The Ottawa Journal Closes

27 August 1980

Headline, Ottawa Journal, 27 August 1980

Rumours had been circulating that the Ottawa Journal was living on borrowed time. Staff were worried. But Jim Rennie, the executive editor, met with the newspaper’s editorial staff to provide some reassurance. They were doing good work, and circulation was on the rise. After falling to a low of only 52,000 copies per day the previous year, readership had risen to 77,000. The goal of 80,000 by mid-September 1980 was in sight.  But on the very evening of that staff pep talk, Rennie received an unexpected and unwanted telephone call; the newspaper was folding.

The next morning, under the headline “Ottawa Journal closed,” Arthur E. Wood, the publisher, wrote: “It is with deepest regret that I am obliged to announce the cessation of publication and closure of The Ottawa Journal effective with this morning’s edition, Wednesday, August 27, 1980.”

Less than a year earlier, Wood, then the publisher of the Montreal Star, delivered the same bad news to that newspaper’s staff.  A few months after a ruinous and lengthy pressmen’s strike that saw the newspaper lose circulation and advertisers to its rival, the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Star collapsed.

Wood explained to Journal staff that over the past five years, the paper’s financial losses had grown from $112,000 in 1975 to $3,400,000 in the first eight months of 1980. Such losses were simply not sustainable. Although circulation has risen significantly in recent months, more newspaper sales ironically increased the red ink as advertising revenue didn’t rise commensurately, and the cost of producing the additional newspapers outweighed the higher circulation revenue. Advertisers stuck with the Ottawa Citizen despite its higher advertising rate per column inch. Even The Bay, then owned by the Thomson group, the proprietors of the Journal, cut back its advertising in the Journal. Among the reasons cited for the inability of the Journal to attract advertisers was that both newspapers were going after the same demographic group. One observer also suggested that the newspaper’s failure to switch to offset printing from hot lead typesetting when the Ottawa Citizen did in 1973 was an important factor as advertisers had to prepare two different types of advertisements, one for the Citizen and one for the Journal. The additional expense was not worth the effort.

With the closure of the newspaper, 375 people lost their jobs. Only Wood was assured of a new position within the Thomson newspaper empire, the owner of the Ottawa Journal since the beginning of 1980.

The Journal had a long history in Ottawa. It had been founded almost 95 years earlier in 1885 by Alexander Smith Woodburn. In its first edition, which came out on 10 December of that year, Woodburn stated that the reason for a new daily newspaper in Ottawa was obvious. But to ensure there was no doubt, he added that Ottawa needed a newspaper that was “able and independent,” ready to express the opinions of, and advocate for, the interests of the city’s citizens. He opined that there was a “pressing need” for a daily newspaper of “high moral form, free from political partisanship and party prejudices,” and “loyal to the Empire and zealous in the promotion of the best interest of its noblest member—the Dominion of Canada.” As the Ottawa Citizen was the leading English-language newspaper in Ottawa, Woodburn’s words were a not so veiled attack on that newspaper.

Woodburn added that the new Ottawa Evening Journal would not be the mouthpiece of any clique, political party or religious denomination, and would cover the news without favour to friend or foe. While the newspaper would provide news of the world, it would, of necessity do so in a condensed fashion. Its principal focus would be on matters pertaining to Ottawa, especially civic affairs.

The Journal’s office was located at 36 Elgin St. The cost of the daily newspaper was two cents. The newspaper’s first editor was John Wesley Defoe. He held the position for only six months before he headed out to Winnipeg to work for the Manitoba Free Press. He was later to become that newspaper’s editor, a position he held from 1901 to 1944. Defoe was succeeded at the Journal by Mr. A. H. U. Colquhoun. 

P. D. Ross, Ottawa Citizen, 18 January 1910.

In 1886, Philip Dansken Ross bought a 50 per cent interest in the financially shaky Journal from Woodburn. Four years later, he bought out his partner, and became president of the company. He was to remain at the head of the newspaper until his death in 1949. In 1917, Ross organized the merger of the Journal with the Ottawa Free Press. An eminent pressman, he was also a founder of the Canadian Press newspaper association. Four months before his death, he sold his shares in the Ottawa Journal to his colleagues working for the newspaper.

Ross was a man of many parts. In his early years, he was an outstanding athlete both at McGill University and later as a player for the Ottawa Senators. In 1892, he was named as one of the original trustees of the Stanley Cup. He later became chairman of Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission. Politically, he was a conservative, and was active in Ottawa politics at all levels of government. Reflecting his political affinity, the Ottawa Journal was broadly seen as a Conservative newspaper.

In July 1959, ten years after Ross’s death, the newspaper, never financially strong, was acquired by the newly-formed FP Publications Ltd. The company, based in Winnipeg, was owned by Colonel Victor Sifton of Winnipeg and G. Max Bell of Calgary. Other newspapers owned by the group at that time included the Winnipeg Free Press, the Victoria Daily Times and the Daily Colonist as well as several Albertan newspapers. In January 1980, the Ottawa Journal was purchased by the Thomson Corporation, established by the Canadian Roy Thomson, 1st Baron of Fleet. The Thomson group owned roughly 200 Canadian and British newspapers, including London’s prestigious Times and Sunday Times.

The closure of the Journal, just months after it was acquired by the Thompson group, came as a shock to Ottawa citizens as well as its employees. When woken at 3:00 am by a journalist with the news, Mayor Marion Dewer thought she was having a bad dream. Jean Pigot, president of the Morrison-Lemothe Bakery and the Progressive-Conservative MP for Ottawa-Carleton from 1976 to 1980, and later Chair of the National Capital Commission, is reported to have exclaimed: “Good Lord, I don’t believe it.”

Shock changed to anger when it was revealed that on the same day the Thomson group closed the Ottawa Journal, it’s arch rival the Southam group of newspapers closed the Winnipeg Tribune. The dual closures left the Southam-owned Ottawa Citizen the sole English-language newspaper in Ottawa, and the Thomson-owned Winnipeg Tribune the sole English-language newspaper in Winnipeg. Southam’s also sold the fixed assets of the Tribune to the Thomson group for $2.5 million.

The chairman of Southam’s, St. Clair Balfour, claimed that there had been no deal between the two newspaper groups, though there had been discussions about the losses each had been suffering. Balfour said the both groups believed that confusion and uncertainty among employees and shareholders would have been heightened had the decisions to close the two newspapers been separated by weeks or months. The situations at the Tribune and the Journal were mirror images of each other.

Outrage over the closure of the two newspapers that left the Southam and Thomson newspaper chains with monopolies in Ottawa and Winnipeg, respectively, led to the creation of the Royal Commission on Newspapers, commonly referred to as the “Kent Commission” in 1980. Among other things the Commission recommended that the government block further cross-media concentration, and that newspapers put on public record reports on their editorial purpose and policy, and establish advisory committees composed of journalists and outsiders. The Commission also advised the establishment of a Press Rights Council within the government’s Human Rights Commission to review the annual reports of newspapers’ advisory committees.

Following widespread outrage within the newspaper industry, and fears of “Big Brother,” the recommendations of the Kent Commission were set aside. At a time when the government of Pierre Trudeau faced more pressing issues, such as a deep economic recession, and Quebec separation, it was unwilling to take on the wrath of the newspaper industry. However, the upshot of this was further concentration in the industry. By the year 2000, three chains (Hollinger/Southam, Quebecor/Sun Media and Torstar) reportedly controlled 72% of daily newspaper circulation in Canada.

Today, concerns about concentration of ownership in the newspaper industry are overshadowed by broader issues. The rise of digital media has led to a major shift away from print media. Newspapers are closing around the globe, leading to the loss of thousands of journalist positions, as readers and advertisers gravitate towards on-line content. In the process, the likes of Google and Facebook have scooped up the lion’s share of advertising revenue. According to Canadian Media Concentration Report, there has been a breakdown of the three-way beneficial relationship between advertisers, journalists and the public.

Not all are concerned about this, with some arguing that media fragmentation rather than media concentration is more relevant. However, the democratization of news provision—everybody can be a “journalist” and upload material to the web—and the algorithms used by search engines to disseminate content has led to “echo chambers” where readers only see material that support their world view. This phenomenon, combined with “fake news,” pushed by those with a particular agenda, have contributed to widening social divisions.

Sources:

Creely, Tim. 1984. “Out of Commission,” Ryerson Review of Journalism, http://rrj.ca/m3557/, Spring.

Keshen, Richard & MacAskill, Kent, 2000. I Told You So: The Kent Commission,”

New York Times, 1949. “P.R. Ross, Headed Ottawa Journal; President of newspaper since 1886 Is Dead at 91 – Acquired Publication for $8,000, 6 July 1949.

Ottawa Citizen, 1980. “Ottawa Journal folds,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Citizen to fill the void,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Without advertising increases, circulation hike actually hurt,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Shutdown confirms rumors,” 27 August.

——————, 1980. “Massive changes revealed,” 27 August.

Ottawa Journal, 1885. “Prospectus,” 10 December.

——————-, 1949. “P.D. Ross, Journal President, Dies At 91,” 5 July.

——————-, 1980. “Ottawa Journal Closed,” 27 August.

Royal Commission on Newspapers, The Kent Commission, 1980.

Victoria Daily Times, 1959, “Victoria Newspapers Join National Group,” 16 July.

Winseck, Swayne, 2017. Canadian Media Concentration Research Report, http://www.cmcrp.org/.

Le Droit

27 March 1913

English-speaking Ottawa residents got their first English-language newspaper when Ottawa was still called Bytown, not long after the Rideau Canal was completed. The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, owned and edited by James Johnson, opened for business in February 1836. It was renamed the Bytown Gazette a short time later by Alexander Christie who purchased the newspaper from Johnson. The newspaper folded in 1845 leaving The Packet, launched in 1844 by William Harris, as the dominant English newspaper. The Packet was renamed the Ottawa Citizen in 1851 and has remained the main English newspaper in the capital to this day.

French-speaking Ottawa citizens had to wait until 1856 for their first French-language newspaper, Le Progrès. It was a weekly paper which covered politics, literature and business news. It bitterly opposed the idea of U.S. annexation of Upper Canada that found support among many English Canadians at that time. In 1861, it published an editorial arguing that union with the Northern States, which had just entered a civil war with the Confederacy, would ruin the country and would destroy in whole or in part our language [French], our religion [Catholicism] and our nationality [Canadian].  Sadly, the newspaper did not endure. Another newspaper by the same name reappeared in 1877 with offices at 200 Sparks Street. Delivered free of charge, it had a circulation of 2,000. However, it failed within a year. A number of other French-language, Ottawa-based, papers came and quickly went, such as Le Soleil and Le Féderal. A monthly 64-page magazine initially called Le Foyer Domestique appeared in 1876. Written by Catholic writers, its office was on Sparks Street. For a short while, it became a 12-page weekly before returning to a monthly format as L’Album des Familles in 1880. Its focus was primarily religion, philosophy, literature and poetry rather than news.

Le Courrier d’Ottawa, initially a bilingual newspaper, commenced publication in 1870. A few months later, English was phased out and the paper changed its name to Le Courrier d’Outaouais after a debate in the paper about the appropriateness of using “Ottawa” in its name since the word was not French. The newspaper, which was for a time printed at 12 Wellington Street, closed in 1876. Its largest circulation was apparently only 600 copies.

Le Canada, owned and published by Ludger-Denis Duvernay, appeared in late 1865 with Elzéar Gérin as its first editor.  This paper was published on York Street three times a week. Conservative in its politics, Le Canada stopped publishing four years later though it later re-emerged in 1879 out of another short-lived newspaper called La Gazette d’Ottawa. The latter’s printers were Messieurs Louis Bélanger & Cie who operated from quarters at 445 Sussex Street at the corner of Sussex and Murray Streets. The paper later moved to 524 Sussex Street. The editor of the second version of Le Canada was Joseph Tassé, a Conservative member of Parliament and later senator who had been a journalist for the first Le Canada. The newspaper became a daily and remained in business until 1896.

Le Temps, whose offices were located at 552 Sussex, commenced publication in November 1893 under the editorship of Mr Oscar McDonnell. Its politics varied, sometimes conservative, sometimes liberal. It stopped publication in 1916.

With the demise of Le Temps, Ottawa’s residents were left with one French-language newspaper. This paper, Le Droit, which was started by a group of eminent Ottawa clergy and prominent local businessmen and politicians in 1913, flourished despite initial pessimistic expectations.

The mock-up of the newspaper, dated 15 January 1913.

The first public indications of the publication of a new Ottawa French-language newspaper occurred in mid January 1913 with the release of a mock-up of the Le Droit. The name can be translated into English as the Law, the Right, the Straight, or even the Upright. That initial, four-page edition didn’t contain much news other than report on the newspaper itself. There was a lot of blank space with headings and descriptions to indicate what the future content of these columns would be. The edition was more akin to a prospectus, announcing to the general public its intentions, its political affiliation or lack thereof, the cost of a subscription, and other important corporate details. Its office was identified as being on Dalhousie Street in Lower Town. But by the time the first official issue was published two months later, it was 88 York Street. The paper’s telephone number was Rideau 1448.

The backers of the newspaper had received a federal charter of incorporation, with an initial capitalization of $100,000, divided into $100 shares, payable in $25 installments, callable by the newspaper’s directors. A “good portion” of this amount had already been subscribed and the newspaper hoped that the balance of funds would come in over the next few days.

The paper was owned by a syndicate of 169 prominent French-Canadian businessmen and Roman Catholic priests called Le Syndicat D’Oeuvres Sociales, Limitée. Prominent members included Alfred Goulet, a political and businessman from Clarence, Ontario, A. T. Charron and F.A. Labelle, a Hull-based notary. The newspaper’s president was Onésime Guibord of Clarence Creek, Ontario. Guibord had been a member of the provincial legislature for Russell Township. Rev. Père Élie Jeannotte, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from Ottawa, was vice-president. Le Droit’s editor-in-chief was J.A. Caron, formerly of Rhode Island. Prior to the release of the mock-up of the newspaper, the shareholders met and elected a board of fifteen directors. Napoléon Antoine Belcourt, a Liberal Senator and head of l’Association canadienne-française d’éducation d’Ontario, was their legal adviser.

Shareholders in the new paper were not very hopeful of Le Droit’s future success. An article in the mock-up suggested that circumstances at that time were not favourable for staring a new newspaper, and that it needed the help of all of its friends if it were to succeed.

The purpose of the newspaper was to fight for the rights of French-Canadians in Ontario. In 1913, French-Canadians in Ontario found their language rights under threat by the passage of Regulation 17 the previous year by the Conservative Ontario Government of Sir James Whitney. The regulation restricted the use of French as the language of instruction in Ontario’s schools to only the first two grades. Thereafter, English was the language of instruction even to francophone children. The fight for language rights was led by Senator Belcourt, French-Canadian clergy, and the Ottawa Separate School Board. This conflict was to culminate three years later in “The Battle of the Hatpins” in which francophone mothers in Ottawa fought and ultimately succeeded in ensuring French remained the language of instruction for their children. Le Droit was to play a vocal supportive role in that coming fight.

In the January 1913 mock-up of the newspaper, there was a French translation of Regulation 17 as well as a reprint of an editorial on the subject that had appeared in the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir in September 1912 following the release of the Regulation. Le Droit argued that the best weapon in the fight for linguistic rights was the publication of a daily newspaper which was before all and above all in the service of the Catholic faith, French language, and equal rights for all. It also sought “British Fair Play,” saying that French-Canadians simply wanted fair play on the burning questions of the day, such as the schools’ issue.

The newspaper’s “prospectus” announced that it would independent of all political parties and factions, unlike Ottawa’s English newspapers.  The newspaper also indicated that it would not focus on scandals or on sensational news but would give relevant, useful information. The newspaper saw a pedagogical role for itself. This was true even when it came to the coverage of sports, where it promised to take a “scientific point of view” in order to improve the health of French-Canadian youth. The paper also indicated that while it would take advertisements in order to raise revenue, it would not accept advertisements for alcohol, the theatre or other things that it could not recommend to people. It furthermore promised to limit ads on the front page to only one column.

Le Droit said it would cover current news in Ottawa and Hull, and would follow with interest the work of French-Canadians in all municipal organizations in Ontario and North-West Quebec. It stressed that it would look for useful news, not the sensational, and would report on the lessons to be drawn from the events it covered. The paper would also follow closely political news coming out of Queen’s Park in Toronto. Its particular focus would be on schools and the right of parents to give their children the education they judged to be the best. The paper said that it would have correspondents through Ontario and North-West Quebec. Its weekly Saturday edition would focus on more distant centres like Témiscamingue and Western Ontario.

The cost of the daily newspaper delivered each evening to the home was one cent. A yearly subscription cost $3.00 in Canada and the United States, $6.00 for other countries. The weekly edition, which was delivered on Saturdays, cost $1.00 per year in Canada, $1.50 in the United States, and $2.00 elsewhere.

The first real issue of Le Droit appeared on 27 March 1913, roughly two months after the mock-up addition was circulated. The afternoon before the official launch, Monsignor J.O. Routhier, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Ottawa, blessed the newspaper in a special ceremony in front of the paper’s staff and shareholders.

True to its word that it would focus on French-language education, front and centre of the first edition was an article on Ontario school boards. Beside the article was another called “Our Newspaper” which said that they were pleased to present to the general public a new newspaper that will devote itself to the interest of the French language and French schools in this part of the country. The paper didn’t see itself as “the Saviour of the People.” Instead, the paper said it would be humble, and that it didn’t have a monopoly on good ideas, and even less on good actions.

It must have been very hectic in getting the first edition to bed. Le Droit’s management apologized that their service was imperfect that first day. They hoped that readers would understand and wouldn’t be too upset with the gaps that are inevitable in the launch of such an enterprise.

Advertisers in Le Droit that first day included both large and small French-owned companies and professionals with business in Ottawa. Le Sauvegarde Insurance Company, the only French-Canadian insurance company operating in Ontario, had a sizeable advertisement. It must have helped that Senator Belcourt was on the insurance company’s board of directors. J.A. Larocque, the big Ottawa department store located on Dalhousie Street, advertised its Japanese silks, robes, and corsets for all sizes. La Cie Chatillion, a furniture company on Rideau Street, announced its grand sale of stoves, beds, furniture, carpets, mattresses, bedsprings, and other household items. Showing the universal language of business and a keenness to attract francophone customers, many English-Canadian companies took out big, French-language ads that first day, including The Metropolitan Store, the Tally-Ho Pure Water Company, the Ottawa Printing Company and the Federal Typewriting Company.

Le Droit received the support of its friends and prospered. After more than 100 years of service to Ottawa’s francophone community, the newspaper remains an advocate for French rights in Ontario, and is Ottawa’s only French-language daily. It is currently owned by Martin Cauchon through his holding company Groupe Capitales Médias.

Sources:

Audet, F.J. 1896. Historique des Journeaux d’Ottawa, A. Bureau & Frères.

Le Courrier d’Ottawa, 1861. “L’Annexation de 1850 Vit – Elle Encore? ” 24 April. http://crccf.uottawa.ca/passeport/II/D/1/IID1a04-1-2.html.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 2020. Joseph Tassé, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tasse_joseph_12E.html.

Le Droit, various issues.

The French-Canadian Genealogist, 2020. Clarence Creek, https://www.tfcg.ca/history-of-clarence-creek.

Ottawa Citizen, 1913. “New French Daily,” 27 March.

Ottawa Journal, 1913. “New French Paper,” 27 March.

Répertoire du patrimoine cultural du Québec, 2013. Duvernay, Ludger-Denis, http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=24067&type=pge#.X6r-FWhKg2x.

Ross, A.H.D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, The Musson Book Company Limited, Toronto.

The Saturday Funnies

11 February 1905

Comic strips are a standard feature in most newspapers. The Ottawa Citizen currently publishes twenty comics daily, ranging from one image stories to four- or five-panel strips. On Saturdays, the Citizen publishes the comics in colour—sticking with a tradition of a weekend colour comic supplement that goes back to the dawn of newspaper cartoons. Most of the comics in the Citizen are written by Americans whose work has been syndicated to other newspapers around the world. The only exceptions are Carpe Diem, written and drawn by Niklas Eriksson of Sweden, and Between Friends by Canadian Sandra Bell-Lundy. Many of the strips have been published for decades. In longest production is Blondie whose run began in 1930. Cartoonist Chic Young wrote and drew the strip until his death in 1973, when his son Dean Young took over.

comic bayeux wikipedia
Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, circa 1070, showing the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. The Latin inscription reads Harold Rex Interfectvs est, meaning King Harold is slain. Wikipedia.

But comic strips, which can be defined as a telling of a story through a series of pictures, have a far longer and illustrious pedigree. Some historians contend that Trajan’s column in Rome, which tells in sculptured pictures the victory of the Roman emperor over the Dacians (modern-day Romanians) in the second century A.D., is a precursor form of a comic strip. A thousand years later in about 1070, Bishop Odo of Bayeux commissioned the making of another early “comic strip” known today as the Bayeux Tapestry. Made by female needle workers, possibly nuns, in Canterbury, England, the tapestry recounts the story of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror that had occurred four years earlier. Bishop Odo was Duke William’s half-brother and principal supporter. Embroidered on linen cloth using multi-coloured woollen yard, it is roughly 68 metres long and 50 centimetres high, and is composed of 75 picture panels. Complete with Latin text, the tapestry is a marvel of medieval European art.

Following the invention of the printing press, satirists and caricaturists used cartoons to mock the social, political and religious life of their times. William Hogarth (1697-1764), an English painter, painted in 1731 a series of moralizing but humorous paintings that he subsequently had engraved and sold together called A Harlot’s Progress. Highly successful, this series was followed by the famous A Rake’s Progress and Marriage à la Mode. The British caricaturist and illustrator, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was the author of many satirical and funny cartoons that lampooned the aristocracy, including King George IV and Queen Charlotte. He was one of the first to employ the multi-panel structure and dialogue bubbles used in cartoon strips of today. His 1849 comic strip The Preparatory School for Fast Men starred the likes of Professor Boozey Swizzle who taught drinking class and Professor Swindle in charge of Finance. See George Cruikshank in Lambiek Comiclopedia.

funnies, yellow kid
The Yellow Kid by R.F. Outcault, 1896, Wikipedia

Newspaper cartoon strips begun appearing at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States. They quickly swept North America when newspaper owners realized that comics sold copies. American Richard F. Outcault (1863-1928) is generally regarded as the father of the modern newspaper cartoon strip. He introduced readers of the New York World newspaper, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, to Uncle Eben’s Ignorance of the City in 1894. He also created the character of The Yellow Kid—a street urchin. Wearing a hand-me-down, oversized, yellow shirt, the Kid was likely drawn bald to indicate that his head had been shaved to prevent lice, a constant problem in the crowded urban slums of North America.

The Yellow Kid and his Phonograph, written in 1896, is believed by many to be the first modern comic strip that combined multiple image panels and speech bubbles. When Outcault was lured away from Pulitzer to the New York Journal-American by William Randolph Hearst in 1907, competing versions of The Yellow Kid were produced by the two newspapers as Outcault had failed to obtain a copyright on the character. The less-popular World version was written by George Luks. The expression “yellow journalism” is based on the Pulitzer/Hearst cartoon rivalry. The expression came to mean an emphasis on comics, fictitious news, exaggeration and misleading headlines. In Britain, it is often referred to as “tabloid journalism.”

Canadians were also active in the early days of newspaper cartooning. Henri Julien (1852-1908), who reportedly spent part of his childhood in Ottawa, drew cartoons for Canadian Illustrated News and satirical publications such as Le Canard. He later became the artistic director for the Montreal Daily Star. Palmer Cox (1840-1924) created the Brownies, a very popular series of humorous cartoon stories about sprite-like creatures based on British mythology. Like later twentieth-century cartoon characters, the Brownies were widely merchandized as toys, games, cards, etc. though Palmer apparently didn’t reap the rewards. Even the early Kodak camera, the Brownie, capitalized on their popularity.  Another prominent early Canadian cartoonist was Arthur Racey (1870-1941). He drew a series of humorous drawings called The Englishman in Canada in 1893-94 that incorporated speech bubbles. Racey took over Julien’s position at the Montreal Daily Star after the latter’s death.

comic fatty 11-2-1905 oej
Fatty Felix by Walter McDougall, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905

The weekend funnies came to Ottawa on 11 February 1905 when the Ottawa Evening Journal published without fanfare three multi-pane cartoon strips. The first was called Fatty Goes On An Errand To The Doctor’s And Gets Sick, featuring Fatty Felix, created by the American cartoonist Walt McDougall (1858-1938). McDougall was an illustrator for the New York Graffic, and was published in Harper’s Weekly and Puck Magazine. Reflecting the power of cartoons to effect society, McDougall’s 1884 satirical cartoon The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings, which appeared in the New York World newspaper, skewered James Blaine, the Republican nominee for President, and is credited with helping Democratic Grover Cleveland win the U.S. Presidency that year. McDougall drew Fatty Felix originally for Philadelphia’s North American. Later, the comic strip also appeared in newspapers associated with the New York Herald’s syndicate. McDougall is also well known for his Handsome Hautry and The Wizard of Oz comic strips.

comic muggsy
Comic Strip Featuring Muggsy by Frank Crane, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905.

The other major cartoon strip in the Journal was called Muggsy Saves A Dude From The Billposter’s Paste drawn by Frank Crane (1857-1917). Crane, who had graduated from the New York Academy of Design, became a cartoonist and later the art editor for the New York World and later for Philadelphia’s North American. Muggsy was also distributed through the New York Herald syndicate. Crane produced the Muggsy comic strip from 1901 to 1915.

comic unknown, 11-2-05 toej
Untitled by unknown cartoonist, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 11 February 1905.

Sandwiched between the McDougall and Crane comic strips was a short four-panel strip featuring a circus elephant getting his tooth pulled. There is no title or dialogue, and the author’s name is unclear.

comic buster b 13-1-06 toec
Buster Brown and Tige, by R. Outcault, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, 13 January 1906.

The Ottawa Citizen began publishing regular comic strips a year after its rival. From the beginning of January 1906, Richard Outcault’s full-page Buster Brown comic strip, which originally appeared in the New York Herald, could be read in the Citizen. Buster Brown was an upper-class imp with a page-boy haircut who was accompanied by his pit bull terrier Tige. The series was like a cross between Dennis the Menace and Calvin and Hobbes. When Tige spoke only Buster could hear him. Each Buster Brown story ended in a moral with Buster resolving to do something. As was the case with the Yellow Kid, the comic strip got caught up in the Pulitzer/Hearst rivalry with competing versions of the cartoon being produced. Not having the rights to the strip’s title, post-1907 Buster Brown comic strips produced by Outcault were published without a title. Buster Brown became hugely popular across North America. The comic spawned the 1904 silent short movie Buster Brown and the Dude. That same year, Buster Brown’s name was licensed by the Brown Shoe Company. The company also produced “Mary Jane” shoes named after Buster Brown’s comic sweetheart.

In later decades, Ottawa’s two major newspapers carried all of the famous American comic strips, many of whose names remain household words. The Katzenjammer Kids, Bringing Up Father, and Mutt & Jeff were published by the Journal in the 1920s and 1930s. Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Superman followed in the 1940s. Blondie, with her hapless husband Dagwood Bumstead, debuted in the Journal just a couple of weeks before the start of World War II. Readers of the Citizen would find Felix the Cat, Henry, Li’l Abner, and Tarzan during the 1930s and 1940s, and Roy Rogers Joe Palooka and Dennis the Menace in the 1950s. Beginning in 1957, Citizen readers could also enjoy the philosophy and wisdom of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus when the Peanuts comic strip of Charles Schultz first appeared.

So, the next time you pick up the newspaper to read Bizzaro or Hagar The Horrible spare a thought to their rich comic history that stretches back at least two thousand years.

Sources:

America Comes Alive, “Buster Brown Shoes and Mary Janes,” https://americacomesalive.com/2016/06/20/buster-brown-shoes-mary-janes/.

BBC History Magazine, 2018. “5 Bayeux Tapestry facts: what is it, why was it made and what story does it tell?,” History Extra, https://www.historyextra.com/period/norman/5-bayeux-tapestry-facts-what-is-it-why-was-it-made-and-what-story-does-it-tell/.

Haltz, Allan, 2018. Strippers’ Guide, http://strippersguide.blogspot.com/.

Lambiek Comiclopedia, 2018, Palmer Cox, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/cox-palmer.htm.

—————————-, 2018. Frank Crane, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/crane_frank.htm.

—————————-, 2018. George Cruikshank, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/c/cruikshank_george.htm.

—————————, 2018, Henri Julien, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/j/julien_henri.htm.

—————————, 2018. Walt McDougall, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/m/mcdougall_walt.htm.

—————————, 2018. Richard H. Outcault, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/o/outcault.htm.

—————————-, 2018, Arthur Racey, https://www.lambiek.net/artists/r/racey_arthur.htm.

Old Things, 2013. Buster Brown by R.F. Outcault, 31 October.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 11 February 1905.

San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, Newspaper Comic Strips Guide, http://ead.ohiolink.edu/xtf-ead/view?docId=ead/xOhCoUCR0001.xml;query=;brand=default.

Saturday Evening Citizen (The), 12 January 1906.

Ottawa’s First Newspaper

24 February 1836

Bytown independent title 24-2-1836

On 24 February 1836, the first edition of the first local newspaper appeared on the streets of Bytown, the small village that was destined to become Ottawa. That newspaper was called The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate. Its banner on the front page under its name proudly read:

“Let it be impressed upon your minds, Let it be instilled in your children, that the Liberty of the Press is the Palladium of all your civil, political and religious rights.—Sumus.”

The newspaper’s proprietor and editor was James Johnson. An Irish Protestant, Johnson had come to Canada in 1815. In May 1827, he settled in Bytown, which had only been founded the previous year. Reportedly a blacksmith by trade, Johnson quickly became a man of considerable property, earning a living as a merchant and auctioneer in the rough, tough frontier community that was Bytown.

The establishment of a newspaper in the small community was no easy feat, and must have taken many months in put into effect. Johnson purchased his press in Montreal. He personally disassembled it and packed the pieces along with its moveable type in boxes for shipment to Bytown. Most likely, he sent the equipment via boat as there were no railways or good highways linking Bytown to the outside world.

The Prospectus of The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate was dated December 16, 1835, indicating that Johnson had been working on the newspaper for several months before he released its first issue. He committed to publishing the newspaper every Thursday until demand was such that a semi-weekly publication was warranted. He intended “to advocate the national character and interest of every true Briton—Irishmen and their descendants first on the list.” In addition to being the spokesman for the Irish, Johnson promised to “promote the interests and prosperity of the County of Carleton and the Province [Canada West, i.e. Ontario] in general.” However, he also promised to take “the occasional peep into the affairs of our Sister [Canada East, i.e. Quebec]” since the prosperity of the two Provinces were tightly connected.

Johnson proclaimed that on “all occasions,” the newspaper will “uphold the King, and Constitution by enforcing obedience to the laws.” “May the Union Jack of Great Britain never cease to proudly wave over the Citadel of Quebec,” he declared. However, Johnson was very clear that his allegiance did not extend to the King’s ministers and officers, many of whom he believed incompetent and who put their own self-interest ahead of that of the citizens of the two Provinces. He said that they should be “turned adrift to gain a livelihood by their own industry.” Johnson added that “at all times,” would the newspaper speak out against “any misapplication of public monies, or malefaction with which public officers may be charged.”

One thing the newspaper would not do is to wade into religious controversies, except if “a wonton attack is made upon any body of Christians.” Johnson wrote “every man should be allowed to walk in his own peaceful ways without intolerance, as he is responsible for them to God alone.”

The cost of subscribing to the newspaper, which Johnson promised to publish on “good paper” of “a fair size,” was an expensive £1 or $4 per year, exclusive of postage payable semi-annually in advance. Rates for advertising in the newspaper were set at 2 shillings and sixpence for six lines for the first insertion, with every subsequent insertion set at 7 1/2d. Rates went up for larger advertisements. From six to ten lines, the initial rate was 3s. 6d. with subsequent insertions costing 10d. For submissions of great than ten lines, the rate would be 4d. per line for the first time, and 1d. per line for subsequent insertions.

That first edition had a run of about 500 copies, four pages long, which he produced with the help of John Stewart, his compositor. Johnson tried to deliver by hand all the copies of that inaugural issue of the Bytown Independent as he didn’t want to use the Post Office. Johnson, an irascible and opinionated man, was angry at Bytown’s Deputy Post Master and didn’t want to give him the business. “We have always been ill treated by the Deputy Post Master,” he raged. “To have him enlarge his bags for five hundred copies of the Bytown Independent would be unreasonable on our part.”

Johnson requested that friends and foes alike peruse the newspaper and if they didn’t agree with the paper’s politics they could return the issue by the post. Those who retained the issue would be placed on the Subscribers’ List—an early example of what today is called unsolicited supply. Johnson also advised recipients not to keep a copy out of compassion since if necessary he would seek reforms even if they affected “our best friend.”

Johnson pledged that at the end of the year if he was satisfied with himself, he would treat himself and any well-wishers to a bottle of something that would remain nameless.

Politically, Johnson pledged himself to being neither Whig (Reform) or Tory (Conservative). However, it is evident from the newspaper’s coverage of political events that Johnson was an ardent reformer. The newspaper’s account in its first issue of the evolving Canadian political scene provides a fascinating contemporary look into the turbulent period immediately prior to the Rebellions of 1837 when radical reformers took up arms against repressive, non-representative governments in Upper and Lower Canada.

The first issue of the Bytown Independent took place against the backdrop of a change in the leadership of Upper Canada. Sir John Colborne had just been replaced by Sir Francis Bond Head as Lieutenant Governor. Colborne, a military man who had served under the Duke of Wellington during the Napoleonic War, was conservative by nature and served Upper Canada with an unostentatious style. He successively increased the population of Upper Canada through emigration from Britain and instituted a major public works programme to improve communications across the Province. However, while conscious of the need for constitutional reform, Colborne did nothing to address the provincial political grievances.  While many moderates approved of his administration, radical reformers resented his treatment of the House of Assembly, the cost of assisting immigrants, and his use of public funds without the support of the legislature.

Johnson comments on Colborne were scathing and were often close to being libelous. He wrote:

“We can speak of Sir John’s administration from our own knowledge—not from rumours afloat; and we do say this of it, that it was the most puny, partial and political Government that ever any Colony was governed by.”

As well, Johnson, who called Colborne “a scanty head,” accused the Lieutenant Governor of interference in the 1832 by-election in Carleton County. He blamed the election of Hamnet Pinney (or Pinhey), a Tory, over George Lyon, a reformer, by Colborne’s appointment of a corrupt and biased returning officer.

In the newspaper’s first issue, Johnson published the first half of a letter of instructions to Sir Francis Bond Head from Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in London. (The second half was to appear in the second issue of the Independent.) The instructions refer to the mammoth Seventh Report of the Select Committee, which had been chaired by William Lyon Mackenzie, on the grievances of Upper Canada’s House of Assembly. The chief grievance was the “almost unlimited extent of the patronage of the Crown,” exercised by the Colonial minister and his advisers. Lord Glenelg made it very clear that he did not favour the appointment of public officials by the legislature, or by any form of popular election. He feared that such public officials would not work for the general good and “would be virtually exempt from responsibility.” Far better for the Lieutenant Governor to appoint able men who would not promote “any narrow, exclusive or party design.” Given the explosive contents of Glenelg’s letter, it was astonishing that Head released it to the press.

A lengthy response to Glenelg’s instructions written by William Lyon Mackenzie, which originally appeared in a Toronto newspaper, was also published. Mackenzie wrote that throughout the two Canadas there was a “general feeling of disappointment and regret.” He added:

“If Sir Francis appoints to Executive Council men…known for their ability, integrity, firmness and sincere attachment to reform principles, his path will be smooth and easy…but if His Excellency shall retain in office the avowed enemies of free institutions, men whom the basest governments of England ever knew, have made use of their minions to oppress our country, it will be our duty at once to demand his recall and insist that a government which is in itself the greatest of all grievances be made suitable to our wants.”

Unfortunately, Head went on to alienate reformers—his arrogance and ignorance a disastrous combination.  Although Tories won the General Election in June 1836 owing to Head’s appeals of loyalty to the Crown, his actions against reformers led to rebellion. In late 1837, Mackenzie declared himself president of the short-lived Republic of Canada. But the insurrection quickly fizzled. Mackenzie fled to the United States while Head was recalled in disgrace. These events set the stage for the introduction of responsible government under the leadership of moderates such as Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine during the following decade.

In addition to giving a contemporary account of the political struggle between reformers seeking what Americans might call a “government by the people for the people,” and Tories desiring to preserve an autocracy run by the Governor, the Bytown Independent also provides a fascinating window into economic life of early 19th century Canada. During these years, it was unclear whether British North America would use pounds, shillings and pence or dollars and cents as its currency. British and America coins circulated side by side. Canadian banks, which had just began to circulate their own bank notes, issued paper money in both pounds and dollars, sometimes simultaneously in the form of dual denominated notes. This currency ambivalence can be seen by Johnson setting the price of an annual subscription to his newspaper at $4 dollars in one place and at 20 shillings (£1) in another. It wasn’t until 1857 that the Province of Canada (the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada united in 1841) finally chose dollars and cents—economic ties with its U.S. neighbour trumped political and emotional ties with Britain.

There is also a reference in the newspaper to “bons”–a form of alterative paper scrip, usually of small denomination issued by merchants which could be used to buy goods in the issuer’s store. Bon stood for “Bon pour,” French for “Good for.”

Bytown independent 24-2-1836
During the early 19th century, promissory notes (notes of hand) were often used as currency. Endorsed on the back, the notes would pass from person to person as money. Ruglass Wright is probably Ruggles Wright, a son of Philemon Wright who founded Hull. Ruggles, a lumberman like his father, built the first timber slide to transport logs around the Chaudière Falls. In this case, Hugh McGreer is warning potential buyers of the note that he will not pay it if presented.

As well, there is a fascinating reference to “Halifax Currency.” Halifax Currency denoted a way of converting pounds into silver dollars. (It was called Halifax currency after the city where it originated.) One pound, Halifax currency, converted into four silver dollars, or 5 shillings equalled $1. The issuer of a promissory note specified Halifax currency because of the existence of other conversion ratings. For example, in York Currency, which was still in use in parts of Upper Canada in 1836, one silver dollar was worth 8 shillings. To avoid confusion and being short-changed on repayment, it was a sensible precaution to specify the type of currency being used in financial contracts.

Among the advertisements in the newspaper’s first issue are notices from the Post Office listing the times when letters destined for various communities in Upper and Lower Canada had to be received by the Post Office and when letters were delivered at Bytown from these communities. A long list of names of people with mail waiting for them at the Post Office was also provided along with the amount of postage due by them. As these were the days before postage stamps, the recipient of a letter paid the delivery fee. G.W. Baker, the Post Master, warned that unless the amounts were paid by April 5th, the letters would be sent to the dead letter box in Quebec.

Bytown independent Personal ad 24-2-1836
The first personal advertisement. Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate, 24 February 1836. One must wonder whether Daniel Murphy ever reconnected with his sisters.

In another advertisement, Mr. William Northgraves, a watch and clock maker with an office “nearly opposite the Butcher’s Shambles in Lower Bytown,” announced to Bytown residents that from long experience he had acquired “a perfect knowledge of the practical as well as the theoretical part of the science” and was ready to clean and repair all kinds of watches and clocks. Among other things, he could also repair mathematical and surgical instruments, and make all kinds of fine screws. As a side line, he bought old gold and silver.

Two advertisements were placed in the newspaper by Alexander J. Christie. The first he inserted in his capacity as Secretary of the Ottawa Lumber Association announcing a meeting to be held on March 1st at 10 am at J. Chitty’s Hotel to promote the prosperity of the lumber trade. The second was a request for tenders to clear one hundred acres of land close to Bytown.

Christie must have taken a keen liking in the newspaper. He purchased the The Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate from James Johnson after its second issue.  The sale must have surprised the small Bytown community. Christie was a Tory who had helped Hamnet Pinhey win the disputed 1832 Carleton County by-election. Dr. Christie, as he was generally known, was a medical practitioner of uncertain qualifications who had been appointed coroner in 1830 for the Bathurst District in which Bytown was situated. He was also appointed a public notary by Sir John Colborne. Consequently, he represented everything that Johnson had railed against in his newspaper.

Christie relaunched the newspaper a few months later as the Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau Advertiser. In his prospectus, Christie claimed that “he comes forward unfettered by a blind adherence to any party.” However, the Gazette’s coverage of political events had a strong Tory bias. The Bytown Gazette folded in 1845 two years after the death of Dr. Christie.

Bytown regained a local reformist newspaper with the establishment of The Packet in 1843 by William Harris. The Packet was to be renamed The Ottawa Citizen in 1851 and remains the most prominent newspaper in the city to this day.

Sources:

Ballstadt, Carl, 2003. “Christie, Alexander James,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 7. University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/christie_alexander_james_7E.html.

Bytown Independent and Farmer’s Advocate (The), 24 February 1836.

House of Assembly of Upper Canada, 1835, The Seventh Report from the Select Committee on Grievances, chaired by W. L. Mackenzie, Esq., M. Reynolds: Toronto.

Powell, James, 2005, History of the Canadian Dollar, Bank of Canada.

Wilson, Alan, 2003. “Colborne, John, Baron Seaton,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/colborne_john_9E.html.

Wise, S. W., 1972. “Head, Sir Francis Bond,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, accessed 27 July 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/head_francis_bond_10E.html.