We are certain Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko had no idea what he started.
In 1945, Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, sparked an international incident when he defected to Canada. The move would have gone unnoticed by history, or at best relegated to footnote status, had Gouzenko not brought along more than 100 documents proving the existence of a Soviet spy ring in Canada.
The ensuing firestorm, and intense distrust and paranoia created by the discovery, helped fuel the Cold War. As you might guess, that decision would colour the rest of Gouzenko’s life, much of it spent in hiding under an assumed name until his death in 1982.
But his actions also changed something fundamental about how we cover the news.
Or, at least, how we review it.
In 1946, the Canadian Press (CP) named Gouzenko its first Canadian Newsmaker of the Year. Ever since, media outlets across Canada and the world have paused each year’s end to reflect on individuals who shaped the year that was.
CP continues the tradition to this day. Last year, the wire service named the Humboldt Broncos junior ice hockey team from Saskatchewan the winner after the team was involved in a collision with a semi-trailer on April 6, 2018, resulting in 16 deaths and 13 injuries. Pierre Trudeau received the honour eight straight times from 1968-75, and 11 times overall. Trudeau The Younger was so honoured for the first time in 2015.
Although unique to Canada in 1946, the Newsmaker practice wasn’t a new idea for mainstream media even then. Time magazine had been naming a Man of the Year (changed to Person of the Year in 1999) since 1927.
That year, they chose Charles Lindbergh. The magazine’s move, however, was not based on celebrating an aviation pioneer, but on covering its own backside. In one of the great underplays in journalistic history, Time magazine failed to put Lindbergh on the cover of its magazine the week after he became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Andre Tardieu, who two years later would rise to prime minister of France, took the cover that day.
At 25, Lindbergh was youngest selection ever – until this year when 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg was so honoured.
Seemingly every year since, every newspaper, magazine and website has come up with its own version of the tradition. Part contemplative retrospective, part generating news during the calendar’s slowest period, newsmakers are one of those old-time traditions we cannot help but love.
Today, we offer you the 10th annual Western News Newsmakers of the Year – a celebration of some of the people, places and things that shaped the year at this institution. Before we start looking ahead to 2020, join us as we take one last look at 2019.
Here’s to the year that was.
The 10th annual Western News Newsmakers of the Year include: