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Wandering printing presses of West Kootenay

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

During West Kootenay’s mining boom of the 1890s, newspapers popped up like Starbucks franchises. But lugging a printing press into a remote area was no small chore. Consequently, many presses churned out several different titles before being retired.

In 1962, during land clearing for a resort at Trout Lake, a bulldozer unearthed a hand-cranked press, seen here in the Nelson Daily News on June 23 of that year. The caption read in part:

[T]his ancient Washington hand press … appeared first in a period of printing press development of 1817 to 1834 in the United States. This was No. 124, manufactured in San Francisco, and turned out a newspaper in the Lardeau community in mine boom days … Publisher was the late Parm Pettipiece, pioneer BC printer. It was among the first presses to abandon the screw principle in favor of a hand lever.

Pettipiece, a celebrated figure in the Canadian socialist movement, published the Ferguson Eagle, which debuted on Feb. 14, 1900 and changed its name to the Lardeau Eagle on May 30, 1900. Pettipiece sold the paper and his press to E.G. Woodward in May 1902 and moved to Vancouver, where he published the Canadian Socialist (later it became the Western Clarion) and wrote a syndicated labour column. He also served on Vancouver city council.

The Eagle continued to soar until Oct. 14, 1904, when it merged with the Trout Lake Topic to become the Lardeau Mining Review, published through Sept. 5, 1907, although I’m not sure which press they used.

Nor am I sure how the Daily News linked the press seen above specifically to Pettipiece, as opposed to the Topic. But if it was indeed his equipment, then we can say a little bit more about its travels. Before the Eagle took flight, the Kaslo Kootenaian explained:

R.P. Pettipiece, who started the Revelstoke Herald three years ago, arrived in Kaslo on Monday and has purchased the printing plant of the defunct Kaslo Prospector. He is now packing it up and will take it to Ferguson where he intends starting a new paper …

Kaslo had two papers called the Prospector. More about the first one in a moment. The second was very obscure; it published only from December 1898 to June 1899, edited by A.R. Burns. No copies are known to survive.

Presumably this is the one Pettipiece bought his press from. I don’t know what became of the press after its rediscovery in 1962.


The Trout Lake Topic’s press was even better-travelled: from Rathdrum, Idaho, where it printed the Kootenai Courier, founded in October 1881; to Kaslo, where it was used for the Kaslo Slocan Examiner from Oct. 22, 1892 to February 1894 and the Kaslo Times from March to August 1894; then to New Denver for the Slocan Times, which debuted Aug. 25, 1894; to Rossland for the Miner, which appeared on March 2, 1895; to Sandon to print The Paystreak from Sept. 26, 1896, and then to Trout Lake for the Topic, which debuted on Oct. 21, 1897.

I’m basing this sequence largely on two notes in the Greenwood Ledge. The first appeared on Feb. 22, 1912:

It is 17 years ago this month since the plant of the Slocan Times was taken to Rossland from New Denver and The Miner started by Houston, Dake, and Bogle. The latter is now writing for the Winnipeg Telegram and the others are pushing clouds with the angels. The original Rossland Miner plant was afterwards bought by the writer [i.e. Robert T. Lowery] and taken to Sandon where it was used to print The Paystreak during the days when Sandon was marked in red on the map. This old plant now reposes in solitude amid the glorious scenery of Trout Lake City.

On Sept. 19, 1912, Lowery revisited the subject:

It was 20 years next month since Kaslo had its first newspaper. It came out weekly and was $4 a year. It was started by a lawyer named Mark Musgrave, who brought the plant from Rathdrum, Idaho. The plant afterwards was used to print papers in New Denver, Rossland, Sandon, and Trout Lake City. It is now resting in the latter city. The first papers in Kaslo, Rossland, Sandon, and Trout Lake City were all printed by the same old plant.

(The Miner was actually the second paper in Rossland; the Record beat it into the field by a few weeks.)

The Nelson Miner of Oct. 15, 1892 suggested the Kaslo Slocan Examiner’s plant had just left Portland, not Rathdrum, but the Victoria Colonist of the same day said “A printing press and staff of printers are expected [in Kaslo] from Idaho on the steamer Spokane’s next trip.”

Musgrove was previously involved with at least ten papers in Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. He left Kaslo in 1893 with a string of unpaid debts. He sold the paper and plant to C. Coy, who in turn sold it to Capt. D.C. McMorris but then changed his mind and sold it to George A. Bigelow instead.

David Bogle, who co-owned the Nelson Miner and Hot Springs News in 1892-93, indicated the Examiner’s successor, the Kaslo Times, launched in 1894 primarily a campaign sheet for a particular candidate in the provincial election and that John Houston, owner of the Nelson Tribune, was behind it.

In an item quoted in the Hosmer Times on May 12, 1910, Bogle remarked upon this much-travelled press:

It was one which had progressed westwards along the construction of the Great Northern railway, and then drifted like a hobo into the mining country north of it. When I say drifted, I say it advisedly. There were mysteries in the locomotion of that plant which could be explained on no other theory than that some mysterious current of destiny determined its movements. Houston and his friends had bought it for election purposes, and after the election was over they gave it to me. Of course, I established a newspaper.

That paper was the Slocan Times of New Denver, but Bogle didn’t want to talk about it: “If any reader knows anything about running a newspaper in a country from which ready money has disappeared and which is gradually drying up so to speak, he will understand that the recollection is painful.”

In January 1895, Bogle received a telegram from Houston asking him to ship the plant to Rossland. The Slocan Prospector described the move:

Kaslo, Feb. 2 – The perambulating press of the Kaslo Times, Slocan Times, and other times reached here today mounted on a freighter’s sled and guarded by Chief Justice Bogle. It looked but little worse of wear after having made the grand circuit and was evidently but little used in the Slocan. It is now on its way to Rossland to help knock out that prosperous town.

Houston went to Rossland to start the new Miner while Bogle went to Nelson to look after the Tribune in Houston’s absence. A few weeks later they switched places. Bogle elaborated on the idiosyncratic press in his 1910 memoir:

It was a foot-power Gordon of the most antiquated make I have ever seen, and running it was heavy going but I believe that machine could have been hoisted to the top of the Union Bank building and then dropped on to Main street, and within five minutes been producing clean true printing. Why, in the first edition of that paper John produced an accurate map of the main mines in Rossland. It nonplussed me. I knew the plant he had to work with.

Bogle may have been involved with another wandering press in West Kootenay. At least he was credited in the New Westminster Daily News of May 17, 1910 with bringing it to the area “about 1885,” a date that is certainly incorrect (Bogle wasn’t even in Canada yet).

C. Dell Smith used it to establish the Ymir Mirror, which debuted in July 1901 and folded on April 30, 1904. Percy Gleazer then bought it and founded the Ymir Herald, published from May 21, 1904 until probably sometime in 1906. The plant was moved to Nelson and sat idle for several years.

In 1910, Thomas Abriel bought it and moved it to Nakusp with plans to start a paper. It didn’t happen, however, until October 1914, when the Arrow Lakes Advocate launched, presumably using that press. The Advocate only lasted one year with R. Barrett working as printer-editor under Abriel’s ownership. It’s not known what became of the press after that. The Arrow Lakes News was founded in 1922, but it seems unlikely it would have used what was even by then ancient technology.

One other peripatetic publisher of note was Bill Pratt, who “came over from Oregon with an army press and a sack of type in search of a fortune.” He started the Slocan Prospector in New Denver on July 4, 1893.

Robert Lowery described him as the “biggest, slowest and best natured editor that ever seized a paste brush in this country. He was addicted to eating hot cakes, was 39, and had ten children.”

The Prospector moved to Three Forks around October 1894, then to Kaslo in April 1895, then to Rossland in August 1895. Pratt sold the plant and business to W.H. Jones and R.W. Northey in April 1896. They renamed the paper the Rosslander in January 1897 and it continued to publish until July 1898.

“It is hard to keep track of the Slocan newspapers — they appear to be on wheels,” wrote the Bonner’s Ferry Herald.

This press may have actually travelled even further if we can believe a handwritten note on an undated index card in the Annie Garland Foster newspaper index at Touchstones Nelson:

An old Hoe printing press made in England in 1830 played an important part of getting out a number of old BC newspapers. First used by Father Demers for Le Courrier de la Novelle-Calédonie. Assisted by Conte de Gueres he brought out two numbers on the old hand press. This press was also used for the Victoria Colonist when it was first brought out in 1858 ... It was used on the Rosslander in 1895. Used on Prospector of Kaslo, New Denver, and Three Forks. 1864 Sentinels. Both Inland Sentinel and Cariboo Sentinel printed on the Hoe. A.B. Stanley used it. It was used for the Cowichan Leader. Lukin Johnston while editor sold the old press to weekly at Phoenix, 1912. It is now at St. Anne’s Academy, Victoria.

I suspect at least two different presses are being conflated here; I doubt the Pratt press was the one used in Victoria and elsewhere.

The British Columbia Historical Association’s reports and proceedings for the year ended Oct. 11, 1923 indicated Demers brought the press mentioned above to BC from France in 1856. It agrees that it was used to print Le Courrier at Victoria in 1858 and later the Kamloops Sentinel, then was transferred to the Sisters of St. Anne’s Academy in 1908 by the Sentinel’s proprietor, Dr. M.S. Wade (which makes it rather unlikely it was used in Phoenix in 1912). Subsequently it was transferred to the Royal BC Museum, where I presume it remains.

— With thanks to Greg Scott, who discovered the photo of the press at Trout Lake

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