Something had to happen. Editor-in-chief Dona Harvey could feel it. The Winnipeg Tribune, the city’s underdog newspaper, was sinking slowly but surely. With $15-million worth of debt and increasing costs—something had to happen.
On Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, The Tribune abruptly folded. Ninety years of publishing came to a screeching halt. The paper had spent decades competing with The Winnipeg Free Press, and earlier that summer, the Trib finally matched them reader for reader. But it wasn’t enough; advertising dollars refused to follow and the paper couldn’t afford to continue, says Harvey, who was on campus in September to announce the full digitization of every issue in the Trib’s history.
From the beginning, the Trib emphasized local stories (like that of Lena Birch [above], who was forced from her home to make way for a sewage plant.) The Free Press had access to the AP newswire; the Trib didn’t.
“The stories of Winnipeg told by the Trib both reflected and helped shape the life of the city it challenged and cherished,” said Harvey.
The day the paper died still resonates with many: former staff, readers, newspaper carriers and advertisers.
“It’s an event that remains suspended in time for many of us,” Harvey said.
She recalls how staff gathered in the newsroom that final morning, and at 9:05 a.m. publisher Gordon Fisher stood on a desk to address the crowd: “I regret to tell you that today will be your last day of publication.”
Some cried out while others stood frozen. But they had work to do—one final paper to print. Harvey remembers saying, “Everyone pitch in and make it the best damned paper we’ve ever produced.”
The city mourned, draping storefront windows in black: a gesture of solidarity. Harvey saw people swarming a Trib delivery truck, fighting for a copy of the final issue. On the front page was a giant 30 (a nod to the iconic newspaper sign-off).
It took the U of M Archives & Special Collections five years to give the newspaper new life online.
“The underdog still barks,” Harvey said. “And it’s a beautiful sound.”