Looking back, to late 1995, it might not have been the best moment to take a job as news editor at the Montreal alternative newsweekly, Hour. It was a week after the referendum on sovereignty, and the small but feisty gang of anglo writers and editors at Hour were feeling the stress in a workplace dominated by the much larger and older French-language publication, Voir, whose owners had founded Hour only two years before.

Aside from the general hostility that Jacques Parizeau had helped whip up by blaming the narrow Oui loss on “money and the ethnic vote” (the latter meaning anyone non-francophone), working for an anglophone cultural product in those uncertain days was far from a secure career move. It was widely assumed that a second referendum would soon follow, and that a massive exodus of the kinds of folks who read the paper and patronized its advertisers would be inevitable. At least, that was the gloomy analysis that pervaded most English media in Canada back then.

But we were young, we had nothing to lose and besides, it was cheap to live in economically ravaged Montreal. Many other creative types from across the country were here taking advantage of the rock-bottom rents, low tuition and the fin-de-siècle atmosphere that fed what would soon become a thriving alternative culture in the arts, music and politics. A culture that eventually won Montreal international notice and acclaim. And at Hour, we were right at the centre of it, growing with a new community, nurturing and being nurtured by it.

If I indulge my rose-coloured nostalgia it’s because, this week, the Hour magazine that Montreal has known for 18 years is disappearing. Its owner, Communications Voir, is dismissing its longtime staff and replacing the paper with something it hopes to produce for next to nothing using what is euphemistically called “user-generated content.” For all intents and purposes, however, the newsweekly, at which legions of talented and accomplished people got their start or really gained a public profile, is dead.

And that’s cause for sadness and alarm, not only for the people who worked there. What, I wonder, does it mean for the cultural types and their events and their politics that were first covered in Hour’s pages, and often nowhere else?

It’s an important question, because if Arcade Fire is today a Grammy winner, it’s because there was a vibrant musical community in which they could grow, feed off and try out their original ideas. Some of the dancers we covered are now running their own internationally celebrated company in New York City. Many of the issues that we wrote about then and were snubbed by others as radical and marginal are now part of the mainstream dialogue. People looked to us, and other alternative papers around North America, as a place to find identity and information and new ways of thinking.

When I look at the people who worked at the paper since 1993, I find incredibly successful talented people who have gone on to build amazing careers. Hour alumni are award-winning journalists at top newspapers and electronic media. They have responded to other callings, in science, academia or activism, that was nurtured by the kind of creative pressure that Hour placed on the people who produced it. In talking about this piece with a former editor, we agreed to draw up a list of Hour grads and tag them with a “where-are-they-now” bio. It will be impressive.

Some would say we were a victim of own success. Indeed, the Montreal neighbourhood where much of this cultural ferment was concentrated – Plateau Mont-Royal – soon became unaffordable for the typical penniless artists and activists who had nothing to lose in pushing the envelope in the 1990s. That may have been predictable, as waves of gentrification in other cities have always invaded the neighbourhoods that produced cutting-edge communities. But now, even the bar the Hour folk and friends patronized has rejected its past and the staff that made it such a great place to hang and have a beer or several.

Less foreseeable was the way new communications technology and social media would make the basic formula of “alternative” pretty much obsolete. Now any tiny grouping of interest can establish its own media centre and forum for next to free. Waiting for a once-a-week paper, even a daily, that features a forever-decreasing amount of original content is, we know now, a certain recipe for decline and failure.

So was Hour’s death inevitable? Not at all. At the end its depleted and overworked staff struggled valiantly against owner-imposed handicaps to maintain a quality paper that never stopped being a great read. Evolution was necessary, sure. But continued investment in the basic product to ensure it mattered to its readers and the wider community is a crucial element of a business like this. And that’s where its owners failed, indeed abdicated their responsibility for an important cultural force. It leaves a sour, ironic taste in my mouth that they are naming the bland and apparently employee-free replacement “Hour Community.” Because they abandoned the community Hour helped create.

That’s why I am so happy that a small publication like the Nation, which, like the Hour, serves a special, specific community and culture, continues to thrive, despite occasional challenges. It proves that print is not dead. So I mourn the passing of an era, but I am proud to have been a part of a project and a group of people that made a difference in our city, our culture and our politics.