THE FRONTIER HISTORY OF OUR OWN WEEKLY NEWSPAPER: THE PINCHER CREEK ECHO

By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

The community of Pincher Creek and its surrounding districts has a history closely connected with the development of locally based journalism. Our local newspaper, the Pincher Creek Echo, established just twenty-two years following the NWMP’s 1878 establishment of this community, has been the mainstay of those journalistic efforts.

ECHO FOUNDED IN AUGUST 1900 BY E. T. SAUNDERS

It was on August 15th, 1900 and under the masthead of “The Rocky Mountain Echo” that the first issue of our weekly newspaper hit the dusty streets of the frontier settlement of Pincher Creek. E. T. (Elias) Saunders, who had been previously associated with the weekly Lethbridge News, served as the Echo’s founding publisher and editor. Local business arrangements, vital for the paper’s successful operations, were handled during the early days by pioneer Pincher Creek lawyer Arthur C. Kemmis, who had come out west from Ireland in 1896 and had articled in the Calgary law firm of subsequent Prime Minister R. B. Bennett. Kemmis married Ada Louise Hinton, and the couple also became closely associated with a few of the commercial developments within Waterton Lakes National Park.

Saunders himself was not without longtime family connections in Pincher Creek. One of his relatives was Jim Saunders, a Pincher Creek veteran of the South African War (1899 – 1902) who during the 1930s served as the well respected caretaker of the local skating rink and tennis courts. These were located on the north side of the Creek, now the site of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. Elias Saunders’ wife was the former Caroline Keen, and after his retirement from The Echo, the pair operated a ranch west of Pincher Creek.

FRONTIER SETTLEMENT REQUIRED THE BOOSTERISM OF A LOCAL PAPER

Saunders was convinced of the timing and vital need for a weekly newspaper in Pincher Creek. Noting that there were other weekly newspapers in southern Alberta that covered aspects of the news from our area, none were considered local and therefore able to defend Pincher Creek interests. The Macleod Gazette, for instance, had served what was to become southwestern Alberta for the previous eighteen years, having been founded in 1882 as the first newspaper in the south. The weekly Lethbridge News, a predecessor to the Herald, also covered some of the happenings in our locale, but gave priority to the news from the city to our east. Saunders quite correctly argued that only a weekly newspaper based in Pincher Creek itself would give the area the news coverage it deserved.

He also noted in his business prospectus, recalled in a historical tribute published in the pages of The Echo some 36 years later, that the timing in 1900 was good for such a venture. Pincher Creek was a bustling commercial centre for the local ranching industry, boasting 300 people and a variety of business interests. With local agriculture expanding, also growing by leaps and bounds was this village which had already been firmly attached to the prairie landscape. Indeed, the community’s population had quadrupled to 1,200 people according to the Dominion Census of 1911. Under such circumstances, Saunders asserted, it was only natural to establish a weekly paper to report on the local news and to defend, in a non-partisan manner, the western flavour of the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies. The paper’s founder believed that this venture would enhance community spirit and would act as a promoter of local interests, especially those of a commercial nature. Such boosterism was considered essential for any town hoping to secure its place on the Canadian frontier.

SYSTEM OF LOCAL NEWS COVERAGE

Saunders and Kemmis quickly established a system of news reporting for The Rocky Mountain Echo, which was to stay with the business for decades to come. A format utilized in other papers, local correspondents were used to report on the weekly or monthly happenings from the various rural settlements surrounding Pincher Creek, or of the local community and church organizations. Some of the first outlying districts covered in The Echo included the older ones such as Beauvais Lake, Mountain Mill, Pincher City, Fishburn and Twin Butte. The inaugural August 15th, 1900 issue for instance, carried a progress report from the Fishburn District re the harvesting of hay on the Cochrane Ranch situated between the Belly and Waterton River and for the NWMP’s Kootenai Outpost situated west of the River. Under the eye-catching headline of “Cowley Cullings”, local news items included the re-opening of the Cowley School with Miss Dunlop serving as its teacher and the progress of the annual harvest. Nearby, frontiersman Jonas Jones was making great progress with the Frost and Wood Binder he had just purchased.

By the 1920s and 1930s most of the old rural school districts and localities within the current boundaries of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek had regular if not weekly news reports within the front, inside or back pages of the Echo for readers to pursue. Highlights from these social columns included the rural community and family events of the past week, weather reports, crop and cattle conditions, and school happenings. Many people of the time thought this was a great way to keep up with the news, from neighbouring districts often isolated by poor roads and by the hard work and long hours put in by the pioneers. Others thought such social reporting to be a bit gossipy, but in retrospect the cumulative record of such news reports has gone a great way in terms of preserving many aspects of our local history.

Major news items from Pincher Creek and the outlying districts were featured on the front or back pages, and were either reported on by the local correspondents or the Echo staff. Editorials on one of the inside pages usually commented on the local items of interest. Only during the early years did The Echo receive and publish regular wire service on national or international news. By the 1920s fewer of these were featured within the pages of the paper, and those which did usually had a specific local connection. Reporting from the two world wars, for instance, concentrated upon local war efforts, casualties, and items which would increase southwestern Alberta’s contributions to the patriotic efforts.

An August 1929 editorial which noted that the Echo was entering its thirtieth year of production perhaps summed the paper’s news coverage the best. It “chronicles the principal events of the lives of [the community’s] people, of the passing of those who go on before and of the progress of the community from week to week.” People who held the greatest interest in the paper’s news coverage were the community builders, seniors and former residents who still held an interest in their home town.

LOCAL ADVERTIZING

Throughout much of its history, advertizing within The Echo read like a “Whose Who” from the commercial, agricultural, legal, educational, and government sectors from Pincher Creek and the surrounding rural communities. Often those centres such as Cowley and Lundbreck featured prominently in such advertizing. A glance through the ads of the paper’s back issues reveals much of our local history. That first issue of our weekly paper carried ads from E. J. Mitchell, druggist, the Hudson’s Bay Company Store on the south side of Main Street, the Pincher Creek Branch of the Union Bank of Canada under the Management of Henry E. Hyde, the real estate agency of former school teacher Arthur Edgar Cox (1856 – 1946), Wm. Berry and Sons who back in 1886 had established Pincher Creek’s first hardware store, and T. Lebel and Company, General Merchants whose store graced what was then the northeast corner of Main Street and Christie Avenue. Names such as Charles Colpman, Druggist, the Christie Coal Mine, the A. L. Freebairn Company Limited, Harvey Bossenberry’s “The Haberdasher” and the Fraser and McRoberts Department Store are but some of the commercial and economic names from our past which regularly advertized with the pages of The Echo during the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s.

Display advertizements in The Pincher Creek Echo, which were a great source of revenue for the fledgling paper, were regularly featured on the left and right hand sides of page one, inside the publication on pages four and five, and on the back page which usually was page eight. These advertizements corresponded with the pages which had the most local news coverage and therefore a higher readership – pages two and three and six and seven were noted for their serialized stories. By 1953 ads on page one had been dropped in favour of full local news coverage.

TURBULENT ECONOMIC TIMES AND NAME CHANGE

E. T. Saunders and Arthur Kemmis worked together for several years in the management and editorship of The Rocky Mountain Echo and were able to establish a business which if it did not thrive, at least survived the economic ups and downs associated with the pioneer portion of our local history. The initial annual subscription price for local readers was set at two dollars but this had fallen to one dollar and fifty cents by October 1907, likely to make the paper more affordable to most pioneers.

The high level of local advertisers in The Echo ensured additional revenues. Column advertizing rates during the autumn of 1907 were noted at $12.50 per month, $7.50 for half columns and five dollars per quarter column. Transient ads went for a dollar per inch per month. However, during the First World War period, economic tough times fell on the paper, and it was only through Saunders’ skillful business sense that the operation was kept free of government receivership.

For the first six years of operation the paper retained its masthead of “The Rocky Mountain Echo”. During the summer of 1906, its name was changed to that of “The Pincher Creek Echo”, which Saunders may have felt more accurately reflected the growth and increasing commercial importance of this ranching and farming centre from the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies.

GRAND OLD BUILDING IN WHICH IT OPERATED

Shortly after its establishment in August 1900 The Echo acquired offices in a former two-storey house constructed on the north side of what is now the 600 block of Main Street in town. The current site of Sure Glass, the Echo’s location was just west of the downtown core of this pioneer town. The lower level of this frame structure was used for business purposes consisting of offices and printing shop while the upper level comprised of apartments and sleeping quarters.

During the early 1900s the flowing waters of the Pincher Creek swept directly behind or on the north side of the offices. This is before cribbing endeavours straightened out the Creek’s meandering path. The Echo’s physical home often was in danger of the Creek flooding, particularly during the June 1908 high water times. During calmer times, there was a popular fishing hole located near the Echo building which apparently was visually recorded in an old photo held by a member of the community. It depicts a young fisherman casting a rod from a large rock resting against the bank.

During the early 1970s, long after the Echo had given up this original location, the deteriorating building still stood there, a visual reminder of a glorious bygone era of early local history. Images of this old site are embedded in the memory of many a high school student who walked to Matthew Halton High School from the west end of town.

Both Saunders and Kemmis were involved in the early days of The Echo, but it appears that Saunders continued there the longest. In October 1916, following the economic turmoil of the First World War, Saunders sold the paper to H. E. Derritt.

WOMAN PUBLISHER AND EDITOR

Derritt originated from Peel County, Ontario, and had come with his wife to Fishburn in 1905. Some six years later, the couple moved to Pincher Creek itself. However, a short time after his purchase of the paper, death claimed the new publisher and owner. His widow, Annie Helena (1879 – 1968) adeptly filled both these positions. She was one of the few women within Canada to operate a newspaper at that time and the business did well under her proprietorship. Local news was given special coverage, and not only kept The Echo readers informed of district events, but the material later became a significant source for local history as well. In 1926 Anna Derritt married Frank Edwards, who joined the paper himself in December 1933 and assumed the editorship in 1939. Edwards became active in community affairs and served as Pincher Creek’s Mayor from 1938 to 1941.

As of March 1st, 1944, The Echo was sold to Henry E. Hammond, who served the local press well during his eight years of ownership. A member of the long time ranching family from the Ashvale District north of Pincher Creek, Hammond ensured a strong coverage of agricultural news. His opening editorial argued that the economic strength of the community lay in the vibrancy of the area’s agricultural industry. Residing in the upstairs apartments of the Echo offices during his ownership of the paper, Hammond also served as the Mayor of Pincher Creek for the six years from 1947 to 1953. Community service often went hand in hand with operating the local press.

MODERN OFFICES BUILT BY THE ROULEAUS

Early in 1952 the Rouleau Family acquired The Echo, and the paper remained in family hands for an astounding 37 years. Originally Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Rouleau assisted with the paper’s management and bookkeeping, while their sons Jim and Dave and their families took an active role in the media’s management, news reporting and editorial activities. The Rouleaus set about modernizing the paper’s operations which included constructing a new set of offices and print shop on the south side of Main Street, just a short distance from the old location. This new one-storey structure boasted a thick, three-foot concrete floor designed for paper’s printing. A four to five-room apartment was established at the building’s rear, but by the late 1960s had been taken over by the expanding business, which by then included a dark room for photo development.

In August 1989 Pam and Jack Gorman, who also owned a newspaper in Hanna, purchased The Pincher Creek Echo. Some six years later the business was acquired by Bowes Publishing Ltd., and became part of a large weekly newspaper chain. Subsequently the Company was purchased by Webco, a subsidiary of the Sun Media Corporation. Printing first was handled in Cochrane, Alberta and with the corporate changes, was moved to Leduc, located just south of Edmonton.

ADDITIONAL NAMES ASSOCIATED WITH THE ECHO’S HISTORY

For more than the full century which The Pincher Creek Echo has operated, there have been many pioneers who perhaps did not own the operations but who have been associated with the paper’s production. Some of these names will be familiar to local history buffs. To name just a few, Tom Manning, O. E. Bogart and Jean (Dobbie) Tucker were associated with the paper’s early years. The latter was a daughter of the owner of Pincher Creek’s Arlington Hotel and during the First World War era she found work with The Echo. One of her colleagues would have been J. Peters who worked for the paper for four years ending in early 1918. His next press position was with the World Spectator in Moosomin, Saskatchewan.

Seth Thornley also was connected with the newspaper’s early chronicles. He was Matthew Halton’s grandfather and both families were Pincher Creek area pioneers, arriving in the early 1900s. Matthew’s mother and Seth’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Halton, also reported the news for The Echo on a regular basis during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. During that same era Mrs. Freda Graham Bundy wrote many feature articles, particularly on the varied aspects of local history, for the paper. Twice, the first during the early 1950s and the second nearly a decade later, her historical writings were serialized in a column entitled “In the Foothills of the Rockies”.

A longtime employee of The Echo was Mr. Diamond, who was first hired in 1923. For decades he served as the paper’s printer. His daughter Dorothy married Henry Hammond. For his work, Diamond utilized a pioneer era Campbell Press, purchased by “Si” Saunders in April 1911. It was considered very modern equipment during the pre-First World War era. It helped crank out the local papers till it was officially retired after a half-century of service in April 1961. Only once, in February 1954, did it have a mechanical breakdown serious enough to impair the newspaper’s time sensitive new production, a situation which was noted in The Echo itself. Its replacement was a cylinder press, labeled a Babcock Number Seven, purchased second hand from The High River Times.

During the early 1950s Nick Verigin, fresh out of high school, worked at The Echo for fifty cents an hour.

A PROUD HERITAGE!

The Pincher Creek Echo has received a number of honours over the years. One was received in September 1938 when the paper was awarded a certificate from Columbia University in the United States for its co-operation with the Edmonton Journal in terms of public service. This was the first time that this award had been given outside the United States. Some fifteen years later, in September 1953, The Echo was awarded third prize in the best all-round category for an Alberta weekly newspaper having a circulation between 1,000 and 2,000 copies. This award was from the Alberta Division of the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association. When the Pincher Creek Echo celebrated its own centennial in 2000 with a publicly attended picnic, the Burns Family from the Twin Butte District were recognized for their one-hundred years of continuous subscription to the paper.

As the Pincher Creek Echo nears its 115th year of continuous publication as our weekly newspaper, its historical legacy within southwestern Alberta is assured.

THE FRONTIER HISTORY OF OUR OWN WEEKLY NEWSPAPER: THE PINCHER CREEK ECHO