May 29, 2020
Friesens and The Red River Valley Echo – An Historical Perspective
In the 1880’s, Henry Ward Beecher made this observation: “The newspaper is a greater treasure to the people than uncounted millions of gold.”
Years ago, reading the daily or weekly newspaper was an “experience”, because within its inky pages were columns filled with the life and breath of the community; whether it broached topics on world or local news, community events, sports activities, marriages, deaths, employment opportunities, or advertisements – it was all there in black and white.
Photographs were often expertly scattered among the pages to complement the journalist’s breaking story or a compelling human-interest feature. It was the “internet” before the internet existed.
With the recent closure of The Red River Valley Echo (formerly The Altona Echo), it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge and pay homage to its 79-year journey from beginning to end. More than likely there are countless new and long-time residents of southern Manitoba who would say that they have had an emotional connection with this newspaper over the years, perhaps having a direct hand in its printing, writing, or editing. Or maybe just saving articles that had sentimental significance or recalling events that were monumental milestones in their life.
The history of The Red River Valley Echo is a long and colourful one – dating back to its founder D.K Friesen, one of the original leaders of Friesens Corporation. Since Friesens was a fast-growing printing facility in the 1930’s, it was only natural that a printing plant of this size should also produce a newspaper. As a result, the weekly newspaper, The Altona Echo was established in 1941. Later the Morris Herald was purchased in 1955 and the two newspapers were amalgamated into the Red River Valley Echo. At the time, this newspaper served one of the most densely populated rural areas in Western Canada, and consistently won awards in Better Newspaper competitions.
In the beginning, the weekly paper was printed in Friesens Main Street shop on a flatbed press two pages at a time. In the 1950’s it took a day and a half to print, collate and fold 2000 copies of an eight-page Echo. By 1975 many weekly newspapers were printed on Web Offset presses which meant that the production of a 20-page Echo could then be completed in a matter of hours.
In 1982, D.K. Friesen spoke about his pivotal role in the paper’s humble beginnings, “I started a local newspaper in January 1941, and served as editor and helped with the printing, mostly in the evenings, as I was still a traveling salesman during the day…..I also purchased the Morris Herald which we later incorporated with the Echo.”
Over the last 15 years society has chosen to consume their news in different ways. Thus, why the Echo and so many other newspapers have met a similar fate. However, these changes in media consumption do not reflect the whole picture of the printing industry in general. Print is not dead. The printed page continues to be a popular choice for book readers, packaging suppliers, and advertisers. Even some community newspapers have thrived by not trying to be everything to everyone, but rather focusing on being really good storytellers of local stories. The future of print is bright!
In retrospect, and considering today’s economic uncertainty, there are few companies that can boast a thriving business spanning 20, 30 or even 50 years. Yet, the Red River Valley Echo had a 79-year productive life, owing its existence to the vision of D.K. Friesen and Friesens Corporation which has enjoyed its own proud history in southern Manitoba for 113 years.