The Dryden Observer

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EDITORIAL: Our own Littlest Hobo

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

By Chris Marchand
Jon Thompson’s last hours in Dryden were spent in a flurry of typing and phone calls — dashing off story after story in a characteristically sleepless crusade to quench a white-hot coal of guilt I had slipped under his collar for vacating his role at the worst possible time of the year.

But one does not waste time trying to reason with Thompson’s inner compass. It’s what brought him here in the first place and it’s what moves him forward in a decade-long quest to bring his work back to his hometown of Thunder Bay.

The man follows his instincts unlike anyone I’ve ever met, a guy who literally walked into a forest in the middle of the night on a hunch this past summer and found something remarkable (See June 12 edition).

While he’s certain to despise my eulogizing for its squander of precious column inches and miscalculations of his character, it is important to establish the man as a ‘romantic’ — as one vulnerable to accepting the biggest of challenges simply for the opportunity to become part of them.

In coming to Dryden Thompson wanted, in his words, ‘to witness a real-life magic moment when people come together to rise above the adversity they face’, and to be rendered, for once, at a loss for words by the very beauty of it.

Then, in a manner not unlike that German Shepherd with the profound sense of justice from the classic Canadian TV show, The Littlest Hobo, you’d turn around and he’d be gone…

Such realizations fell a bit short in his 10 months at the Dryden Observer, though these 10 months have been a pivotal chapter nonetheless.

Arriving just a week or two after a provincial Assessment Review Board dropped Domtar Dryden’s assessed value by over 70 per cent, creating an instant financial crisis at City Hall, Jon bore witness to the evolving story of Dryden enjoying a level of transparency from public officials he hopes will be the enduring legacy of 2013.

His time here was bookended by the narrative “Dryden is in trouble and it’s not this council’s fault but we’re working on it.”

That message and the candor with which it was communicated was often unnerving to the public and gave rise to its own set of troubles, including the crisis of confidence that was the ‘Dryden Business Group’.

But the open book approach existed for a reason — it was borne out of example after example from our city’s recent history that concealing important information in the public interest has played the most significant role in the problems we find ourselves in today.

Getting it all out in the open was messy and difficult and very necessary — part of the process of rebuilding.

As Thompson wrote his last stories on the adoption of KPMG’s cost-saving plan and the boosting of the large industrial tax rate, he thought it a strange twist of fate that the city’s narrative was tightening into something far more controlled, opaque and less panic-inducing.

“Dryden has a plan and we’re back on track but we have to stick with the plan.”

Perhaps it is time to turn the corner and scale back the rhetoric in the interest of projecting some stability.

As long as it stays true, a swing in the city’s messaging might give the public a chance to exhale and think about getting on with life in this town.


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