The Sherbrooke Record moves to a new home, but isn't going anywhere

Founded more than a century ago, the Sherbooke Record has become a staple for the anglophone minority in Quebec's Eastern Townships. At its new office in Lennoxville, the newspaper plans to serve the community for years to come despite the many challenges faced by local newspapers.

119-year-old paper once owned by Conrad Black is moving its press from Sherbooke to Lennoxville

'Moving the press is no small job,' said the Record's publisher Sharon McCully. 'The whole thing will take days.' (Arian Zarrinkoub/CBC)

The newspaper business has been on the ropes for a while in Canada, but one local paper serving the minority anglophone community in the Eastern Townships is digging in its heels.

The Sherbrooke Record, in operation since 1897, just bought a new building to house its press and editorial staff in Lennoxville, Que., a primarily English enclave in the city.

"We are getting closer to the people who depend on us," Sharon McCully, the newspaper's publisher, said in an interview.

Even though the news industry has changed dramatically in that time, the Recordwhich is owned by Vancouver-based Alta Newspaper Group, has survived because it has become a vital resource for local anglophones, she said.

"We have gained a reputation for being the place to go for local news," said McCully. "We know what we are good at."

McCully has been at the Record for 30 years, first as a reporter, then an editor and now as publisher.

'It has been a struggle'

In her decades with the newspaper, McCully has seen the paper go from seven full-time reporters to just two.

But McCully said readers' expectations haven't changed.

"Whether it's in Cowansville or in Knowlton or at the end of a rural road, people expect their paper every day," she said.

The Sherbrooke Record has been in print since 1897. (Sherbrooke Record)

Even though anglophones make up only about 10 per cent of the population in the Eastern Townships, they are spread out throughout the territory.

The decentralized spread of anglophones in the region makes it challenging to attract advertisers and covering the Belgium-sized area has been frustrating at times for staff.

"It has been a struggle, no doubt. But we get it done every day." said McCully. "I call it a daily miracle."

The paper is hyper-local focused and features pages dedicated to schools and churches in the area — a resource McCully said Eastern Townshippers can't find anywhere else.

Downsizing move to stay alive

In 1999, a fire gutted the office, destroying everything except the photo archives.

"Everything was gone. Those photos were in metal filing cabinets so those survived but everything else was gone," said McCully.

At that point, the paper was owned by Quebecor and Pierre Péladeau, former Parti Québécois leader Pierre Karl Péladeau's late father.

McCully said if there was ever an opportunity to kill the paper, that was it. But instead, it received what she describes as unconditional support.

The photo archives, store in metal filling cabinets, are the only things that survived the 1999 fire at the Record offices (Arian Zarrinkoub/CBC )

"They gave us their best resources. We were back on the street in three days," said McCully.

The fire and the powerful ice storm a year earlier were the only occasions in its 119-year history that the paper didn't come out.

Since the fire, the Record staff has been renting a building in Sherbrooke to house its nearly 50-year-old press.

The paper is downsizing, from an approximately 7,000 square-foot space to one just over 5,000. But for McCully, the move isn't just about space.

"Moving to Lennoxville puts us right in the middle of our constituency. We are more accessible now to our people and since we own our own building, we will be there for a long while," she said.

Serving the most vulnerable in the community

The Record, in its paper form, is still depended on by many in the Eastern Townships as their main source of news.

At the Wales Home in Cleveland, a township located 40 kilometres from Sherbrooke, residents wait eagerly every day for their copy of the paper.

"It keeps us connected," said Irene Decoteau, 89.

Wales Home residents (from left to right) Pauline Bampton, Irene Decoteau, Irene Perkins, and Blanche Mastine, reading the latest issue of the Sherbooke record. (Arian Zarrinkoub/CBC)

"The Record was like the Bible when I was growing up. I hope it stays around for my lifetime. After we're gone, it's your problem. But for now, we need the Record."

It's one of only two remaining English dailies in the province, along with the Montreal Gazette.

"It's nice to read an actual paper, like a book," said Blanche Mastine, 85. "I know the younger generation goes online to find stuff, but we still like our paper."

The publisher of the Record, which was Conrad Black's first newspaper, knows the needs of her subscribers.

"It's people who buy our paper who keep us in business and they love having a paper," said McCully.

The Record is also working with Bishop's University to develop a new app for its content, but McCully said the "work-horse" press will be running in their new office in Lennoxville hopefully starting Friday.

More Eastern Townships news: