Harry was a master at telling stories

I attended a newspaper workshop in Calgary this past weekend.
Frank McTighe, who had made his way to Fort Frances shortly after Al Beeber became a sports reporter with the Times, stopped me in the hall of the hotel and passed on a story about Harry Vandetti.
Frank and Al had both graduated in the same class from SAIT. Frank only met Harry for a moment in Fort Frances, yet Harry made an impression on the young reporter just starting out in journalism.
Later on the weekend, a friend of mine, Joe Banks, who began his career at the Haliburton County Echo, remembered meeting Harry as a young reporter when he attended his first convention of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association. Joe is now a professor of journalism at Algonquin College in Ottawa and was conducting some workshops in Calgary.
Once at a convention in Toronto in March, Harry walked into a Cadillac dealership and gave up his ticket to fly home, instead arriving back in Fort Frances with a brown Cadillac.
One of Joe’s workshops was entitled “Keeping it Local” while another was focused on putting local names in the paper. Joe today writes a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper about the goings on in his community of Osgoode.
Joe was trying to make the point that all news is local news in community newspapers, and suggested to those attending his sessions that while it might seem old-fashioned to write about people in their communities as rural columnists did in previous days, it is becoming new again.
Harry Vandetti never stopped writing bits and pieces about district people and their lives. Even after he retired, the bug of meeting people in the coffee shops, at teas, and restaurants and telling their stories never died. I looked back on the last column he had published in August, 2007 and he was writing about his fond boyhood memories of growing up in Mine Centre.
His reminisces of Bad Vermilion, the mines being discontinued, and the logging were always fresh in his mind.
Returning from the Second World War, Harry was a member of the first graduating class from what’s now Carleton University in Ottawa. Arriving home in Fort Frances, he began his reporting career, then branched into distributing the Winnipeg Tribune and raising cattle at his farm on the River Road just west of Fort Frances.
Later in his life, he would gear down his farming and rejoined the newspaper. He would take a couple of weeks off in the summer for haying and come back with a sunburned head and arms. At Emo Fair time, Harry would hold court under the porch of the exhibitors’ building.
In late September, Harry never missed a cattle sale, sitting in the second or third row looking for a buy on some yearlings. On both occasions, his notepad came back to work full.
In the morning and afternoon, Harry held court at the Rainy Lake Hotel, where he picked up a sheet of story ideas for his staff of reporters to chase down. He would leave the newspaper and walk up Mowat Avenue with a cigarette in his mouth, enjoying one on the way to coffee and another on the return trip.
In his first career with the Times, Harry would start in the morning either at the Beanery of the train station, or coffee at the original Fort Frances Hotel. He had an iron belly and no amount of coffee affected him. By his third or fourth stop at a coffee shop, Harry had all the rumours and news of events that happened overnight.
When something caught his funny bone, Harry’s face would squeeze up, his eyes becoming slits but shining brightly, and his cheeks would be rosy and his laughter would fill the room.
Harry never caught on to computers, and even his last column was typed on a typewriter he took with him in his retirement. The copy was triple-spaced, marked with red and black lines, re-worked with handwritten notes interspersed as he corrected himself. The copy was a work of art. The editor in himself wouldn’t allow for sloppy work and he was hard on himself.
As a publisher, I often cringed on Thursday mornings because Harry’s stories often contained his impressions of things which might have been in conflict with other people’s remembrances and I would get a call. But the newspaper would get more comments from readers who enjoyed Harry’s stories about the people and families of Fort Frances.
At coffee shops even in the end, people would say to Harry, “Don’t quote me” or “Don’t put that in the paper,” and Harry would grin at them and write the story in his reporter’s book. And if they were worried he still might proceed with the story, they would offer him some alternate stories of people in the community.
And all would jump to Harry’s column on Wednesdays—first to find out what Harry had written about them and, with relief if they were not mentioned, to find out what Harry had found out about other families in the community.
It was the point Joe Banks was making in Calgary to a whole bunch of young reporters in the infancy of their careers. “It’s the stories about people in our communities and that is what makes community newspapers great.”
Harry was a master of telling those stories.

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