Work at The Trib

Whenever I drive through Winnipeg, I have fond memories of events in my life related to a certain building at a specific corner, gone now, but marked by a ghost from the past, hovering above the corner where the building once stood.

The other day I drove through downtown Winnipeg on Smith Street and remembered The Trib, as the Winnipeg Tribune was affectionately called back then. I began my journalism career as a night police reporter there.

Working the graveyard shift meant phoning shortly after midnight a dozen police stations to ask if anything unusual was going on.

I wore a headset, leaving my hands free to take down notes. Always on the lookout for ways to save time, I would put on two headsets at a time, dial two police stations and say to both: “This is Irv at The Trib – anything going on?”

“Nope,” I would hear two desk sargeants say, hearing one in my left ear and one in the right.

“Thanks a lot,” I’d say.

That worked okay as long as nothing was happening, but if there was a car chase or a suspected robbery, I was in trouble. I had to quickly sign off with one cop shop while already scribbling notes with news from the other.

Most nights passed without significance. The Canadian Press teletype would sometimes stop chattering. “Good,” I would think. “Less to roll up!”

Ticker tape technology was the new thing. You rolled it up and marked what story it contained. If the night editor chose to use the story, it was my job to find the tape, stuff it into a tube and send it to the composing room through a vacuum hose. Down there the typesetter saved time by running the tape through his typesetting machine, which automatically spewed out lead slugs, which in turn were screwed into a page. Nothing digital then!

In the silence when the ticker tape stopped, I would stand and gaze out of the fourth floor window, looking up and down Smith Street below. Occasionally a police cruiser would come screaming by, its red light swinging around to sock me in the eye.

When my shift ended, I walked up Smith to the Regent Hotel, dressed in an old Russian greatcoat, a beret (my signature headgear) and sunglasses, even though it was still dark.

There was a waitress at the Regent I fell in love with for a week because she served my breakfast and smiled.

“Mon Cherie!” I called her in a poem I wrote, but never read to her because I was too shy. She quit too soon. I moved to the Marlborough Hotel up Smith Street for breakfast.

The Trib isn’t there anymore. It closed suddenly, unexpectedly, Monday morning, August 27, 1980, my birthday 36 years ago. I wasn’t working there in 1980, but I remembered Winnipeg’s well-known writers who were quoted most upon the daily’s demise – Val Werier, Gene Telpner, Jack Wells and Ann Henry.

Just modern buildings at Smith and Graham now, but The Trib ghost hangs around in the sky.

I’ll be 78 this coming August 27, 2016, and I’ll remember more about The Trib, like the time I ran down to see my first byline roll off the press.

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