Although it has been 25 years since Melva Armstrong started her very own wellness journal publication, her eyes twinkle and her smile is wide when she talks about her work and the reasons she still loves what she is doing.
During an interview at her beautiful, sun-filled farmhouse just outside of Kamsack, Armstrong explained to the Kamsack Times how the idea came about to independently produce a free magazine that promotes whole and healthy lifestyles in Saskatchewan.
“I was in Edmonton on holidays in December of1994,” recalled Armstrong. “I stopped in at a consignment shop on Whyte Avenue – which was a funky little street in those days. I noticed a stand with free lifestyle publications. As I was flipping through an issue – I believe it was called ‘Life Rhythms’ – I heard a little voice say…we don’t have anything like this in Saskatoon.”
Prior to this, in the 1980s, Armstrong had been deeply influenced by author and public speaker, Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, who had co-founded Attitudinal Healing International along with his wife, Dr. Diane V. Cirincione-Jampolsky. According to his biography, Dr. Jampolsky devoted his life to service, helping individuals and groups transform their attitudes in order to achieve inner peace and well-being. Armstrong said that reading his book, Love Is Letting Go of Fear was life-changing for her.
When she mentioned the idea of starting her own wellness magazine, her friends were encouraging, including one friend, Brian, was a graphic designer. His talents would come in handy when he helped Armstrong realize her vision of a masthead logo design that would represent her brand for decades to follow. Armstrong said coming up with the name was a lot of fun. She settled on WHOLifE, with capitalization emphasizing the combination and overlap of the two words.
Armstrong began researching and calling the editors of existing health and wellness publications in Vancouver, Penticton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Nova Scotia, and Toronto. To her surprise, each of those editors had no problem answering her questions and offering advice.
In just a few months, she had done enough research and solicited enough preliminary advertising support to publish her first issue. The May-June 1995 publication was created on a small Mac computer in the days of floppy disks. The first run consisted of 5,000 copies of 16 pages – with one colour on eight pages. Armstrong said that in comparing costs and revenue, the first issue just managed to break even.
“I have worked with several different printers over the years,” explained Armstrong. “I am very happy with the print quality now, but that has not always been the case. At the beginning, I was working with a company that did cold press [printing]. The end result was just so dirty. The ink would come off on your fingers and make a mess everywhere. We now use ultraviolet ink, which doesn’t come off like that. Every page of the 32-page pony-tab layout has full colour now, with rich, deep blacks.”
WHOLifE Journal is currently printed by Derksen Printers in Steinbach, Man. Three skids of the freshly produced magazines are then shipped overnight from Winnipeg to Saskatoon by truck with one skid then shipped to Regina. A delivery driver handles dispersing the magazines in Regina, while Armstrong herself splits the distribution for Saskatoon with another driver. The whole process can take up to a week to get hot-off-the-press copies on to shelves at over 300 locations throughout the province. Armstrong’s distribution plan identifies a niche market that circulates in places like health food stores, bookstores, cafes and restaurants, health centres and clinics, chiropractic and massage clinics, art galleries, professional offices, libraries, universities, theatres, record stores, eco stores, and spiritual organizations. Armstrong recalls 2009 as being one of the best years for her business and says WHOLifE has enjoyed publication numbers as high as 18,000 copies.
With her own talent and a degree in creative writing, Armstrong contributes an editor’s message to each issue. While she has rejected the idea of using themes in her publications, she consistently aims for an equal balance of content that represents body, mind, spirit, and the environment. Although Armstrong does not have an editorial budget for the writers who contribute to the journal, she fulfills her vision of giving a platform to alternative thinkers and innovators. Revenue is sourced through advertisements that can effectively reach target markets through Armstrong’s custom distribution model.
A number of Saskatchewan businesses have been involved with the publication since the magazines’ conception. Long-time contributors include Michael Stodola – a retired businessman from the Saskatoon area who has been researching holistic methodologies for many years. Atlantis 2000 is described as a new age store in Saskatoon that carries books, crystals, music, tarot cards, and incense. Astrologist, Samantha Kane-Kennedy offers what she describes as caring, in-depth consultations. The Tinfoil Hat Lady is the creator of Tinfoil Therapies using vocal resonance, healing sound, body inversion or Reiki. Sephira Healing with Pam Fichtner in Saskatoon, Argyle Natural Health in Regina, Choice Nutrition in Saskatoon and Melfort, Eckankar Saskatchewan, and Kellie Welk’s Earth Beat Drums near Saskatoon are all long-time contributors.
Armstrong says the ultimate goal of her work is to be of service to others, helping readers reach the common goal of good health and wellbeing. She admits that she is surprised that the publication has lasted so long.
“When we made it to 20 years, I thought, hey – cool! Now we’ve gone five more years and all I can say is…wow!”
Although COVID-19 has taken away the opportunity to schmooze and network with like-minded people in her delivery network, Armstrong still manages to accumulate enough content to keep up with publishing six issues per year with no indication of an end in sight. She says there are times when she doesn’t know if it will all come together, but she has learned to rely on her faith in those times.
“I just pray for help,” Armstrong admits with a grin. “And somehow, things always just seem to work out in the end.”