As the world came to a standstill two years ago, they sat unread on dusty newsstands in empty restaurants and grocery stores.
Chinese-language newspapers, vital to the community, became largely inaccessible during the pandemic as people were restricted from visiting the places where they were distributed.
It's part of why Canada's largest Chinese-language daily newspaper, Sing Tao Daily, has stopped printing across the country. After 44 years of circulating in Canada, its last publication date is on Saturday.
"The Chinese newspaper is really, really important to a lot of my members, seniors," said Liza Chan, executive director of the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens' Association. "It's a big hit to Calgary."
It's a trend throughout Canada's Chinese media landscape.
In Calgary, a number of other Chinese-language newspapers stopped printing due to impacts from the pandemic, leaving just one locally-printed newspaper to inform the Chinese community — especially seniors who don't typically get their news online.
Pandemic changed readership patterns
Originating in Hong Kong, Sing Tao Daily was distributed throughout Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. The daily newspaper stopped circulating in Calgary in 2016, but its weekly publications — Canadian City Post and Sing Tao Cosmopolitan — are also ending their physical editions on Saturday.
While some Sing Tao readership returned after restrictions were lifted, Wong says it didn't bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, which were already declining.
"We are noticing the change of the public in consuming their daily information and news," said Wong. "We think that it is the right timing to change and move on to a new phase."
It's the same situation for Trend Media, formerly known as Trend Weekly. It used to be a free weekly magazine before it stopped printing and transitioned completely to an online platform in August.
"With the pandemic, more people in some ways are relying on information online right now. So less and less people are really paying much attention to the printed copies," said publisher Danny Chan.
Chan says the high costs of printing were also a major factor, especially with a reduction in readers. He says all of the publication's income would go to printing.
"I think the newspaper printing business is going all the way downhill right now because we can hardly make enough money to cover the printing costs," he said.
He was also seeing a decrease in willing advertisers — the publication's main revenue source. Most advertisers target readers under the age of 50 and now spend their money on online promotions, says Chan.
"Most of the readers of the paper publication are elderly. They don't have that kind of spending power."
Both Trend Media and Sing Tao will continue to publish e-books online.
Other local newspapers in Calgary, such as Oriental Weekly, mention on their websites that they stopped printing indefinitely during the pandemic.
Chinese seniors left behind
As much of the world shifted online during the pandemic, Wong says seniors have become more technologically savvy and can learn how to find the news online.
But Liza Chan says that isn't the case with the seniors she works with at the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens' Association.
"There's still a lot of seniors [who are] not able to access a computer or don't have the ability to do it," she said.
She says routine is important for seniors, and reading the Chinese newspaper each week is a big part of their routines — namely, Sing Tao's weekly publications and Trend Weekly. But now, those are no longer an option.
A couple of other international newspapers are still distributed in Calgary, including Vision Times and Epoch Times, but there's now only one locally printed Chinese newspaper in Calgary that seniors can rely on.
It's limiting for seniors, says Chan, because that one option is in higher demand.
"When you have three different kinds, you can still get one maybe out of the three. But now you might not get any," she said.
Last locally printed Chinese newspaper
The Canadian Chinese Times was the first local Chinese-language newspaper created in Calgary, back in 1981. Now, it's the last one standing.
"It's sad, actually," said Jake Louie, publisher of the Canadian Chinese Times. "We don't mind competition at all because that will give readers and the community more choices."
"Now, we're the only one left. So it's kind of a feeling of loneliness, you know, in a way."
The weekly newspaper, published on Thursdays, is targeted toward Chinese seniors and new immigrants who want to learn about the Canadian way of life and stay informed about what's going on in Calgary.
About 12,000 copies are printed each week and distributed to more than 60 locations throughout the city. As the last Chinese newspaper standing, Louie says demand has soared.
"Our paper is going like hotcakes," said Louie.
He says they once considered shifting to an online-only platform due to soaring printing costs and a decrease in advertisements. But when they asked readers their thoughts, the feedback was almost unanimous.
"'No, I don't know how to go online and I don't have a computer. We really need physical printing papers so that we can get the information there.'"
Tony Wong, president of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, says Chinese newspapers play an important role in the community's daily lives.
Reading the newspaper with his family every Thursday and Friday has become a ritual, he says. Not only does it help him stay informed about events in the community, but his wife searches advertisements for the best promotions and sales to share with her sisters.
That didn't change during the pandemic. Instead, in the early days, his wife would make sure he wore gloves to pick up the newspaper. She would also spray his hands and the paper with disinfectant.
"I just pray that the Canadian Chinese Times will remain in print for many years to come. Otherwise, a lot of our lives will be in jeopardy," he said.
Chan says she hopes the Canadian Chinese Times will consider printing more copies as demand increases so no Chinese Calgarians lose touch with the community.