In terms of local historical documentation, nothing quite compares to the town newspaper. This holds true for Wiarton as much as any town. Indeed, in the creation of this website, the archived copies of Wiarton's newspapers have provided me information at a level of detail that is simply unavailable anywhere else. The local newspaper truly serves to tell the ongoing story of a town and its people in the most intimate fashion.
Wiarton's newspaper story began in 1879, only thirteen years after the first settler had established himself within the town limits. The Wiarton Echo was the newspaper's name and it continues to operate to this day (see www.wiartonecho.com).
Having visited the young hamlet of Wiarton (population 300) in 1878, George Bingham returned to his job at a paper in Owen Sound and convinced his colleague C.F. Campbell of the vital need for a newspaper in Wiarton. The two men travelled to Wiarton that December with only ten dollars. Having obtained a joint-stock charter, they set out, with considerable trouble, to raise $1500 in stock. In February of 1879, Bingham purchased a used printing press at auction in Toronto for $300 and had it transported back to Wiarton in pieces. At the beginning of April, Bingham and Campbell polished and reassembled the pieces of the press by hand before installing it in the former Orange Lodge, one door north of the Queen's Hotel (north of Division St. on the west side of Berford St.). Lacking the finances to purchase a steam engine to power the press, the press was run at first by manpower and later by horsepower until steam finally arrived three years later.
The first issue of the Wiarton Echo was published July 4, 1879. A yearly subscription of the weekly newspaper could be had for only $1. Despite troubles in collecting subscription revenues, the paper gradually grew into a profitable enterprise. By 1883 it could afford to move to a new building further south on the eastern side of Berford St., where the paper remains to the day. Over the years, the Echo has passed through the hands of several editors, some with longer stints than others. Of note, SW Cross (who also owned a furniture and undertaking business and was the Bell Telephone agent for a number of years in Wiarton) ran the Echo for a combined 17 years (1883-1894, 1897-1903), A. Logan ran the paper for 20 years (1903-1923), CV Limpert served as editor for 17 years (1950-1967), Harold Wyonch held the post for 10 years (1966-1976) before handing the reigns over to the Mr. Keith Gilbert who served as editor for 37 years until 2013.
Mr. Wyonch was the last independent owner of the Echo. He sold the paper to the Southam Newspaper Group in May of 1990. Most recently, ownership of the paper was transferred to Bowes Publishers Ltd. (part of Sun Media and Quebecor Inc.) in 1999. Today, the Echo is a member of Sun Media Community Newspapers part of Postmedia Network.
The Echo has transcribed weekly life in Wiarton for virtually the entire life of the settlement...from the pioneer days before the railway arrived and businesses moved down from Gould St. to Berford St....through the rapid expansion and buildup of the 1880s to 1900s...through the subsequent industrial decline (including the demise of the cement, sugar and furniture factories). Its columns saw Wiarton send its young men off to fight the first and second world wars, and documented the town's transition to a tourist haven, including the first appearance of Wiarton Willie...and so the Echo continues today. Figure W20A shows two similar views of the Echo printing office from about 1910 and 2004, respectively. As you can see, despite all the advancements in printing technology, the Echo building still represents the enterprising spirit of Wiarton's younger days.
Figure W20A: The Wiarton Echo printing office (about 1909 and 2004).
Despite its success, the Echo faced some stiff competition in its first decades. The first competitor, entitled "The Encore" appeared in mid-November of 1889 and was printed by editor L.D. Post from his office on the corner (northeast, I believe) of Berford and Frank Streets. Figure W20B, below, shows the masthead of the Encore's debut issue on October 24, 1889. Below the date read the following quotation: "`Light, freedom, truth: Light to see the truth, freedom to make it known' - Whittier".
Figure W20B: The masthead of the Encore's debut issue. (c. October 24, 1889)
The Echo and Encore were soon followed in mid-1891 by a third competitor, the Wiarton News. The intense competition between the three papers in the small town was unsustainable, however, and the Encore was bought out by the Echo in October of 1892, having never been profitable. The Wiarton News closed its doors soon after amidst a pile of debt, ending its run in October 1893. However, the News would rise again before the year-end, with a new name: The Wiarton Canadian (see Figure W20C).
Figure W20C: The Wiarton Canadian inaugural masthead. (c. 1893)
The Wiarton Canadian printing office was located in the Hunter Block, on the east side of Berford St. between William and George St., at 593 Berford St. (the longtime location of Centennial Chevrolet). Figure W20D below shows the Canadian office in 1899. On October 4 of that year, the building in which the Canadian was located suffered a serious fire. While the building was rebuilt, the Canadian was housed in the local telegraph office. In any event, the Canadian turned out to be the only viable competitor ever to run against the Echo. However, the competition would not outlast Wiarton's period of rapid expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In February of 1911, the Echo published a statement denying an imminent merger with the Canadian. Nonetheless, hard economic times forced the amalgamation of the two papers beginning with the October 25th issue that year. After contemplating between the "Wiarton Echo and Canadian" or the "Canadian Echo", the latter title was chosen as the name of the new paper, first appearing in the banner on November 25, 1911. The Canadian was essentially merged into the Echo, with the paper using the Canadian's printing press, but retaining the Wiarton Echo's editor, A. Logan.
Figure W20D: The Wiarton Canadian printing office. (c. 1899)
The last direct competitor to the Echo surfaced in 1915 and was titled the "Wiarton Record". This enterprise, however, did not last beyond the year of its establishment. From that point on, the Echo has been the sole voice for the residents of Wiarton and has served its position well, always maintaining the local focus that made it successful in the beginning. In the end, Wiarton's newspaper industry came full circle, ending as it had begun...in 1941 the Canadian Echo changed its name back to the Wiarton Echo. (Figure W20E below shows the Echo masthead over the years.) Having celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2004, the Echo continues in fine form today!
Figure W20E: The Wiarton Echo masthead over the years. (c. 1879, 1920, 1931, 1963, 1979, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2014)
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