THE WIVES WERE INVOLVED AS WELL
The year 1967 also brought continued growth to The North Kent Leader and one of the founding partner's wives fondly recalls one episode that involved both wives. Marilyn Clauws was pregnant for their first child due in November 1967. She was on maternity leave and Pat Misselbrook apparently had the day off when they were both pressed into service to "insert" sections of the newspaper. They accompanied the two partners to the London printing firm where that particular week's edition was in two sections. Marilyn recalls it was about a week before son Shawn was born and she was perched on a stool attempting to reach two piles of newspapers to be inserted. It was an amusing site and one that was not soon forgotten.
The year 1968 continued to be a "growing" period for the firm and two significant events were recorded.
The first was in the spring of that year. The Leader had been persuaded to join the then Ontario Weekly Newspaper Association the previous year and the two partners decided that it would be a good idea to "spread their wings a bit" by attending the annual spring convention of that organization. It was being held in Niagara Falls and the two partners drove to the convention on the opening day....a Thursday. Since conventions were always billed as "family affairs" it was decided that the wives should join in the activities. Since both were still working full time at their respective banks, the two could not get away until the Friday of that week. The two drove to Chatham and got a bus that would bring them to The Falls later that evening. That was the first convention that the partners attended and would become an annual event for the two, along with their wives and children, right up to the time they sold the company in 1988.
THE BOLDEST MOVE YET
One of the biggest undertakings that the partners were involved in during the formative years of the company was the purchase of the Dresden News.
The News had been in the Ross family since its inception in 1938 and the son of founder Art Ross was activily involved in running the business during the 1960's. Charlie Ross was somewhat of a formidable competitor in the newspaper business and he didn't take it well that the new kids on the block where taking over the newspaper market in the Town of Dresden. Charlie's health was not the best and while fighting cancer he apparently decided to "throw in the towel" and exited by his own hand. That was in late 1967. His daughter, Karen, attempted to keep the newspaper running, but it was a frugal effort and the paper was sold to a Toronto entrepreneur by the name of Ton Denning.
Denning was of Dutch descent and was the publisher of the Holland News a weekly newspaper that was printed in the Flemish language. He made the move to Dresden with great fanfare and one amusing aspect is often recalled when the two founding partners reminisce about those days.
Misselbrook recalls that the first day Denning hit town he issued him an invitation to drop in to our office as an opportunity to meet his opposition. Denning took the pair up on the invitation and during the short visitation, Misselbrook told Denning outright "If you decide you don't want to stay in Dresden, for whatever reason, give us a call, we might be interested in buying the Dresden News."
The two newspapers continued to battle head-to-head, but it was clearly evident that The Leader was slowly pulling out front. Within a year, Denning accepted the invitation for discussions and the publishing rights to The Dresden News were acquired by The North Kent Leader. The purchase price was established at $6,000.
After making the offer, the partners were perplexed. Where were they going to get the $6,000. to pay Denning off? Enter the picture...Ernie Wilmott of Wilmott Motors, the Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealer in Dresden. Wilmott volunteered to secure the necessary loan if they were unable to raise the funds on their own. The Leader was doing business with the Toronto-Dominion Bank at the time and manager Cliff Cox was adamant that he would not supply the necessary funding without a co-signer. Wilmott, however, banked at the Bank of Commerce and once it was revealed that we had a backer, albeit one from another bank, Cox became concerned that we just might change banks. "We might even had offered a slight hint that that could happen," Misselbrook recalls.
In any event, Cox finally gave in and provided the necessary funding without a co-signer.
The two partners have often marvelled at the faith Wilmott had in making such an offer to two young and relatively inexperienced businessmen.
The deal was completed in November of 1968 and besides the publishing rights to The Dresden News, another publication The Kent Farmer, arrived on their doorstep. At the time however, the pair had enough challenges on their plate with the building of their own newspaper. So, the county-wide farm publication that owed its beginnings in 1966 to Charlie Ross, was packed away on a shelf.
With the acquistion of The Dresden News and the amalgamting of the two subscription lists, the two partners were "off and running" with renewed enthusiasim that would carry them into the next decade of the '70's.
A SPARKLING NEW WEEKLY WITH
3000 GUARANTEED CIRCULATION
That was the motto that the founders promoted throughtout the early years of The Leader.
As in the case with the vast majority of newspapers, it is the advertising columns that "pays the bills" and the news columns that bring in the readers.
Such was the case with The Leader. The advertising columns being generated week after week through the salesmanship of Misselbrook were indeed "paying the bills" and the news columns, under the direction of Clauws, tempted the readers to continue to support the newspaper through continued growth of the subscription list.
The paper prided itself in the content being produced through local news stories, features and crisp clean photography that the offset printing process allowed. The editorials, being prepared each week, for the most part, by Don Spearman, were local and forceful. "I don't recall backing down from any controversial subjects during those early years " opined Clauws. "We became respected for the stand we often took, even if it was not always in the favour of local politicians or business people."
Another feature that "caught on" with the readers was a column started by Clauws not long after the paper premiered. That column "Scratchin' Around With Clauws" would run the gauntlet from events at local council to personal episodes of the Clauws family, and almost everything else in between. It is interesting to note that Clauws continued to write that column for 19 of the 23 years that the partners owned the company...over 900 weekly presentations.
While there were many news stories of note that The Leader covered during the early years, there is one event that stands out a bit more than the others.
That was the flood of February, 1968. It was a most devastating occurrence for the town of Dresden as the Sydenham River swelled beyond its banks and inundated a large portion of residential properties and businesses lying between Queen St north to the bridge spanning the river. Many homes in the area had two to three feet of water and in some cases more on their ground floors. Businesses, including Wilmott Motors near the bridge had over five feet of water in its service bays.
The Leader team, comprising Clauws and Misselbrook, took to the new streets of water in a boat to caputre the devastating damage on film. It was disappointing that the flood would occur two days after the regular weekly publishing day.
After viewing the damage and the heartbreak that many residents were undergoing, the decision was made within hours that a "special edition" was in order. The partners, who had moored their borrowed boat to a tree in the front yard of the Anglican Church at the corner of Queen and St. George Streets, returned to their office and started the endeavour. It was decided that advertising could not be sold in time to help defray the pending publishing costs of a special edition, and hence an eight-page tabloid paper was produced within 24 hours of the time that the first pictures were taken.
The paper was a "masterpiece" in the minds of the two partners, and it was well received by the subscribers and new readers. Favourable comments over the efforts put forth in getting the special edition on the streets within the time limits noted were numerous. "I think we even scalped most of the dailies on that story, " Clauws recalls, "the night of no sleep for the two of us certainly paid big benefits".
LIFE IN THE '60'S
As the partners recall today, living back in 1965 was much different than it is today. Times were more relaxed, prices were lower, but then again, so were the wages.
Misselbrook recalls those early editions of 1965 when a 2 column x 5-inch advertisement for McFadden Grocery Store was billed at $5.60. "It seems to me we needed to sell 600 inches of advertising weekly back then to pay the bills," the astute now retired advertising salesman opines, "600 times 70 cents per column inch grossed us about $420.00 a week." Considering that the two partners paid themselves $70.00 a week (before deductions), it didn't leave much for the other expenditures, including the wages for a secretary/typist and rent on the building.
But to offset those meagre wages of the day were the great prices that prevailed for most staples of life.
In the premier edition of The North Kent Leader it was advertised that you could buy six 10 ounce cans of tomato soup at Simpson's Food Market for 69 cents....one tin of soup in 2009 is about the same price. You could buy two loaves of bread for 39 cents, the price today at Foodland is $1.79 for one loaf. And, a 10 pound bag of onions at Dolson's Foodmaster cost 49 cents....the price today $1.49.
Clauws recalls the year before they started the business. He purchased a new 1964 Chevrolet Super Sport Chevelle for a little under $3500.
A VERY SIGNIFICANT AND WELCOME LETTER
Almost three and half years ( it was exactly three years and 161 days) after the initial edition of the North Kent Leader hit the street, a most welcome letter was received by the two partners.
From Canada Post came the announcement that The North Kent Leader had qualified for second class mailing privileges, having met all the necessary requirements. The February 24, 1969 letter stated that henceforth The Leader could carry in its masthead the following: "Authorized as Second Class Mail by Canada Post".
The main criteria for qualification for second class mailing privileges was the fact that the copies had to be "paid in nature". The drive to establish a paid circulation base had paid off.
To the layman that probably didn't mean much but to the two partners it was the most welcome news of the year.
What it did was allow us to mail "Free of Charge" up to 2500 copies addressed for delivery to places not having letter carrier delivery services but within a 40 mile radius of the place of mailing.
This was indeed a significant time since it meant a substantial savings in postal costs each week. "it probably only meant between $60 and $90. a week in savings, but at that time in history, it was a substantial amount," commented Clauws.