Monday, 25 October 2010

Newspapers in 1870

I've been reading "The Ottawa Valley's Great Fire of 1870" by Terence M Currie. Well-known in Ottawa historical circles for the way the fire was halted from burning through Ottawa by breaking the dam at Dow's Lake allowing water to flow down the line of Preston Street, the fire was in fact much more extensive than was realized at the time. The book makes considerable use of, or attempts to make use of, contemporary newspaper resources. I found it as interesting for the insights it gives on the use of newspapers of the time for historical research as for the subject matter of the fire itself.

Currie points out that at this time newspapers were largely filled with material from telegraph sources, other newspapers, advertising, and then local sources. A small paper might have no reporter other than the editor whose other responsibilities would not allow him, or occasionally her, to travel far from the newspaper's offices. The Almonte Gazette lost its telegraph communications due to the fire, did not have staff to cover the fire burning only 3 km from the town, and relied for news coverage on quotes of people who dropped in to the newspaper office.

Another limitation of newspapers for this type of study is that many don't survive. Even the Ottawa Citizen, which began publishing in January 1870 is missing for May to November. The Ottawa Free Press published as a bi-weekly but issues do not survive for the period. The Ottawa Times does survive but according to Currie was "more concerned with political events in Britain and the Empire." Files of the Arnprior Chronicle and predecessor papers stored in the newspaper's building were destroyed as a result of a 1954 fire.

Content from the lost newspapers reprinted in other out of town newspapers, as far afield as Toronto, means that some of the local coverage can be retrieved. if you're looking for newspaper coverage of a story that involved your ancestors, and the local paper is missing, it's always worthwhile checking to see which newspapers survive from surrounding and larger communities in the general area.

1 comment:

M.C. Moran said...

I've also been reading Terence Currie's book on the Great Fire. I like the point he makes about the settlers inhabiting a "world of wood."