This undated typescript was probably written for the Perth Historical and Antiquarian Society, and the content shows it was written before 1898.
The history of newspaper enterprise in Perth, covering as it does a period of nearly seventy years, should possess considerable interest for anyone who is tracing the beginning and growth of local institutions. Among such institutions in any community, the newspaper must occupy a prominent place. If journalism were merely or chiefly a commercial enterprise, it would not be without interest nor outside the scope of the work of our Society to trace its development in our Town, especially when such an investigation carries us back to a comparatively early period in local history.
But when it is considered that the newspaper on the one hand, plays a part in the education of any community in giving information and moulding public opinion and is, on the other hand, an invaluable record of contemporary conditions and events, there is perhaps a double reason why some account of its history in our own Town should interest a Society whose main purpose is the investigation of facts regarding early institutions and early conditions.
Although Perth was settled first about the year 1817, no attempt to found a newspaper appears to have been made during the first decade of its history. This is but natural, considering the difficulties which inevitably fall to the lot of the first settlers in any community, and the consequent lack of leisure for attention to those features of our civilized life which are less essential in pioneer conditions, among which we may include the newspaper,
So far as I can learn, the first newspaper published in Perth was “The Independent Examiner“. Its first issue must belong to the year 1828, but the precise date of its appearance is uncertain. A copy of the paper of the date Aug. 28th. 1829. is in the possession of the Messrs Walker of the “Courier“, as well as one of the date Dec. 13th, 1828, which however, is somewhat fragmentary. The former contains an account of the trial and execution of the murderer Easby, whose crime was one of the sensations of the early days of the settlement.
The “Examiner” was established by William Tully, and was published for some time in a brick house by the river, where the Express Office now stands. Tully‘s connection with the paper lasted perhaps for a year or two, (I have been unable to get very definite information as to dates) when his interest in it was bought by John Stewart, who continued the publication of the paper in the same place. Stewart united with his journalistic duties those of a pedagogue as well, being at the time Master of the Grammar School, and apparently a man of considerable education and ability. His popularity in the community is evidenced by a reference to him in the “Courier” of Sept. 25th, 1835, in which an account is given of a farewell supper tendered him on the eve of his departure for Ireland, which was presumably his native sod. About this event the Editor somewhat quaintly says: “The meeting was unanimously attended, the utmost conviviality and decorum prevailed, and every member returned to his home fully satisfied with the entertainment and the uninterrupted flow of friendly feeling that predominated throughout the evening.”
Under Stewart’s management, the paper was published first in its original home by the river, afterwards in a frame house where Ferriers‘ Saddlery now stands, and later still in a brick house at the corner of North and Wilson Streets. In politics, the “Examiner” was Tory, representing probably the dominant political opinion in Perth at the time.
In what year the “Examiner” ceased publication I have not been able to learn, but there may have been an interval — perhaps of a year or two — between its last issue and the appearance of the “Bathurst Courier“. This paper was published by John Cameron (an elder brother of Hon. Malcolm Cameron), to whom it is probable that Stewart sold his printing plant after discontinuing the publication of the “Examiner“. Cameron published the “Courier” for a time, it would seem, in the red house on Craig Street, which plays so important a part in the early history of the settlement, and afterwards in the granite cottage on Drummond St. by the river, now occupied by Mr. Low. (This cottage, I am informed, had originally been a distillery and for several years prior to its occupancy by the “Courier” had been devoted to the interests of John Barleycorn. When still and vat made way for printing presses, a spirit more beneficent, it may be presumed, and no less potent, emanated from the place where Bacchus hitherto had been the presiding genius.)
The “Courier” appeared first in July or August, 1834. The files in the possession of the Messrs Walker, the present proprietors of the “Perth Courier“, are not complete, the issues which are missing being chiefly those of the first few months of the paper’s history. The first issue which I have been able to see is that of April 24th, 1835. The paper was then the property of Malcolm Cameron, his brother, who founded the paper, having died a short time before.
Under Malcolm Cameron‘s proprietorship, James Thompson, the present sheriff, first became connected with the “Courier“. He had learned the printing business in the office of “Le Courant” in Montreal, and came to Perth to act as foreman in the “Courier” office. Cameron apparently had little taste for newspaper work, for, a little more than a year after the first appearance of the “Courier” his connection with the paper terminated, and Mr. Thompson became both editor and proprietor. The first issue under the new management bears the date Sept. 18th, 1835. The editorial columns of this issue contain an article signed by the new proprietor, from which I shall quote a short extract. The editorial begins: “Every attempt to prolong the existence of a newspaper in the Town of Perth has hitherto proved fruitless, so that a failure is looked upon as the natural consequence of its commencement. Not withstanding this indisputable fact, the subscriber has determined to make an effort to save the district from the unmingled condemnation of those who are ready to raise the brand of inexpiable execration, to scar the fronts of our inhabitants for their lack of energy, pride, and spirit in not supporting a public newspaper with more promptness and liberality than they have yet done.” In spite of a certain exuberance in the editor’s rhetoric, the extract seems to indicate that the maintenance of a newspaper in the early days was a matter of considerable difficulty, and that the motives of the new proprietor in his venture were eminently laudable and public-spirited.
That newspaper enterprise at that time was beset with much the same difficulties as the members of the fourth estate have often to contend with today, may be inferred from an advertisement which appears in several issues of the “Courier” in the year 1836, and which is headed (rather ambiguously) “Lithany Notice”. It reads: — “Those Gentlemen who condescended to read the “Courier” from August 1834 to August 1835, or any part of that time, will oblige the subscriber by paying up during the ensuing month. (Signed) M. Cameron.” We are left in doubt whether the condescension of the gentlemen referred to made the desired response to this sarcastic invitation, but the advertisement may suggest a reason why Malcolm Cameron‘s connection with the “Courier” was so brief.
With the change of management in 1835, there was probably a certain change also in the politics of the “Courier.” As might be expected by anyone familiar with the career of “The barefoot boy of ’22”, the paper under the Cameron management had a pronounced Whig bias — an additional reason, perhaps, why in a community so strongly Tory as Perth was at the time, the proprietors found it hard to make their paper pay. While for the last half century or more, the political stripe of the “Courier” has been quite decided in hue, there seems to be some reason for thinking that in the early years of his proprietorship, the new Editor, Mr. Thompson, was, if not a Tory, hardly disposed to maintain the traditions of his predecessor. His opening editorial, from which I have already quoted, is a model of discreet vagueness. “We often hear“, says the editor, “our fellow citizens put this question to one another; “Will the new paper be of Whig or Tory principles?” To all these queries let one answer suffice; It shall be conducted on principles purely British.” The editor then goes on to disclaim both an ultra-Toryism and an ultra-Whiggism, but professes willingness to bear the honor or reproach of either name in so far as either is compatible with good citizenship and the avoidance of extremes, and, after thoroughly perplexing his readers in respect to his political bias, he concludes:- “Now, reader, of what complexion are our politics? You know not; Well, ’tis no matter. You will know before six months of our career have elapsed.” If not within the promised six months, yet before a year had passed, the political bias of the paper had made itself apparent. Cameron, when he presented himself for election in the autumn of 1836, did not receive the support of the “Courier“, and that after his election his course in Parliament did not commend itself to the management of his old paper, is abundantly evident from remarks in the editorial columns.
Five years later, at the election of 1841 for the Parliament of the United Provinces of Canada, when the representation of Lanark was contested by Messrs Powell and Cameron, the “Courier‘s” attitude seems to have been neutral, its columns being extensively used by both candidates for purposes of political controversy. Before very long however, the Reform government which had been returned to power, received the “Courier‘s” warm support, and from that time on it has steadily championed the principles of the Reform or Liberal party.
Later in the forties Mr. Thompson decided to study law, and Mr. Charles Rice, who had been connected with the “Courier” since 1835 in various capacities, became joint proprietor, and published the paper until Mr. Thompson was appointed Sheriff in January 1852, when the latter’s connection with the paper ceased. Mr. Rice, who was for the next ten years sole proprietor, had learned his business with Mr. Thompson, having been apprenticed to the latter when he first published the paper. During his apprenticeship, Mr. Rice tells me, his connection with the “Courier” nearly came to an abrupt conclusion. One summer afternoon when the proprietor had left his office and gone up street for a time, the rest of the staff consisting of two apprentices — each of them presumably a little “devil” — decided to have some amusement. So, embarking in a canoe that lay on the river-bank near by, they banished for the time gloomy care and the drudgery of an apprentice’s life, and for a couple of hours disported themselves on the pleasant waters of the Tay. On getting back they found that the inmate of the sanctum had returned, and had for some time been nursing his wrath in order that his wayward apprentices should not lack a sufficiently warm reception. Nor in fact did they. So warm was it that one of them — our present Clerk of the County Court, to use his own phrase “made tracks for home” as soon as he could escape, bearing upon his person certain evidences of the wrath of the irascible editor. When the smarting urchin had reached the paternal roof and exhibited his bruises, his father who was a rather formidable Irishman, measuring six feet three in his stockings, vowed vengeance and was for starting at once for Town, where it might have fared badly with the somewhat diminutive occupant of the Courier sanctum. Our future sheriff was, however, spared to us by the timely intervention of the apprentice’s mother, who in some measure soothed her irate husband and induced him to forego for the time being the satisfaction of “wringing the Editor’s neck”. Some days later, Mr. Thompson went out to the country and coaxed his erring apprentice to return, no doubt promising him more gentle treatment in the future. As a result Mr. Rice was saved to the journalistic profession, with which he was for so many years honorably connected.
After Mr. Thompson‘s withdrawal, Mr. Rice was proprietor of the paper until 1863, when, on being appointed to his present position, he abandoned journalism, selling out to Mr. Geo. Walker, a brother of the present proprietors. Mr. Walker had been engaged in the printing business in Napanee prior to his purchase of the “Courier” from Mr. Rice. His connection with the paper continued until his death in 1873, when his brothers, Messrs James and William Walker, the present proprietors, assumed its management. The “Courier” may well be proud of its history of more than six decades, during which time it has seen many vicissitudes, but has an honorable record to look back upon as the chief exponent of liberal principles in Lanark County.
It would be a matter for surprise if, in a Town in which from the time of the first settlement the Tory or Conservative element has as a rule strongly predominated, this party should have been without an exponent of its principles in the public press. I have already mentioned the fact that prior to 1840 or thereabouts, the Courier did not accord any hearty support to the Reform party and that its political leanings were rather to the other side. Its politics however, could not be called rabidly partisan, and its attitude during the stormy times which preceded the union of the provinces was eminently patriotic and such as to strongly antagonize neither party. When, however, after 1841, it gave an unequivocal support to the Reform government, it was but natural that its attitude should result in the publication of a rival newspaper.
The first attempt in this direction was made by Dawson Kerr, an uncle of the present Town Clerk. Of his venture, which was called “The Weekly Despatch“, I have not been able to see a copy, but references to it in the Courier (1842 – 1843) throw some little light on its history. It was issued first early in 1842. The first reference to it that I have met, being in the “Courier” of Dec. 8th of that year. For some weeks after this and at intervals during the year, the rival papers devoted considerable editorial space to attacks upon each other. It would. be unfair to judge a newspaper entirely from such notice as a rival sheet bestows upon it, but occasional quotations from the “Despatch” in the columns of the “Courier” indicate that the editor of the former did not, at least, always rise to a very high level in controversy with his opponents. It is to be remembered, however, that personalities between editors were at the time very much in vogue.
For some reason — probably because its publication did not pay — the life of the “Despatch” was comparatively brief. Its obituary notice is given in the “Courier” of Jan. 2nd, 1844, in the following paragraph:
We neglected in our last issue to record one of those sad occurrences which are so peculiar to all terrestrial objects. With the departed year, the spirit of the “Weakly (sic) Despatch” has taken its flight, and is now no more. It ceased to exist on Saturday night, the 23rd of December, 1843. The disease of which it died was brought on by an injudicious nurse who foolishly endeavored to force it to walk before it could creep. Shades of the departed, rest in peace.” Some time subsequent to this Mr. Kerr left Perth and published a paper in Bytown. The home of the Despatch during its short career was in a frame building on Gore St. beyond the present site of the Methodist Church.
The next journalistic venture was “The Constitution“, which made its appearance in 1848 or 1849. Like the “Despatch” which preceded it by about five years, it was published in the Tory interest. Its proprietor and editor was Alexander Mitchell, who has been described to me as “a sort of half-literary character.” I have found no reference to the “Constitution” in the “Courier” earlier than 1849, and possibly it was issued first in that year. It was printed upstairs in the building which is now Messrs Spalding & Stewart‘s distillery. If we may judge from what the Courier of that day prints as “specimens of the ravings of a contemporary”, its editor must have been a partisan of the most violent type who, in his opposition to men and measures alike, had little regard for the ordinary “bonds of journalistic decorum.
The “Constitution” appears to have been the organ of the British American League, which was organized in opposition to the payment of the “Rebellion Losses” and the administration of Lord Elgin, and as such was subjected to considerable ridicule in the columns of the “Courier“, which (rather unfortunately in this case as in others) is my chief source of information about a rival publication. The “Constitution‘s” term of life was, like that of its predecessor, short and the paper was probably not published after 1850.
After an interval of a year or two a Conservative organ again appears. This time it was the “British Standard“, which was founded by the late Richard Shaw early in the fifties, and was published for him by Burton Campbell, who came to Perth to act as foreman on the new paper and later on became editor. The printing office was first located in rooms above the present dining room of the Hicks House and, when those were burnt, was removed to the foundry on North St. where Mr. Stanley now has his carriage factory.
Burton Campbell, who is still remembered by many of our townspeople, seems to have been something of a “character” in Perth three or four decades ago, and in his editorial capacity wielded a vigorous and oftentimes a ruthless pen, being in this respect a worthy successor of the editor of the defunct “Constitution“.
The late postmaster, Mr. Cairns, came to Perth as a journeyman printer to work for Campbell, and was connected with the “British Standard” for some years. In 1861, in conjunction with the present Collector of Customs at Winnipeg, Col. Scott, he began to publish a new Conservative paper, the “Expositor“. The “British Standard” continued to appear for some years after this — how long I have been unable to learn. When its publication was finally discontinued, Burton Campbell became connected with the “Expositor” under Messrs Scott and. Cairns. The latter, on becoming postmaster in 1866, abandoned journalism, and Mr. Scott continued as sole proprietor until he went to Winnipeg in the early seventies, when he sold his paper to Messrs Berford & Elliott. They published the paper on Gore St. where Mr. McAllister at present has his tailoring establishment, and in the year 1875, sold out to Mr. A. G. Matheson who owned the paper until a couple of years ago, when he was succeeded by the present proprietor, Mr. C. F. Stone.
There was another paper published in Perth in the early fifties, which was for a time a contemporary of the “Courier” and the “British Standard“. It was published under the name of “The Lanark Observer” by Mr. John R. Gemmell. The paper was printed first in Lanark, but was subsequently removed to Perth where it was published for a year or more. I have not been able to find a copy of the “Observer“, or indeed to get much information about it. As to dates I can be only so far (be) definite as to say that it was being published here in 1853. Before long, no doubt, Mr. Gemmell realized that Perth and the neighboring district could not well support two Reform papers, and that the “Courier” was too firmly established as the chief organ of Lanark Liberalism to have its place usurped. At any rate, probably early in 1854, he moved his presses up to Sarnia and there founded the “Sarnia Observer“, which has been for about forty years one of the most influential weeklies in Western Ontario.
About ten years later than the “Observer“, “The Family Herald” was published in Perth by Mr. G. E. Neilson, now of Arnprior. Its first issue was in January, 1863, and its publication continued weekly until the autumn of the same year. A copy of this paper of the date Feb. 28th, 1863, is in the possession of Mr. C. F. Stone of the “Expositor“, containing an account of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.
So far as I can learn, only one other newspaper than those which I have mentioned has been published in Perth, and it belongs to quite recent years. It was called “The Perth Star“, and was issued, first in the fall of 1888, by Mr. J. M. Poole; the office being in a small building where Drennan‘s livery stable now stands. Its publication continued till November of 1891.
It is a matter for regret to me that I have been unable to see copies of the papers I have referred, to in the foregoing pages, with the exception of files of the “Courier” and the “Expositor“, and the two copies already mentioned of the “Independent Examiner“, the pioneer newspaper of the Town. My facts have in many cases necessarily been vague, although doubtless much more might be ascertained by careful and patient research. The files of the “Courier” I have found invaluable. Perhaps in no way can so much be learned about the early history of the Town, in all its aspects, social, political, and commercial, as by a perusal of these early files. There are of course many details which the imagination must fill in, many references to which only a contemporary could give the clue, and often, for one who reads these records after the lapse of half a century or more, there is undoubtedly the danger of forming erroneous judgments about men and events. But without question, from these papers the early life of the Town stands forth with great vividness, and the life of such a community as Perth, where from the first are found divers elements of population not easily fused and frequently discordant, has an interest of its own.
Even the advertisements in the old newspapers tell us not a little about the manners of the period, and at times we get a glimpse of social conditions not by any means ideal. For example, one might infer that the early settlement had possibly more than its share of domestic infelicity. Advertisements of the following kind occur only too frequently:- “My wife, Elizabeth, having left my bed and board without just cause or provocation, I forbid all persons trusting or harbouring her on my account after this date, as I will pay no debts of her contracting. (sgd.) John Smith.” One often, too, runs across an advertisement which has a quaint sound to more modern ears, although our grandparents might see in it nothing out of the ordinary. Such an one is the following:- “Wanted by the subscriber on the 1st of July next, a Common School. Besides reading, writing and arithmetic, he teaches mensuration, bookkeeping and English grammar. He is also qualified to teach Church Music, (sgd.) R. Smith.”
“N. B.- R. S., being married, would prefer a village school, and in many places Mrs. S. would he useful, having had many years experience in dress making, millinery, and making men’s clothes.” Mr. Smith had evidently an excellent eye to business in choosing such a gifted partner of his joys and sorrows, and it is to be hoped that his sagacity would be rewarded by getting such a field as would allow full scope for the display of his wife’s accomplishments as well as of his own.
There are in connection with the old newspapers, many points of interest which I cannot even touch upon. A few words might be said about their literary aspect and the character of their contributions. It may be of interest to know that the local poet has always been in evidence, and while some of the contributed verse does not show very clear evidence of inspiration, some of it is of a quality unusually good, considered as the production of local bards. The names of some of the contributors to the “Courier” are familiar to many at the present time, such, for example, as Mrs. J. P. Grant and Mr. Holmes Mair, who appear frequently as poetic contributors as far back as 1845.
I was considerably interested in a correspondence which lasted for some weeks in the “Courier” of the year 1847. A local critic who signed himself John Goodmeaning, ventured to administer a slight dressing-down to Mr. Holmes Mair, for certain exuberances in the latter’s poetic productions which appeared from time to time. The criticism was good-natured enough and in some respects not altogether undeserved. Mr. Mair, however, resented the article, and in the next issue of the paper challenged his critic’s poetical discernment, not to say his ordinary intelligence. The controversy lasted for perhaps a couple of months, one or other of the parties to it being each week to the fore with a letter one or two columns in length. Occasionally a third party would take a hand in it, now in defence of Mr. Mair, now in support of his critic. When the discussion was by way of becoming a little tedious, the following letter — which perhaps represented the point of view of not a few readers — appeared:- “Sir: Being a person of a very weak understanding and a limited education, and not being capable of appreciating either Holmes Mair or John Goodmeaning, both of whose productions appear to me particularly absurd, and having heard several of your subscribers, whom I consider to be men of considerable gumption, declare that the above mentioned scribblings are perfectly nonsensical and a public nuisance, I, therefore, at the request of several others who take the same view of the thing as myself, beg of you not to defile your paper by publishing any more of what I consider to be vile trash, (sgd) Ignoramus.” The letter was apparently effectual, for the correspondence ceased.
It is not at all to the discredit of our local papers of the present time, to say that in many respects the paper of half a century or more ago will not suffer greatly by comparison with them. The typographical advantages of today, with different methods and a largely increased amount of advertising, give us a paper which is perhaps superior in mechanical work and more convenient in size, but in respect both of editorial work and the literary standard of its contributions the earlier paper can hardly be rated as inferior to our present weeklies. Nor should this occasion surprise when it is considered that Perth was relatively a place of greater consequence half a century ago than it is today, that the daily paper then was practically unknown and the local weekly of correspondingly greater influence and importance, and that the men who founded and conducted the local papers when the Town was much younger, were men of ability and enterprise, besides being no novices in their profession. Probably no Town of its size in Canada, can show a longer or more creditable record in the field of journalism.