Five years later, Jonathan Gatehouse reflects on ‘Canada’s worst neighbourhood’
Five years ago, Jonathan Gatehouse published the notorious Macleans article “Canada’s worst neighbourhood”, pointing out the shocking state of North Central. Now that the self-proclaimed “most hated man in Regina” has had time away from the article that started it all, what better time to re-live it all than the fifth anniversary?
The Carillon: Why did you choose North Central, out of all the bad neighbourhoods in Canada, to write about?
Jonathan Gatehouse: We looked at a bunch of different indices and stats, and I think what caught our attention about North Central [was] that it was all the bad things that could happen in a neighbourhood concentrated into a package. It wasn’t that Regina had a crime problem; it was two neighbourhoods in Regina had a crime problem. Almost all the murders that happened that year were in North Central or the adjoining neighbourhood. Poverty wasn’t a Regina-wide problem; it was a single-neighbourhood-in-Regina problem. These are all the things that started to make it clear to us that this was a place with a particular problem.
JG: I got a few nice phone calls and e-mails. A lot of them were from Aboriginal Canadians; as you might suspect are more in-tune to the problems in that area, and they said that I had done the neighbourhood a service by highlighting them all. To be fair, I did get a lot of flak as well.
TC: Did you ever talk with Mayor Pat Fiacco after the piece was published?
JG: Yes, I talked with Pat. I think he was the one that was calling me chickenshit on the front page of the newspaper. I also called up the Leader-Post, at a certain point, after they ran the 10th story on the front page saying what a crappy story it was, and I spoke to the editor-in-chief there at the time. I said to her, “Fair enough, thanks for keeping it in the news and drawing attention to it, but maybe if you’re going to have people calling me chickenshit on the front page you could give me a phone call and a chance to respond.” She said, “Oh yes, we’ll do that,” but she never did.
As for Pat, a colleague of mine, Colin Campbell, was sent out to do a follow-up. They didn’t send me, because it would be like waving a red flag. Poor Colin caught a lot of the brunt of it. I know he got ambushed; he went to meet the Mayor and some public people and it turned out to be basically a public meeting with people there with their pitchforks and torches and stuff.
There was a comment passed onto me from Pat saying I was lucky I didn’t show up or something. So I called him and said, “You know I am not hiding.” We had a frank phone conversation after that, and it was fine.
TC: Do you regret anything that was in the article?
JG: I don’t regret anything in the article. I regret that the people that were kind enough to help me out felt betrayed by it. I know the woman who was head of the community association – she called the neighbourhood “Third World” – was very upset [with] her name being associated with that quote, but she said it. I felt badly for her, but I don’t regret having done it – it was accurate.
TC: Did the people you interviewed know the angle of your story?
JG: The angle was pretty clear; we were talking about a neighbourhood with severe problems, and I was trying to quantify the problems and find out what people were doing about them. I think it’s fair to say that it’s the headline that got most people upset. Nobody ever disputed a single figure or fact that was in it. It was just that everybody was upset about the tone or the headline. I always felt that that was shooting the messenger and a slightly weird response. Everybody acknowledges this neighbourhood has severe problems and you’re more worried about how a magazine has damaged your civic pride, never mind that you have people dying and living in poverty and a huge AIDS and drug-use epidemic.
TC: Did you like the headline?
JG: We had a talk about it and weighed the pros and cons, both of which were kind of obvious to us. It was an inflammatory headline; it was one that was designed to draw attention. It certainly worked. We also knew that when you declare something the worst neighbourhood or the worst anything, people are going to be pretty upset with you.
TC: Is this a memorable story for you?
JG: I have written hundreds and hundreds of stories in my career and this one would certainly be in the top couple for the controversy it caused and reaction it got. You have to remember the reaction it got was not national. It was quite concentrated to one province, even one city. I don’t think people in Saskatoon were so upset that I called a neighbourhood in Regina the worst in Canada. It’s funny how it’s lived on.