, 1967. (Fred Davidoff)

"It was the throes of the Vietnam war, the beginning of the environmental movement. It was an incredibly important time in the history of North America," said current editor Charlie Smith.

"The Georgia Straight was filling a void that wasn't being addressed by the mainstream media."

While the Straight took on serious issues, such as citizens' rights and police harassment, it also included personal ads and artwork considered scandalous at the time, such as a a photo of Jimi Hendrix's penis cast in plaster.

Thomas Campbell was the mayor of Vancouver in 1967 and supported the newspaper's business licence being revoked.

"In our opinion, it is not a fit publication to be distributed in the City of Vancouver," he said at the time.

In a series of documentaries produced for the CBC by Tony Wade in 1982 and 1987, the paper says it was bombarded by legal challenges to what it was doing.

No matter, it pushed on and grew and became home to many writers who were destined for even greater things.

Greenpeace founder Irving Stowe wrote for the paper, as did Paul Watson, the man who founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Paul Watson's foreign correspondent card from 1974, signed by publisher, then and now, Dan McLeod. Watson began as an environmental writer at the Straight and went on to found the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. (The Georgia Straight)

In the mid-1970s, Bob Geldof was the paper's music editor.

"And I think some of the things that Bob Geldof learned here at the Georgia Straight probably played a role in him going on to being a successful musician with the Boomtown Rats and then later going onto to do the Live Aid benefit, which raised tens of millions for famine relief in Ethiopia," said Smith.

The Georgia Straight's 50th Anniversary edition cover. Its 80 pages include lots of memories and successes from past issues. (The Georgia Straight)

Smith has worked for the Georgia Straight since 1994 and is particularly proud of the paper's work on environmental stories.

"The Georgia Straight has played a significant role being ahead of the curve in educating the public about environmental issues and helping to create an environmentally aware populace," he said.

But in its modern era, the print edition of the Straight is mostly synonymous with the city's art scene, concert listings, Dan Savage's sex column and ads for escort services.

Smith says, though, important journalism is still being done by the paper.

Staff writers Travis Lupick and Amanda Siebert won a Canadian Association of Journalists' award in 2016 for best overall investigative reporting for their article about the overdose epidemic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Smith says the paper continues to successfully sell advertising for its print edition and will continue with it, while also expanding the paper's digital platform.

He says over the years, publisher Dan McLeod has faced competition from Southam papers, those of Conrad Black and the media outlets of the Asper family.

"And he's outlasted them all and it's a tremendous achievement," said Smith.