What have you got for me this time, Smithers?

After 12 years, Thom Barker rolls back into Bulkley Valley for another stint with The Interior News

Thom Barker

Good morning Smithers.

I feel a little bit like a suspect returning to the scene of the crime.

When I rolled into the Bulkley Valley for the first time 14 years ago, I was what was commonly referred to as a cub reporter. It was my first newspaper job and I was nothing if not eager and, even though I was not a cub by chronological standards, perhaps a bit naive.

To my surprise, in my very first week, I managed to create some controversy.

The year 2005 could not really be described as pre-internet, but in those days the telephone book was still a very good measure of the character of a place.

Perusing the Yellow Pages, I observed that the town’s church-to-escort service ratio was extremely lop-sided. I promise that was merely an observation and not a judgment, although we did kind of sell it with a provocative headline that read ‘Must be a whole lot of sinnin’ going on.’

Well, the nasty letters to the editor poured in suggesting everything from running me out of town to I would never find a date in Smithers, except with the help of the one-and-only escort service.

In fact, I did find a date and ended up getting married in one of those many churches.

Over my tenure, I did continue to stir the proverbially pot. When a simple news story about a rash of vehicle thefts led me to unearth the dirty little secret that Smithers had the highest crime rate in the province, we turned it into a long-running and ultimately multiple-award winning series on Smithers being the crime capital of British Columbia.

That did not sit well with many people including, and perhaps especially, then-mayor Jim Davidson, may he rest in peace.

By way of observations this time around, the town appears to be about how I left it in 2007. It is still as beautiful a place as I have ever lived, and that is saying a lot because I have most recently come from the rugged and stunning north coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, which if you have never been, you simply must put it on your bucket list.

Smithers still has a bit of a crime problem, but that is to be expected in remote, rural settings as I have learned in my travels. You have long since relinquished the title of crime capital of B.C., however, and I was very happy to see reporting in this very newspaper last year that the crime severity index for Smithers is exhibiting a downward trend.

I suppose kudos to the RCMP are in order. It appears initiatives such as community policing, which was a hot topic when last I was here, are paying off.

Rolling into the Bulkley Valley this time, I am not a cub in any sense of the word. In the past 14 years, my writing has spilled more ink on dead trees than I can even count any more.

I am looking forward to again exploring the news, events and issues in the town for all seasons.

What have you got for me this time, Smithers?

Thom Barker can be reached at thom.barker@interior-news.com.

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