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The Nelson Independent

A copy of a short-lived and long-lost Nelson newspaper has surfaced: it’s the Sept. 20, 1913 edition of The Independent, whose existence I only previously knew about because of a few mentions in its contemporaries:

Slocan Record, Aug. 28, 1913: The Independent is a new publication issued in Nelson last week. It is a weekly and the first issue is small, but the paper will probably be enlarged as larger patronage comes to it. Whether a paper can be independent or not has yet to be satisfactorily demonstrated. The Independent may be the one to do so.

Faint writing in pencil at the top of the surviving copy (Vol. 1, No. 6) says “I. Arthur, 515 Silica St.” So even more amazing, this copy belonged to Dr. Isabel Arthur, Nelson’s first female physician.

It was salvaged in 1979 by John and Margaret Stegman along with other material, including diaries and letters, that belonged to Dr. Arthur and her husband, Dr. E.C. Arthur. After their daughter Margaret MacKenzie died, distant relatives arrived and began tossing things into a pick-up truck.

The Stegmans, who lived across the street, rescued it and donated it to the Nelson museum. Margaret recently discovered The Independent amidst some women’s magazines from the 1930s and old Life magazines she bought at a garage sale. She gave it to local historian Greg Scott, who in turn donated it to the Touchstones Nelson archives and kindly let me know about it. I’ve photographed all 16 pages and posted them at bottom.

I was surprised to discover The Independent was less a newspaper than a tabloid-size magazine, with several illustrations. The front page has a photograph of the city wharf. There are also photos of summer homes on the North Shore and a very unusual view of the gas works.

The paper was published by the Independent Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd., and billed itself as “A weekly journal of comment and local events. A newspaper devoted to the mining and general industrial interests of Nelson and District.” A subscription was 55 cents for three months, $1.05 for six months or $2 per year.

The surviving copy says the office was in the Griffin Block (where the Medical Arts Building is today). The manager and editor was J.L. Thomas and the printer was W.H. Jones, a former newspaperman himself, whose wife Annie was Nelson’s other pioneering female doctor.

• Among the many ads is one for Paul Nipou’s Nelson Auto Co.: “We are always ready at any hour to provide automobiles for hire. We meet all trains and steamers. Dealers for White cars and trucks.”

• There’s a story about the upcoming 1914 Nelson carnival, which had not yet been dubbed the Chahko Mika. “As we have stated before, and shall from time to time repeat, Nelson’s Carnival must become as well known as the Toronto exhibition or the San Francisco exhibition, and not for one year only, but every successive year that follows.” (The carnival was a terrific success, but World War I ensured that it was only held once.)

• Another note mentions service on the Nelson cable ferry was about to be inaugurated.

• There’s a tribute to pioneer Nelson newspaper publisher and founding mayor John Houston by someone who used the byline The Old Sour Dough.

• There’s a letter from Lenora Kemp — whose husband was pioneer journalist Randall H. Kemp — calling for Nelson to abandon plans to buy a gas plant and stick with the electric plant it already owned.

• An ad for Uncle’s Auctions and Second-Hand Store promises “We buy anything from the hide of a mouse to a radium brick” and notes it was located at 313 Baker Street, opposite the Gem Theatre: “Not Starland or Opera House, but opposite the Gem Theatre.”

• The District News page contains notes from Forty-Nine Creek (Blewett), where three bridges were being built on the wagon road, Linblad’s sawmill was busy turning out lumber, and Tom Martin had two hired hands clearing land for his new home.

An ad indicated The Independent was “growing in popularity, in circulation and in weight,” and promised that within a few weeks it would be larger and issued daily, every evening. That was a step ahead of previous plans to issue twice a week.

The Independent in its new guise will appear as the equal of any paper published in Western Canada. It will contain all the latest telegraphic news, sports, Canadian, British and American, and many other features impossible to introduce in a weekly. Buy the paper. Support and patronise the paper that is out for all that is good for the expansion of Nelson and the Kootenays.

Alas, those expansion plans were never fulfilled.

The Independent’s founder didn’t stick around long, as this item reveals:

The Kootenaian, Nov. 13, 1913: J.L. Thomas, who commenced the publication of The Nelson Independent a few weeks [sic] ago, has disposed of all his interest in the paper to A. Grogan and Reginald P. Brooke and retired to the journalistic field.

Thomas wrote a letter published in The Kootenaian the following week saying that while he had divested his interest, he had not retired. The 1914 civic directory showed John L. Thomas was a civil engineer residing at 518 Carbonate. His wife’s name was Edith.

The directory also carried an ad for the newspaper, seen here, which revealed Grogan’s first name was Archibald. He lived at 305 Latimer. Grogan and Brooke moved the Independent office to 407 Josephine Street, but neither the new location nor the new proprietors could change the paper’s fortunes:

The Kootenaian, May 14, 1914: The Nelson Independent, which has appeared as a weekly at Nelson for the past two or three months, has apparently suspended publication, as no copies have been received at this office the last two weeks.

John T. Thomas was still listed in the 1915 Nelson directory as an engineer, but now he was living at 714 Hoover and his wife’s name was Kate. He vanishes from the directory by 1918. I don’t know what happened to him.

Reginald Pitt-Brooke did not much outlast his newspaper. He died on Jan. 28, 1916, age 50. His obituary in the Vancouver Daily World, seen here, reveals he came to Nelson in the spring of 1913 from Par, Cornwall, England, and took up ranching on the North Shore at a property he called Lalahana. His wife, Kate Sophia Sutton Murray, died on March 10, 1917. Both were buried in the Nelson cemetery. They had at least two children, Gwendon, who married Horace Hanson in 1915, and Githa, who married Douglas Male in 1919. Touchstones received an inquiry from someone in the Pitt-Brooke family in 2009.

Archibald Austin Grogan was born in London on June 23, 1881. He served in the Boer War as a lieutenant with the 4th Battalion — and had his left hand amputated. He fashioned an artificial hand, for which he filed several patents in 1904-06. He was at that time apparently living in Johannesburg. He immigrated to Canada around 1909.

After his brief spell with The Independent, Grogan appears to have run a second-hand shop in Nelson, which is listed in the R.G. Dun & Co. Mercantile Agency Reference Books of 1914 and 1915. He then tried to enlist with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces for the First World War at Valcartier, Que. but was rejected on account of his missing hand.

Grogan also devised some kind of system to allow the blind to read ordinary print, which was featured in The Braille Review in 1915. Upon receiving a letter expressing interest, the editor replied:

Immediately … we wrote to the inventor, Mr. Archibald Grogan, at his home in British Columbia, and learnt that he was in England, but had unfortunately been taken ill. As soon as he is restored to health he hopes to call upon us and go further into the matter.

But there is no further record of his invention.

Grogan moved to Vancouver and married Constance Helen Roberts. They had a daughter, Molly, in 1921, and a son, Barrington Philip (Harry), in 1922, before divorcing. They evidently reconciled, however, and remarried at White Rock on May 6, 1932. On the marriage registration, Archie gave his occupation as welder.

Constance died only four years later, age 42, although I’m not sure of the cause. Their son Harry, an airplane mechanic, was killed overseas with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943, age 20. Only a few months later, on Jan. 29, 1944, Archie died in Vancouver following a “lingering illness,” age 64. He was survived by his daughter and three brothers. With him went any lingering memory of The Independent.

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