Newspaper week – The Madawaska Valley’s Contribution to Journalism and Canadian Society

Staff Reporter

BARRY’S BAY – During recent home renovations to a property in Palmer Rapids, one BLR resident uncovered newspapers serving as insulation. Besides being a commentary on the thrift and resourcefulness of the home’s former residents, the papers offer an insight into the evolution of newspapers locally and their continued importance to our community today.

The newspapers found in the old farm house date back to the spring of 1918, a time when the Spanish Flu pandemic was just beginning to take root; their accidental discovery this spring was perhaps providential.

One of the papers, Der Nordwesten is written entirely in German. According to a 2012 article by Werner M. Klinger in the Winnipeg Free Press, “On May 17, 1889, the first German newspaper, Der Nordwesten, appeared under the direction of Pastor Schmieder and Consul Wilhelm Hespeler and was greeted at length in the Free Press. In 1900 it had a circulation of 4,000; by 1912 it had reached 25,000.” The article goes on to note that “…the same weekly is still published in Winnipeg for all of Canada under the name Kanada Kurier”

That a century ago some locals in Palmer Rapids were getting their news from a German paper originating in Manitoba is a reminder of the strong influence German settlers had on the area and of the fact that those first settlers spoke languages other and English in their homes. The strong Polish, Irish, German and Algonquin communities all likely had news sources of one form or another that were trusted authorities they could rely on. Word of mouth and parish bulletins would also be counted on to keep small groups within the community up to date on issues of relevance to them.

Eventually, as English became the dominant language of the area, people of varied ethnic backgrounds could turn to common sources for news.

Another newspaper found in the walls of this same home was a copy of The Weekly Nugget published out of Cobalt Ontario. This paper was also from 1918 and was published in English. Though torn and water damaged in places from their one hundred plus years of service as insulation against the bitter Ontario winters, the words and photographs are remarkably clear. The contents of the papers are a snapshot of regional and world history.

The value of a newspaper is not only in its ability to keep present day readers up to speed on current events, but also in its ability to capture content that may one day serve as useful historical evidence that will provide some context for future generations.

The American playwright Arthur Miller, famous for The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, once said “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” When we look back on old newspapers, we get a sense of the conversations that were being had in society at a given point in time. Events happen, but the meaning we give to them is perhaps sometimes more important than the occurrence of the events themselves. Newspapers, by what they include and how they choose to record it tell us a lot about the meaning events have for a given region.

If you want to get a good sense of the conversations had by residents of the Ottawa Valley over more than a hundred years, a fantastic resource is one book found at the local library. The book, The Eganville Leader Reflections of a Century – Stories and Photos from the Ottawa Valley is a valuable supply of information for anyone interested in local history.

The book is dedicated to “Patrick McHugh, Founder of The Eganville Leader, To Amborse and Sylvester Tracey, who assumed ownership of the newspaper in 1944, and to the many employees, past and present, who have, and who continue to dedicate themselves to publishing a quality independent community newspaper serving west and central Renfrew County.”

This dedication is a reminder that newspapers are not simply inanimate objects. They are the result of work done by people. The people who research, write, edit, design, publish, print, distribute and sell the newspapers each week all have some impact on the ongoing success of a paper. They all leave their influence in some way on how the news gets to the reader.

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