Monday, December 5, 2011

All the news that's fit to reprint

The defunct Abbotsford Post boasted an ornate flag featuring the bounty of the Fraser Valley. The Post is one of 24 titles, with 45,000 pages, now made available online for free by the University of British Columbia Library.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 11, 2011

A large, noisy crowd filled the street in front of the train station at Grand Forks, pressing onto the platform to salute men off to war.

It was a fine Sunday in August. Fifteen local sharpshooters had volunteered to go to the front to fight Germany in a war declared earlier in the month.

One of the older volunteers was Lawrence Green, a swarthy, 36-year-old married man, a butcher by trade, whose black hair was already turning grey.

A band played patriotic songs. The crowd “lustily cheered the volunteers and hoped that everyone of them would return a general, or at least a colonel,” reported the local newspaper. As the train pulled away, the sound of three “hip hip hoorays” echoed along the tracks.

It was 1914 and few anticipated the four years of carnage and savagery about to ensue.

Mr. Green would return only as a name on a grey granite cenotaph.

The war in which he lost his life was supposed to be the war to end all wars. As we gather Friday on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a Remembrance Day founded a year after the armistice ending what we now call the First World War, it is a time to reflect on the lives of those who never returned from battle.

The story of the unfortunate butcher can be found in the pages of the Grand Forks Sun and Kettle Valley Orchardist, a weekly newspaper that folded soon after the end of the war.

The Grand Forks paper and 23 other defunct titles have been made available online for free beginning this week. Some 45,000 pages, dating from colonial days to the Jazz Age, have been digitized by the University of British Columbia Library.

The newspapers carry names from the province’s distant past — from the Bella Coola Courier to the Boundary Creek Times, from the Kootenay Mail to the Nelson Economist.

Many carried in their names the lure that brought men from afar to a hinterland — the Atlin Claim and the Nelson Miner; the Mining Review of Sandon and The Prospector of Fort Steele.

These are forgotten voices from the past, ghost newspapers from ghost towns.

The papers are a treasure trove for historians, researchers, and genealogists.

“They’re addictive,” said Bob McDonald, an associate history professor at the university. “For many of these newspapers, I didn’t even know they existed.”

Mr. McDonald, 67, who plans to retire next year, is using the newspapers for some additional research on a political history of the province. His earlier book, Making Vancouver, was shortlisted for the Vancouver Book Award in 1996.

Some of the newspapers display spectacular Page One logos, known in the business as the flag, or nameplate. These can be a publicist’s fantasy, or chamber-of-commerce boosterism.

The logo of a 1913 edition of the Bella Coola Courier depicts a steam engine rolling along the valley.

The Abbotsford Post logo shows a bounty of strawberries, peaches and cherries flanked on one side by a pastoral farm scene of cows contentedly grazing and on the other by a smoke-belching factory, all entwined by a grape vine.

The professor found himself drawn to the pages of the Phoenix Pioneer and Boundary Mining Journal, a publication for a settlement that disappears from the map. Phoenix was a boom town that went bust.

On Aug. 12, 1910, the offices of the newspaper burned down, as did much of the town. A new edition did not appear until five weeks later. The editor declared a loss of $3,000.
The paper returned with a dramatic account of the fire, which started at 4 p.m. in the oil house of a tunnel of the copper mine. A brisk breeze carried sparks and cinders to the lower streets. Soon, the school, a livery stable, and the Pioneer’s printing office, as well as the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, were aflame.

“All the buildings being frame they were eaten up like matchwood by the fire and the heat was terrific,” the newspaper reported.

The newspaper needed a full month before a new press could be acquired. The publisher announced his ledger books had been consumed in the conflagration. He asked readers, especially those in arrears, to pay up their subscriptions.

“There are times even in business life,” wrote T. Alfred Love, “when a $2 bill will do more for a person than a five-spot will accomplish when the cash drawer is full, and the Pioneer is now in a position to appreciate this.”

The paper sputtered along for another six years before a new publisher called it quits. “Too long have we fed upon husks,” he wrote in a bitter farewell editorial calling on those “delinquents on our books” to pay up.

Hard to make a buck in the journalism business? Some things never change.

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