Upstream got its start with a notice posted at the Ottawa Women’s Centre in January 1976 . Seven women showed up to the first planning meeting. They agreed on the need for a women’s newspaper to link up different groups and organizations in the city and, more importantly, to reach out to a general audience about issues and events that would help raise awareness and swell the ranks of the women’s movement.
The sisters who produced the very first issue in 1976 had it right:
“Putting out this first issue has been full of surprises for all of us for although we realized there is a huge amount of news about women not covered consistently in the daily press, we have found the number of events and issues beyond our wildest expectation. We have discovered while reporting that those who say the women’s movement is dead are way off course. Women are moving out and broadening the degree of their involvement in this society every day.”
The first issue appeared in October 1976 with front-page coverage of the Canadian Labour Congress national day of protest against wage controls. Covering women at work and in the labour movement remained a focus, not without internal controversy, for the next four years. Publication ceased in July 1980.
Initial plans for an Ottawa women’s publication were ambitious. With forty active volunteers, it seemed possible to produce a bi-weekly paper with news, arts, and sports coverage along with columns on the law, and on women’s physical and mental health. After five issues, it was clearly unrealistic, and Upstream shifted to a monthly publishing schedule. In late 1977, the collective decided to become a national publication in order to expand both the subscription and advertising base.
Over four years, so many women came through the doors and learned about writing, design, layout, working in a collective, politics inside and outside the women’s movement, running a small business, and much more. With support from the Secretary of State Women’s Programme, Upstream Typesetting was established to create a source of revenue and jobs for the paper, which continued to rely on a combination of meagre advertising and subscription revenue, government funding, and mostly, volunteer labour.
With so much energy spent on just getting the job done, there was little time to sharpen the editorial focus or collective decision-making process. Eventually, the flame burned out. The collective reported regularly to readers on its own progress and, in the final issue in 1980, explained the reasons for ceasing publishing. That final issue also listed other Canadian feminist newspapers, newsletters, arts and academic journals, both English and French – a grand total of 22 at that time.
Pat Daley, Upstream collective member, 1976-1980