By Nick Fonda
Local Journalism Initiative
It’s a little after 11:30 on Thursday night and Wellie Leblond has only been waiting in the grocery store parking lot for a few minutes when the car arrives from Sherbrooke with the newspapers.
“That’s Larry,” Wellie says as a small SUV swings into the parking lot. “Sometimes Daniel brings the papers down and sometimes it’s Larry. Both very nice people I’m going to miss.”
“Tonight, we’re going to start at the high school,” he says when he returns to the car several minutes later with a bundle of 43 copies of Friday’s Record. “I have to show Larry where I leave the bundle of papers that go to the high school. It’s always been part of my route but now it’s going to be a stop for Larry or Daniel as part of their run. They deliver bundles of the paper to the two depanneurs on Craig Street and to the Wales Home, in addition to my bundle.”
From the high school, Wellie heads to the first stop on his paper route, at the other end of town on Durocher where he tucks a copy of the Record into a mailbox at the foot of a long driveway.
At some stops, as on Durocher, Wellie can reach out the car window and slide the paper into a conveniently placed mailbox. At other stops he has to exit the car to leave a paper in a letterbox on a front porch or an entranceway. For some of his clients, picking up the Record means a walk which may feel short in June but much longer in January. For others, it involves no more than opening the door and reaching into the letterbox next to the door.
One former Record subscriber, who has since passed away, didn’t even have to open his door to get the paper. When his house on Laurier was custom built seven or eight decades ago by a local carpenter, a mailbox with two openings was built into the exterior wall near the garage door. The paper, or the mail, would be delivered through the exterior end and the homeowner would retrieve his mail and newspaper from the inside end.
“This happened 15 or 20 years ago,” Wellie recalls. “At the time the papers were arriving from Sherbrooke at 3:00 a.m. and we were doing our route in the wee hours of the morning.”
“I stopped, got a paper, and went to the built-in mailbox,” he continues. “It was the middle of the night. Everything was quiet and still. I opened the mailbox to put the newspaper in, and a hand suddenly poked out at me. I don’t think I was ever so scared in my life. For some reason, the subscriber was up that night and thought he’d play a trick on me. We laughed about it but I’m sure my heart missed a beat or two.”
On this night, there are no Hallowe’en type tricks awaiting Wellie, but there is a little treat. One of his clients leaves a bag of home-made cookies for him in her letterbox.
The second stop on Wellie’s route is at the small apartment block on Spooner Pond, and the third nearby on Main Street North. Then he’s on to a household on Fair Street, a stop at the Town Hall on Gouin, and a couple of houses on Brouillette and 7th Avenue.
“I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” says Wellie Leblond, “and I’ve loved every minute of it. Strangely, it wasn’t actually my route at first. It was Sherly Provis, my wife, who started delivering papers and I went along to keep her company and shorten her run a little. For the last seven years, since she fell sick, I’ve been doing it on my own.”
There have been changes over the years. When he first started delivering the Record, it was a much thicker paper and there were 75 households in Richmond that subscribed to the paper. For a period of time, because he was delivering the Tribune as well as the Record, Wellie’s route brought him as far as the 12th Range in South Durham.
Wellie delivers a paper on Cleevemont before crossing the Mackenzie Bridge and dropping off two papers on Melbourne Avenue North. He turns back to deliver two papers on Melbourne Avenue South, then two papers on Thomas and two more on Goupil.
“I’ve always delivered at night,” Wellie says. “There was a time the papers would come to Richmond at 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning, but now they generally arrive around 11:00. The actual time varies a bit but I always get a phone call to say they’re on their way. I like delivering at night because there’s no traffic, no early morning delivery vans speeding around.”
“What I do,” he continues, “is have my evening meal at 5:30 or 6:00 and then nap until 10:00 or so. I do my run, get home at 12:00 or 12:30, have a little bite to eat and then go to bed. I normally start my day at 9:30 or so.”
Wellie heads back across the Mackenzie Bridge and turns south on Main Street to drop off a paper at the McIver apartments.
“Occasionally, a paper is stolen,” he notes. In all, three different subscribers have been victims of newspaper theft on a number of occasions.
“Steps were taken to thwart the thievery,” says Wellie, “and it hasn’t recurred recently. I was always the first to hear about it because I’d get a call from a subscriber asking why the paper hadn’t been delivered. I would bring my own copy to the subscriber and let the Record know. Now they always send an extra three papers, just in case.”
The route continues to College South where a paper is dropped off, then to Ball, and then two more stops on Aberdeen. Finally, Wellie gets to Manning where he delivers the Record to his last two clients. His own apartment is just a few hundred yards further along the street.
“I had some health issues several years ago,” Wellie Leblond explains. “I’m in remission and as long as I watch my diet, I’m doing ok. Still, a few months ago, my doctor suggested I might do well to give up the paper route. I was hoping that someone might step in to take over. That hasn’t happened so the subscribers I’ve been delivering to will start getting their paper in the mail.”
Wellie Leblond may never be replaced in Richmond. While his clients appreciate having a paper near at hand as they sip their morning coffee, no one has replied to the large ad that has been appearing in the Record for the last two months recruiting for Wellie’s replacement.
Newspaper delivery has changed over the years. A century ago, in urban centers, a paperboy would stand on a busy street corner and hawk papers to passers by. Half a century ago (or more) newspaper boxes replaced those paper boys. In residential neighbourhoods the paperboy’s job was once highly coveted. Even small towns like Richmond had two or three separate routes, and at times these might pass from one sibling to the next so that for a decade or more a route would stay in the same family.
Now, almost at the one quarter mark of the century, Richmond’s remaining Record subscribers are spread out too far to make the paper route easily walkable—although on one occasion, when snow made driving treacherous, Wellie did make his deliveries on foot.
At the same time, digital technology is making newsprint obsolete. The list of Canadian newspapers that have either closed shop or, like the Tribune, switched to on-line editions, is surprisingly long.
“I’m sure I’ll miss delivering the Record,” says Wellie Leblond. “I knew all my clients by name. I enjoyed every minute of it, but that was it, the last run.”