Publisher perseveres through hard times

 In Opinion

Last month we left Bert Smith at the Creemore Star with serious help problems. As well he had had a breakdown in health but fortunately surgery corrected the problem. He was able to solve his labour problems but the Depression of the 1930s was upon him with serious financial concerns. To continue:

I advertised for a shop foreman. Lorne Raymer, a newly married man, was at the Stayner Sun office. The Sun was having financial difficulty and to cut overhead they were letting Raymer out. He came to me and I took him on at $25 a week. It was the best stroke of luck I ever had. Raymer was a marvel, capable and dependable. I had him until I sold the business in 1954.

After Raymer got established I let young Russell move out. I got him a job at Jarvis where he made good. Raymer and I were then alone but business worsened. I will not try to explain the Depression. It was so critical no one would believe it. Nobody had money. Advertising fell down to zero. The subscribers couldn’t pay for the paper in cash but money fell back to the old barter system. They brought me potatoes, wood, honey and maple syrup. Accordingly we always had lots to eat. I had trouble getting in enough cash to pay Raymer, hydro, paper, etc.

The Depression kept getting worse and I was gradually getting financial difficulties. I had five children, all at school, and the man I had sold the farm to in 1929 was not making good. In fact he was always behind with the interest, I had a $4,000 mortgage on the Star and it was next to impossible for me to pay my interest. The old newspaper press broke down and I had to replace it. Fortunately I located a good used press at Elmvale and bought it for $350.

By 1935 I was really up against it and actually considered ceasing publication. Raymer saved the day. He knew everything about my efforts to keep going. So he volunteered to take a drastic cut in wages and have faith. For a while he was down to $16 a week but as he said, it was better than no job and he figured he couldn’t get another job.

Despite the times I had my family and was happy until tragedy struck July 2nd, 1936. My second daughter, Margaret, was accidentally killed when she was pitched off a horse she was riding. Margaret was 14 years old and loved horses and dogs. I actually thought this was the end of everything, but the great sympathy extended us by people near and far sustained me. It was a terrible blow but gracious providence helped us to weather the bereavement.

We had a provincial election that year and I also held a campaign to collect subscriptions. Both helped to restore my financial condition. I thought the worse was over but alas.

Things were looking rosy in the spring of 1938 until about May 15 when I got a legal document from Barrie advising me that Isaac Aikins, who had purchased to old Smith farm and put his son on it, was assigning under the creditor’s arrangement act. My claim was shown as $4,500 plus an outstanding first mortgage of $2,000. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night.

Enclosed with the official notice was Mr. Aikins’ sworn notice as to his finances. Evidently he had put nearly all his possessions in the name of his wife, his eldest son and a brother. The statement showed that he owned practically nothing.

I consulted Joe Hood the lawyer at Stayner and had him with me at the hearing. After an hour or more listening to fabricated evidence the judge declared a brief recess. Joe Hood was clever and he frankly told me the courts would cut my claim in half. Joe then asked me if I would take back ownership and what I would pay Aikins to release all interest and give me immediate possession. I mentioned $300 and he approached Aikins. He talked him into a $300 settlement. I of course got the newly sown crop and also benefited from Aikins having installed hydro.

I decided to hire a man, buy horses, etc., and operate the farm by remote control. The barns needed shingling, so in 1939 I was forced to surrender my insurance policies as collateral to borrow money to roof the barns. For the next four or five years I had nothing but worries. The war was on and I could barely break even on that kind of farming operation. Despite all efforts no one wanted to buy me out.

In 1943 I grew my last grain crop and decided to expand my sheep ranching operations. For the following four or five years the farm yielded a good profit. I had to work hard however, especially in the lambing seasons in April. I had a bed at the farm, woodstove, and some food on the side. I hadn’t a very good car but it got me there. My policy was to go to the farm at 8 or 9 o’clock in the evenings, attend to the sheep and lambs, then have a cup of tea and some eats and go to bed. Get up at seven and after attending my flock return for a busy day at the office.

The only other stock I had was a pair of geese. There was a strong bond of affection between me and the geese. One thing that I considered remarkable was that the geese would recognize my old Durant car as I approached the farm. They would scream a welcome and go racing out the lane to meet me. They would pay no attention to the other cars on the road.

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