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165 years of print news in Barrie (5 photos)

In this week's 'Remember This,' Mary Harris highlights the history of Barrie newspapers after the closure of the 'Barrie Examiner'

It’s 1852 all over again. With the stroke of a pen, or perhaps more likely the pressing of the enter key, it was all over. The Barrie Examiner was no more. One 165 years ago, there was only the Advance, and now there is only the Advance once more.

In the early days, with no rail or telegraph lines to Barrie, any news that came to town arrived either by water or by stagecoach along some terrible dirt roads, and it was week old Toronto news.

Having no local news was bad enough but, as Barrie began to boom in the mid 1800s, businessmen who wanted to grow in the community complained of the great inconvenience caused by a lack of any kind of press whereby they might advertise their goods and services. The budding town reached out to publishers but none would bite.

Andrew Hunter, a newspaper man himself, explained the problem in his book The History of Simcoe County.

“Without the guarantee of 500 subscribers to start with, none would risk his time and means in a district so sparsely settled, so little known, and so unfavourably spoken of by those on the frontier.”

But local journalism did come to Barrie. The Magnet, started by Thomas Fox Davies, was the first newspaper published north of Toronto and it began on Aug. 6,1847. Davies, a former Toronto Globe man, brought the first pieces of printing equipment to Barrie on an ox cart.

By 1852, Davies had rebranded his paper as the Northern Advance.

You might think that a little town of about 2,000 people might be fine with one newspaper, but politics was always a major driving force in Barrie, and when the Advance began leaning clearly to the side of Reform (Liberal), a group of staunch Conservatives started the Herald to counter it. The Herald lasted three years.

Meanwhile, Richard Oliver had taken over at the Advance and continued the spirited Reform promotion in that journal. Former publisher, Davies, took up with some strong Conservatives like D’Alton McCarthy and Judge Boys, and launched The Spirit of the Age. Five years was the Spirit’s life span.

The political game of journalistic cat and mouse became more complicated with the birth of the Barrie Examiner in February of 1864. The Examiner was a Liberal leaning publication, just as the Advance was, but its mission was to be the top paper in Barrie, and so it took on the task of trying to discredit its competitor.

William Manley Nicholson was the first manager of the Barrie Examiner. He was the name and the face of the new paper in town, a paper that was supported by a joint stock company in the beginning.

With two Liberal newspapers duking it out for supremacy in Barrie, a little balance seemed to be lacking, and so another paper sprouted and was called the Gazette. This was followed by the Saturday Morning, which gave the small town a total of four newspapers!

The production of these newspapers was no easy task. The environment in the print shops of the late 1800s was hot and humid, messy and dangerous. A linotype operator used molten lead to create lines of text in a hazardous job that must have often caused an early death. The compositor set the type to pages, and a proof reader went over everything with an eagle eye.

A steam engine drove a Wharfdale press, the first cylinder type of printing machine, that could potentially roll out 500 impressions an hour onto recycled Toronto newsprint.

This state of affairs continued until Barrie’s most common disruptor came along – fire! A blaze began on Aug. 4, 1914, in the McLean and DeHart Garage on the southwest corner of Mulcaster and Dunlop Street East, and spread next door to Massey-Harris showroom, and finally to the offices of the Barrie Examiner.

The print shop was a complete ruin. Despite their differences, other news people in town stepped up to assist their brothers in journalism. A few days after the disaster, a smaller version of the Examiner was printed out of the Gazette office. Later, the Examiner partnered with the Saturday Morning in the Ross Block to continue its work. The two papers then merged.

By 1917, the Gazette was gone which essentially left the two main rivals, the Examiner and the Advance, on the Barrie news landscape. That situation ended in 1940 when the Examiner bought the Advance and promptly closed it.

This was not the end, of course. The Shopping News arrived in 1962, and was purchased by R.J. Tyler in 1968, and renamed the Banner. The Banner was then called the Advance, the name that survives today.

The two papers left their mud-slinging and political griping behind a long time ago, and co-existed peacefully in Barrie, each filling their particular niche, for many years. The town, who eventually became a city, had plenty of room for two newspapers to flourish. It still has.

It is rather heartbreaking to know that over a century and half of hard-won quality journalism, through hand type setting, destructive fires, dedicated reporters, photographers, print staff and editors, delivered on mud streets in all the weather Barrie has to offer, can be wiped out by sheer dollar-driven whim.

That is my unapologetic editorial.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.