Shelley Fralic started at The Vancouver Sun as a reporter in 1979. She moved up the management ranks, eventually becoming executive editor. Today, she is a columnist for the paper, producing a funny, poignant, enlightening and, sometimes, fiery column that tackles everything from pop culture to social issues.
Along with an esteemed resume, Fralic also happens to be a New Westie, complete with a heritage home and long-held ties to her Moody Park neighbourhood, where she raised her two children.
Fralic shares with Record readers - in her characteristically frank and engaging way (honestly, I could listen to her talk for hours) - about what brought her here, why she loves New West and what she'd like to see change.
You've opened your doors for New West's annual Heritage Home Tour several times over the years. What it's like to have thousands of people saunter through your house?
It's terrific. I've done it for five years. I bought the house in 1988, and I think we did it the first year in '89.
It's a very interesting thing because basically it's having 2,000 people over at your house on a Sunday afternoon, but I did it for a lot of reasons.
The chief was in the heritage aspect of it because, of course, in the '80s in New Westminster, they were tearing down all of the heritage houses, and I have an affection for all things old, and my house is 100 years old this year.
I felt it was important then and now to continue trying to get out the message that so much a part of a place is its history, and we need to be careful about preserving it and celebrating it.
I think a part of New Westminster's attraction and appeal is its historical roots. So whatever I could do to help. (Money raised by the tour helps promote heritage restoration in New West.)
How do you live with just one washroom? Kidding, but really, what do you love about living in a 100-year-old house?
I love the challenges. The floors creak. I love it. It's a built-in burglary alarm system. It's built with such attention to detail and craftsmanship. It's standing true and straight, every angle as it was 100 years ago.
What brought you to New West?
Affordability. My husband and I were looking. I didn't want to cross a body of water - whether that was the North Shore, Richmond or Surrey, no bodies of water, and so East Vancouver or New Westminster were really the only places we could afford, and I just loved the old houses (here).
You know what, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd stay right here. I'd buy an apartment in New York, but I'd stay right here.
You've been in the newspaper business for five decades. There have been so many changes. Do you see newspapers surviving?
Yes. I'm an optimist. I think there will always be a place for newspapers. Of course, like everything else, they evolve, and they're certainly evolving now.
Probably in the last decade they've evolved and changed more than ever before, and certainly the challenges with social media and the Internet have been profound for newspapers.
Even as newspapers are struggling right now to hang on to readership and what they had, there's still no other media source on the planet, I believe, that continues to have the integrity and continues to have the reputation as a really good metro daily newspaper, and I think the Sun has that.
I also think as social media continues to fragment and becomes more and more kind of a Wild West, I think that in the eye of that hurricane, the newspaper is still seen as something trustworthy.
Your recent column on visiting Disneyland with grandchildren made me tear up. What do you like most about being a grandma?
When you become a grandparent there are two things that go on. It's a completely different level of love. It sounds sappy, but you've never experienced it before.
It's not like love for a parent or a kid or a puppy. It's totally different and like nothing you've ever experienced. It's unbelievable, and you sort of get to do it all over again.
You get to think, "I'm going to teach this one this because I didn't teach her mom to do it." It's amazing, and you get to send them home at the end of the day, which all grandparents say.
How does it feel when readers argue with your opinions?
I love it. The whole purpose of a newspaper is to not only reflect, inform and entertain, but it's to spark debate and get people thinking. I write a really sort of wide variety of columns.
I write a lot of pop culture, a lot of soft features, but then I can do something on abortion. So, I'm sort of all over the map. I get a lot of response from readers, which I love. I answer every single email, and I love engaging in debate, and people argue with me all of the time.
You've tackled some touchy topics, like abortion. Are there any topics that you won't touch?
No, and I've never ever been told not to touch anything.
I once said Paul McCartney needed to stop singing because he was fantastic and I loved The Beatles, but his voice was going, and you know what? I got death threats. Seriously.
Have you always had thick skin?
Do you think it develops over the years?
Yes. For a period of time, and I still get them, I get a lot of people, when they disagree with me, calling me fat and ugly, and for a long period I was a lot heavier than I am now, and that was really interesting.
You know how I dealt with that? - I answered them all, and I'm very polite, "thank you for your comment, blah, blah, blah," but I wrote a column and I quoted all of them. And I said this is the level of debate now.
It's not about the topic we are discussing; it's about attacking me personally.
Back in the day, they wrote letters, so by the time you sat down and wrote a letter, you kind of had second thoughts about putting a stamp on and mailing it. Because of course now - as you know I'm sure - boom, they send it off with all the misspelling, swearing, calling you names. It has nothing to do with the topic at hand. So I used that, and I wrote a column about it.
If you were a man, do you think you have those kinds of attacks?
No, but different kinds of attacks.
You occasionally write about food. Last meal, what would you choose?
I did a column on this. I would choose a rare rib-eye with a good char. I would choose fresh raspberries with crème fraîche on the side and crunchy green beans. I would choose the biggest dish of the freshest coconut ice cream I can find.
I'm not a drinker, but I'd probably have a nice, ice-cold martini with fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice.
What do you love about New West?
I think the small-townness of it. Period. It's big enough that not everybody knows your business, but it's small enough that people talk to each other and it's friendly. I come to Starbucks almost every morning. It's sort of my kitchen, and I don't even say anything.
They just make my drink, and I sit down, I feel like I'm living in a small town surrounded by this incredibly beautiful metropolis. I love that it's on a river.
What would you change?
Two things. I would ask the city and the law enforcement to clean up the streets of all of the crackheads. - There's not that many.
There's about 100 people in this town who defile the town because they're crackheads, and I have no sympathy for that. So that's what I would change.
I would ask them to be very careful about losing the heritage, and I'm not anti-development at all.
I think they should develop the be-Jesus out of that riverfront. Just take down that frigging parkade and have access to the public.
I think that waterfront - now it's owned federally a lot of it, so they can't really do anything, but, you know what? Do something with it.
Take down that frigging parkade for starters and put some lovely parks and housing and shops.
I love what they are doing with River Market. Thirty-five years or 40 years ago, it was a farmers' market, and my mother used to sell her knit sweaters down there, and we'd go down every weekend. It was great.
It's great now. My concern: Is it going to be able to sustain itself?