Thirty years later, The Phoenix looks back on its history and the stories that have come to define it.
This year The Phoenix News celebrates its thirtieth year as the Okanagan’s only student-run newspaper. And according to Ken Boesem, one of the original students from Okanagan College who founded the newspaper back in 1989, nobody could have guessed that the paper would last this long.
Between 1980 and 1988, The Goliard was the Okanagan’s only student-run newspaper. And judging from the short lifespans of the papers that preceded it—such as The Orc and The Bullsheet, who were lucky if they lasted more than a couple years—The Goliard was considerably successful and long-lived. That is until 1988, when a disgruntled student gathered up all the copies of the paper and burned them in the parking lot.
“[The campus] had had some crazy scandal, so [The Goliard] had written an article about it,” Boesem says. “I can’t remember exactly who it was… but it ended with that person gathering up all the copies of The Goliard from the campus and burning them in a huge bonfire in the parking lot.”
This act of violence effectively dismantled the newspaper, and the following year there would be nobody from The Goliard left on campus to start up any paper to replace it. But in 1989, a group of new students gathered together and decided to start up a new paper.
“We more or less started from scratch,” Boesem says. “The Goliard was basically dead when we started.”
Using the previous year’s incident for inspiration, Boesem decided to name the newspaper ‘The Phoenix.’ The name seemed to capture the optimism the students held that their paper might succeed in rising from the ashes of The Goliard.
Though the early Phoenix was certainly aware of the hostile climate into which they had just stepped, they by no means shied away from publishing controversial stories.
“We definitely raised eyebrows a couple of years in a row,” Boesem says. “It used be sort of a tradition with university papers that in February, around Valentine’s Day, they would always do what was called a ‘Pink Triangle Issue,’ so there would be a lot of queer content and coming out information and that kind of stuff. In ’91 or ’92 it kind of hit the news and there were a couple church people locally who were not happy that this was being published, and they sort of pointed out that it wasn’t really great information to spread around because it would ‘give people ideas’ and such. And then in ’92, I remember, the local newspaper did an article about us because for each issue of that ‘Pink Triangle Issue’ that year we taped a condom inside it, and that made everybody go ‘whoa!’”
But of all the stories he wrote for The Phoenix in the short time he spent at Okanagan College, Boesem says he is most proud of the first one he ever published.
“There was this weird issue at the time with students having trouble getting rental space in Kelowna,” Boesem says. “It was sort of old, conservative renters and they didn’t want to rent to anybody who was even vaguely or borderline suspicious in any way, shape, or form, and one of the things that came up was that a lot of people were refusing to rent to single women especially, unless they had a man cosign, and especially not single mothers, because they were sort of, you know, ‘scarlet women,’ and they couldn’t be trusted to look after their rent every month. And so I did a story about this woman who had been sleeping in her Volkswagen beetle for the first two months of school with her son because nobody would rent to her.”
Today Boesem lives in Vancouver where he works as an illustrator and non fiction writer. He is currently working on a history book about Canada’s first comic book publisher.