by Cole Harris
Foreword by Sean Arthur Joyce
Speculative energy drove a mining rush and also founded newspapers. Including Kaslo in the east and Nakusp in the west, seventeen newspapers were published in and around the Slocan just during the decade after the first silver finds in September, 1891. Just over a year later, there was a newspaper, The Kaslo-Slocan Examiner, in Kaslo, and before the end of 1893 other newspapers in Nakusp and Three Forks. To establish a townsite and erect a few buildings was, in effect, to attract a newspaper. In 1894, the townsite of Lardo (Lardeau), on Kootenay Lake north of Kaslo, briefly included four houses, two tents, and a newspaper.
A late-19th century mining rush to a remote and previously inaccessible location depended on information, but the means of delivery were few. The telegraph, which arrived in the summer of 1893, was expensive and unreliable. Postal deliveries, initially by pack train, opened the door to personal correspondence as well as to commercial and political news, but most people in the early Slocan had nothing to do with the telegraph and little more with the mail. Their connections were largely oral. In this communicative environment, there was ample place for newspapers. They enlarged the range and content of local information, and introduced elements of a larger outside world. Without them, the Slocan would hardly have recognized itself.
It was, however, no simple matter to establish a newspaper. A press had to be brought in, also type, paper, and competent personnel. A newspaper required, as the barest minimum, a compositor (typesetter), a reporter, and an editor, all of whom would have to multi-task. The Kaslo Claim, which ceased publication after four months, employed an editor, a reporter, a foreman, a pressman, and a compositor (as well as a poet). Perhaps it was overstaffed, but undoubtedly the publication of a weekly newspaper, usually comprising a dozen or more pages, was an enormous amount of work. Stories had to be sought out and written up, typeset, ads solicited, galley pages arranged, pages run off, collated, and distributed, finances managed. One can sympathize with R.T. Lowery, editor of The Kaslo Claim, who wrote at his paper’s demise that “[t]he men engaged in the publication of a newspaper work harder and get less for it than those in any other calling or business.”
In the longer run, none of the Slocan newspapers was a financial success. R.T. Lowery, the best remembered and most flamboyant of all the early newspapermen, committed most to the Slocan and stayed longest. After the failure of The Kaslo Claim, he moved to Nakusp, then, in December, 1894, to New Denver, where he stayed for a decade. He owned papers in Sandon (The Paystreak) and in Slocan City (The Slocan Drill), but left, bitter and disillusioned, in 1904.
Most of the early newspapers have survived, at least on microfilm (the largest collection is in the Provincial Archives in Victoria), and comprise a vast body of information about the early Slocan. As would be expected, much of it deals directly with mining: the mines, the concentrating mills, the systems of transportation that linked mines and mills to the outside world. There is a lot of information about the mine owners, some about the men who worked for them. The institutions that accompanied mining—the locals of the Western Federation of Miners, the Mine Owners’ Association are also in the newspapers. Beyond mining, there is a sprawling array of information about shop and hotelkeepers, churches, social events, principal entertainments, and local politics. Each edition of any newspaper is a jumble of diverse information. In sum, the many thousand surviving pages of the early newspapers are by far the principal source of information about the early Slocan. Such is the remarkable legacy of many failed newspapers.
Many quite different selections of excerpts could be made from this large body of data. The one that follows reflects my various sallies into the newspapers over a good many years, none of them undertaken with a booklet like this in mind. Were I to start afresh, which I cannot do, the result would probably be very different. But there may be enough here to give some sense both of the early newspapers and of the early Slocan. I hope my appreciation of the early newspapermen is apparent, also something of a turbulent, changing place hit, broadside, by the full, speculative energy of a mining boom.
I have organized the material in ten parts, and provide some italicized commentary throughout.
February 17, 2016
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