The Nelson Daily News boasted a three-sided neon rooftop sign from 1935 to 1968 — which once acted as a beacon for a wayward plane. Touchstones Nelson collection

Black and white and read all over: Nelson’s newspapers laid bare

A new exhibit at Touchstones Nelson looks at the history of the city’s press

At 3 a.m. on Oct. 29, 1924, Nelson Daily News star reporter Bert Currie got the scoop of his life.

A CPR messenger tipped him off about an explosion two hours earlier on the train between Castlegar and Grand Forks.

Currie tried unsuccessfully to confirm the story with a dispatcher by phone. So he went to the train station and met Supt. W.O. Miller, who confirmed a coach had blown up with multiple fatalities.

Miller asked Currie not to write anything “till we get some further facts,” but Currie filed a story that appeared on the front page that morning and sent the first dispatch to the Canadian Press — impressive speed even by today’s standards.

However, he was unaware that one of the nine victims was Doukhobor leader Peter (Lordly) Verigin. It was the one of the deadliest incidents in Kootenay history and, if the result of a bomb, remains its worst unsolved crime.

It’s one of the headlines included in an exhibit that opens Saturday at Touchstones Nelson entitled Kootenay News. It looks at Nelson’s newspaper history, beginning in 1890, when John Houston and two partners brought a printing press to town by barge and pack train and started The Miner.

Houston, who was also Nelson’s founding mayor, was a controversial figure in his own lifetime. Today we’d take an even dimmer view of his virulently racist editorials. But at the time, newspapers were uniformly racist. They ignored entire segments of society when they weren’t condemning them openly.

They made no bones about their political biases. They didn’t hesitate to print gruesome details of violent accidents, although they were squeamish about anything remotely sexual.

Houston sold The Miner in 1892 — and soon started a rival weekly, The Tribune. The two papers delighted in bashing one another. A third weekly, The Economist, joined the fray in 1897. The following year The Miner began publishing daily, followed soon after by The Tribune.

The Miner changed hands frequently and was finally acquired in 1902 by Francis J. Deane, who renamed the paper The Daily News and started the numbering over at Vol. 1, No. 1. He promised “all the news that is news will be published.”

By the time he sold out six years later to a group of Conservative lawyers, the Daily News was the interior’s leading paper. But it was just getting started.

In the following decades, the Daily News established itself as the Kootenay’s paper of record, with a network of 40 community correspondents and a circulation that peaked at 10,000 — the only paper in Canada, it often boasted, with a print run larger than the population of the city it served.

A small army of drivers and carriers worked each day before dawn to deliver the paper to doorsteps and newsstands from the Okanagan to southern Alberta.

Many legendary figures spent their careers at the Daily News.

Art Gibbon started in the bindery in 1928 but soon switched to the editorial department. He retired as editor in 1975, after 47 years with the paper, having mentored many young reporters.

Doris Bradshaw started in 1952 as a filing clerk and cultural events reporter. Later, she combed reams of wire copy to meet a daily requirement of 25 stories for the front page. Also a longtime columnist, she was one of the paper’s best known faces until her retirement in 1984.

J.J. Boyd, Bill Rozinkin, and Duncan Darough spent 41, 44, and 47 years respectively in the printing and mechanical departments.

The paper’s sale to Conrad Black’s Sterling Newspapers in 1973 signaled the end of the paper’s heyday, although it continued to publish until 2010.

While the Daily News largely had the field to itself for decades, other papers did exist, including the Kootenay Graphic News — a scandal-sheet published in the 1960s by Mickey Carlton with big photos and sensational headlines that must have shocked readers of the placid Daily News.

The 1970s and ’80s saw many alternative papers pop up, including Images (a monthly women’s paper), Kootenay Rapport, Kootenay Reporter, and Kootenay Review.

But the most sustained independent title was The Express (nee Kootenay Weekly Express and What’s On), which Nelson Becker published from 1988 to 2011. He started it after city council nixed his plan to rezone the Scandinavian Church as a coffeehouse and music venue.

“I owe my success to ignorance,” he once mused. “If I had known how long and what it would take to publish a successful community newspaper, I might never have started. Thank goodness for bad bookkeeping!”

The paper you’re reading right now was established by Black Press as the Kootenay Western Star in 2007 and renamed the Nelson Star the following year. It started as a weekly, went twice weekly in 2010, and reverted to weekly last year.

The Touchstones exhibit includes front pages, ephemera, photographs, and artifacts — including the iconic Nelson Daily News sign, salvaged when the paper’s longtime home was sold in 2011.

The exhibit opens Saturday at 1:30 p.m., followed by a panel discussion at 2 p.m. featuring Nelson Becker, former Daily News and Star editor Bob Hall, former Daily News reporters Kathleen Rodgers and Rita Moir, and former Daily News office manager and historian Greg Scott.

The exhibit is on until Feb. 17.

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The Nelson Daily News boasted a three-sided neon rooftop sign from 1935 to 1968 — which once acted as a beacon for a wayward plane. Touchstones Nelson collection

A new sign is installed on the Nelson Daily News building at 266 Baker Street in 1968. The sign was salvaged when the building was sold in 2011 and will be part of an exhibit opening Saturday at Touchstones on the history of Nelson’s newspapers. Touchstones Nelson collection

At 1 a.m. on Oct. 29, 1924, a passenger train car exploded between Castlegar and Grand Forks. The Nelson Daily News had the story in print that morning — although it missed the key detail that Doukhobor leader Peter (Lordly) Verigin was among the victims.

Nelson Becker published The Express (formerly What’s On) for over 22 years. Becker has provided artifacts to a Touchstones exhibit on the history of Nelson newspapers and will be a panelist at the opening on Saturday. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

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