I thought about two things as I stepped off the plane in Thompson on Monday. Number one, although the landscape reminds me of my stomping grounds in northern Alberta, I know almost nothing about Northern Manitoba apart from a handful of YouTube videos and an article in Maclean’s. There’s a frontier energy to this place that I’m looking forward to figuring out. No doubt my role as a reporter in this outpost city will be an adventure. I’m looking forward to making friends and surviving winter. Also, I’m keen to ice fish if anyone needs an able wood splitter. My second thought when stepping off the plane was the overwhelming nature of my own life, and how that will likely inform my reporting. Is it possible to have too many stories? Maybe. I was born in Vancouver. My father was a geologist, and my mother a Paraguayan nurse who was raised in a religious sect on the Gran Chaco. Mom, who eventually moved to Germany, was a mail-order bride – seduced by my father’s advertisement in a German magazine, which read, “Successful Canadian mining executive seeks attractive nurse for marriage. Please send letter and picture.”
Two weeks after arriving in Canada, my mother shook the hand of Jean Chretien, the future prime minister of Canada, at my father’s mine opening in Carcross, Yukon. A few years later, my parents bought a cattle ranch near Kamloops B.C. In 1980, my father travelled to Mali in West Africa and discovered one of the richest gold mines in history near a place called Sadiola. He died in poverty in a one-bedroom apartment in east Vancouver. I literally followed in my father’s footsteps, retracing his path as a mining exploration field technician in the Yukon, Alaska, British Columbia, and Arizona. With lots of field experience and little formal education, I became a wellsite geologist in the energy sector in 1998. After my father’s death, I completed a degree in arts and science and wrote a CBC-featured memoir, Gold Bloody Gold. In 2016, I lost my geology job – for good – and was forced to ask a big question: What am I going to do with my life? At 45, I enrolled in the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology journalism program. Eighteen months later I was writing stories for the National Post in Toronto. Four months later I was reporting in Fernie, B.C. Now Thompson. After all that’s happened I can barely catch my breath. I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to have an amazing new career. Journalists, after all, are the physicians of information, capable of delivering good and bad medicine. My commitment to you is good medicine, even if the stories are sometimes difficult.
James Snell joined the Thompson Citizen and Nickel Belt News as a reporter Jan. 6.