Snowstorms and floods. Election campaigns and visits from Prime Ministers. Labour disputes and backroom brawls. New buildings erected and others demolished. Businesses open while other ones close. A trip to the Vanier Cup and a visit from the Grey Cup.
You name it and Wallie Sears has covered it.
Sears, who turns 90 this week, has just about seen and done it all during his writing career, a six-decade adventure that has seen him freelance for countless Maritime news outlets, telling the important stories of the people and the places that have shaped the Tantramar region.
Most notably, Sears has been a steadfast contributor to the Sackville Tribune-Post during that entire span, becoming a household name for his devotion and passion to his hometown community over the years.
“Wallie’s impact on recording the history of Sackville cannot be understated,” said Lourdes (Richard) Fowler, a former editor of the Tribune-Post.
“It has been said that journalism is the first rough draft of history, and Wallie has diligently, for decades, recorded much of it for posterity in the Sackville Tribune-Post and other newspapers across the province,” Fowler added. “His reporting over the years helped reflect the community back to itself.”
Fowler, who said she first met Sears in 1990 when she was a 23-year-old reporter with just two years experience behind her, said it doesn’t surprise her that Sears is still writing for the Tribune at the age of 90.
“His generous nature and inquisitive mind make him interested in all people, regardless of age or station in life or anything else that may divide us,” she said.
Fowler said Sears would pop by the newspaper office on a regular basis to “shoot the breeze and discuss the issues of the day.”
“I knew I could learn from him. He seemed to know everyone in and everything about the Sackville area, and he was most generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise with me.”
She said their generational difference never seemed to matter, as “he always treated me as an equal and I always considered him a friend.”
Tammy Scott-Wallace, another former Tribune editor, said she recalls Sears was always enthusiastic about the stories he was telling, particularly when it came to his beloved sports coverage.
“I cannot think of a more passionate and committed community reporter than Wallie,” she said.
Scott-Wallace remembers hardly getting settled in her seat as editor in 1998 when Sears was at the door introducing himself as the writer of all things Mounties, especially football. She was thankful for that as she had never fully gotten a grasp of the sport herself.
“The legacy that is the Mounties has been built largely in that community by Wallie because he has always written in a way that interested both football fans and readers who have never stepped foot onto a field,” she said.
“Wallie has played such an important part in his beloved Sackville, he really deserves a lot of praise for that care and commitment to his community,” said Scott-Wallace.
The journey to journalism
Sears, who was born Feb. 11, 1929 to Harley and Lou Sears, attended Centre Village Elementary School before moving to Sackville to attend high school. He then went on to Mount Allison commercial college, where he earned a diploma in business administration in 1946.
He soon became employed with the federal department of agriculture, where he worked full time as a lab technician at the animal pathology research lab in Sackville from 1948 until his retirement 36 years later in 1984.
It was in the early 1950s when he did a bit of training under former Tribune editor Les Read and began contributing “a few small items here and there.” He soon started to notice a lack of coverage for many local organizations and sports groups; so, a few years later, when he was asked to take over for editor Charles (Scoop) Moffatt, he didn’t hesitate to take on the job on a more regular freelance basis.
“The opportunity arose and so I just grabbed it,” said Sears.
His freelancing work involved writing for numerous newspapers throughout the Maritimes, including provincial papers in Moncton, Saint John and Halifax as well as publications ranging from Farm Focus to Camera Canada.
To say he was a busy guy in those days is a bit of an understatement. Continuing to work at the pathology lab, Sears would take on his reporting duties in the evenings – sometimes conducting interviews and often covering meetings and taking photos. Upon his return home, he would hit up his darkroom and start developing his pictures, write up the articles on his trusty old typewriter, and then ship the copies off by train or bus to wherever they needed to go. It was often 16- or 17-hour days, waking up at 7 a.m. and not getting to bed some nights until midnight. And he did all of this with a wife and four children at home.
Covering thousands of events and activities throughout the years from Dorchester to Cape Tormentine, Sears has taken on weighty issues from the abolition of capital punishment to the controversial construction of the Confederation Bridge. He’s also asked some tough questions of municipal councillors and mayors, provincial politicians and federal leaders.
He said he’s always felt the Sackville area and the people within deserved some exposure in Atlantic Canadian media circles, which they may not have gotten otherwise.
“The challenge was there. And there wasn’t anybody else to meet it.”
In 1984, when Sears retired from his day job, he continued on with his career in writing, covering town council happenings, school board meetings, economic development opportunities and much more.
“I’ve covered almost every event you can imagine,” he said.
Sports has been his passion
It’s Sears’ love of sports, however, that holds his most precious memories throughout the years. Coverage of Mount Allison University athletics, in particular, has always inspired and enthused him.
Pierre Arsenault, athletic director at Mount Allison, said Sears has provided unwavering support to Mountie sports, whether it was stories told in the locker room or on the field.
“We are very grateful for the decades that Wallie has worked tirelessly to tell our Mounties story,” he said. “Through it all, regardless of the angle Wallie’s stories took, you can always tell at the root that he is a huge Mounties fan who always wants the best for our programs. Thank you Wallie for telling the stories of our student athletes with so much conviction and passion."
Sears recalls his trips to the Vanier Cup championships with the Mounties football team in 1984 and then again in 1991 as being memorable highlights.
“That, for me, has been some of my most joyous moments.”
During the 1984 Cup in Toronto, Sears remembers only one other journalist, in a room filled with media people, knew where Sackville was or had heard about Mount Allison University. He said the reporters there were awestruck when they heard that the majority of their players were not gleaned from the United States but instead were mainly comprised of students from Sackville and Moncton.
“They just couldn’t believe we could form a championship team with local players.”
The Tantramar Titans high school teams have also beneifted from Sears' sports analyses and feature writing.
Scott O'Neal, head coach of the Titans football team, said Sears has provided exceptional coverage of the young players over the years.
"He has followed the team and has written some very good articles promoting our team and players as many have moved on to next level," he said. "Wallie’s energy is unbelievable and we appreciate everything he has done for our team."
Adapting to change
Sears has seen some transformational changes over the years, both with the communities he’s served and with the newspaper itself.
He said Sackville town hall was once a one-room office on Bridge Street with only a clerk/treasurer and supervisor of public works. Now it’s a state-of-the-art facility with multiple departments and an array of staff.
The newspaper has seen a vast number of changes to its layout, the addition of colour, photography use and more. As for himself, Sears’ biggest change came in the early 2000s when he reluctantly put his typewriter aside and made the switchover to a computer, one of the last journalists in the Maritimes to do so.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to adapt to the modern technologies.”
But, as with most other adjustments he has made over the years, Sears soon found himself clicking away in his home office on his new computer.
“One has to adapt to change or you get left behind.”
Sears said he never imagined when he began writing all those years ago, he would still be telling stories to local readers more than 60 years later. He said he will continue to write as long as his health will allow.
“It’s been a nice journey. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of it, meeting the people and covering the events.”
With an avid interest in politics, sports and religion, Sears said his curiosity has always kept him interested and wanting to keep abreast of what’s going on around him.
“You need to wake up in the morning and have a reason for getting out of bed.”
And although his body may be starting to catch up with his age a bit, with a recent spinal stenosis diagnosis, he says having conversations with young athletes and students continues to keep his mind active and fresh. He also continues to hit the Mount Allison gym three times a week, a habit he began half a century ago when he had started to feel unfit and overweight and decided it was time for a life-changing resolution.
Sears honoured through the years
Sears’ commitment to his community over the years has certainly not gone unnoticed. He’s been Sackville Citizen of the Year not once but twice, first in 1985 then again in 1993. He was also inducted into the Sackville Sports Wall of Fame twice, under the builder category in 1993 and then again as a member of the Sackville Eagles Hockey team, of which he was a founder, co-manager and treasurer. He also earned the prestigious Charles F. Allison Award in 1990 for outstanding contribution to Mount Allison among other honours.
Sears is a founding member and honourary life member of the Tantramar Education Foundation, Sackville Basketball Boosters Association and Sackville Minor Football and has been involved with countless other organizations including the Bob Edgett Boxing Club, the Sackville Curling Club, the Sackville Golf & Country Club, the Mount Allison Fifth Quarter Club, the provincial and federal Liberal associations, and more.
“It’s truly amazing that Wallie has been such an important fixture in the community for over six decades,” said Scott Doherty, current managing editor of the Tribune-Post.
Doherty said during his own 20 years at the Tribune-Post, Sears has been both a mentor and a good friend and he is always impressed by the depth of Sears’ knowledge, particularly when it comes to the local sports scene.
“His dedication to the promotion of sport in the region, both through his work with the Tribune-Post and other endeavours, such as co-founding the Sackville Sports Wall of Fame, which he is also inducted into, is unparalleled.”