An illustration of a gaggle of Briarpatch community members: someone wearing a sasquatch costume, people holding cameras, ice skates, a baby, a receipt, and a stack of magazines.

Paterson Hodgson

The people’s magazine

Briarpatch has always punched above its weight while barely scraping by – former editor Clare Powell called Briarpatch a “champagne magazine on a beer budget.” Though we’ve gotten government grants and ad revenue over the years, we’ve also seen those snatched away when our journalism hit too close to home. So we’ve learned to rely on our readers, who are our most consistent source of support. They’re the ones who donate because of our radical politics, not despite them. 

Here are some of the funny, strange, and dogged ways that Briarpatch’s community has helped keep us afloat over the years. 

An illustration of the Briarpatch office, full of books, boxes, computers, and with a grain silo outside the window.

Briarpatch started as a poor people’s newsletter in 1971. Co-founder Maria Fischer remembers the early years of scraping together $300 a month to print Notes from the Briar Patch on a Gestetner duplicating machine at the Saskatoon Community Clinic: “Donations of dollars and fivers came in, a unionist came with a handful of stamps, letters with some quarters taped to them arrived, while other people donated packages of Gestetner paper. People from all over the province encouraged our project.”

In 1979 the Saskatchewan government cancelled Briarpatch’s $54,000 annual grant in the midst of the magazine’s fierce criticisms of uranium mining. It could have been a fatal blow – but our readers rallied to keep the magazine alive.

An illustration of a cluster of empty bottles, with one tipped over.

George Manz, a former editor, recalls that in the 1980s and ’90s, volunteers organized garage sales and bottle drives, collecting empties and bringing them to the recycling depot for a few bucks. Each garage sale or bottle drive brought in about $1,000.

Readers sent in cheques…

Letter from Cindy M., September 10, 1996
Dear folks, 
Please find enclosed a cheque for $100.00. We sold some of our cattle a few weeks ago and didn’t receive too bad a price for them. So thought we would pass some of our good fortune on.

An illustration of a farmer, wearing galoshes, reading an issue of Briarpatch. Behind them is a cow who is looking curiously at the magazine.

…which kept coming even after we lost our status as a charity in 1996. In the midst of our criticisms of Grant Devine’s provincial Conservatives, Revenue Canada audited us and decided that the magazine no longer fit their criteria for a charitable organization. 

Letter from Bob C., February 12, 1997, along with a $100 donation
That loss of certification doesn’t bother me personally – most of the things I support are not certified by the gov’t. (If they agreed with me entirely, I’d be very uneasy!) Nevertheless, they are both stupid and dishonest, in about equal proportion. Hey, if they weren’t, [...] we might not need Briarpatch (or food banks, or…). I’m with you.

They donated furniture…

Note from Jim H., undated
About the table: this is a family antique, so please protect it. I’m not sure who sanded down the corner.

…and renewed their subscriptions, rain or shine:

Letter from a reader, unsigned, September 10, 1996
I’m renewing because Briarpatch is an institution, but I don’t really enjoy it.

Am illustration of a person looking frustrated, scrawling a letter in the dark under a burnt-out lightbulb.

Victoria I., response to a renewal notice, February 15, 2012
This is the 18–20th reminder I’m going thru today [...] you’re the first I’ve answered – I’m out of lightbulbs – and they nixed my drivers license long time ago. Also all my credit cards were stolen when I fell asleep in the park walking home from the hospital. I did not renew them. [...] I enjoyed the Briarpatch – I read most of it this a.m. All the best and keep going.

Over the years we’ve held benefit dances and concerts, fundraiser dinners, comedy shows, kitchen parties, and art auctions… 

Letter from Bob B., May 19, 1998
Please find enclosed my tickets for Briarpatch annual art raffle and my cheque to cover same. You were right when you said that selling tickets appeals to me about as much as voting for Preston Manning, therefore I bought all the tickets myself. I hope I win.

…and at the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour convention every other October, Briarpatch holds a Halloween karaoke fundraiser that we like to call “scary-oke.”

Former editor Valerie Zink recalls one such event: 

“People would drink a lot. We tallied up the drinks sold once, and if my memory serves me correctly, it was an average of 11 per person. One year, this big guy – a union member, absolutely hammered – got up on stage and started to sing Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire.’ He had the perfect baritone voice for it. About halfway through the song, he sang himself right off the stage, and the thud as he hit the floorboards below resonated throughout the entire hall. There were about four full seconds of dead silence before all the women rushed to his side to see how badly he was hurt. As he gradually collected himself and managed to sit upright, there were prolonged negotiations as people pleaded with him to go to the hospital to be assessed for a head injury. In the end, he struck a deal – he would go, so long as he was allowed to finish his song first.”

An illustration of a man singing karaoke on a stage. He is hiccupping and appears to be about to topple forward, into a crowd of people dressed in halloween costumes. A person in the crowd dressed as a vampire says

In 1993, we started the annual Briarpatch swim-a-thon, and swimmers in Regina asked their friends and family to pledge them to take a dip at the local YMCA. Donors could pledge extra for a silly lap – which meant swimmers did laps wearing high heels, singing opera, and fully clothed. One year, then-editor Tanya Andrusieczko even taught herself how to swim just to participate in the swim-a-thon!

In recent years, while it hasn’t been safe to gather inside, we changed the swim-a-thon to an outdoor skate-a-thon. Last year, despite the ongoing pandemic, we ran skate-a-thons in more cities than ever before: supporters took to the ice in Regina, Edmonton, Toronto, and on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. 

Here in Canada, runaway media consolidation means that a small handful of billionaires own and finance most of our media – and as a result, those outlets publish journalism that has the interests of bosses, landlords, and CEOs in mind. 

At Briarpatch, we do things differently: we make media by and for the many, not the few. It’s taken thousands of people giving what they can – quarters, stamps, bottles, artwork, tables, and more – to keep this magazine going for 50 years. That funding model allows our magazine to tell different stories: stories about ordinary people pitching in to help change their communities … and the world. 

Thank you to you – our readers, and our community – for helping us reach our 50th anniversary.

An illustration of a gaggle of Briarpatch community members: someone wearing a sasquatch costume, people holding cameras, ice skates, a baby, a receipt, and a stack of magazines.

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