Thorold's voice falls silent
By Alun Hughes

I knew that at some point I would write about the history of newspapers in Thorold, but never imagined it would come so soon. However, the demise of the Thorold News compels me do so in this final issue.

The Thorold News has been in existence for over 60 years, but it was by no means the first newspaper to serve the community. In fact, as the Jubilee History of Thorold points out, it was preceded by eight others, though all but the very last were short-lived.

The first was the Thorold Advocate and Welland County Intelligencer, a weekly published by A. Dinsmore, which made its debut in August 1849. Despite its name it contained no local news whatsoever, though it did carry local advertisements.

In 1852 the Welland Herald was published in Port Robinson by Messrs. Davidson and McMullin, but it was primarily a vehicle for Duncan McFarland, a candidate for Parliament, and it expired after three months when the election was over.

Two years later the Thorold Gazette was established by John D. Murray. This was another paper that belied its name by ignoring local news, but it continued until its merger with the St. Catharines Post in 1862.

In 1860 G.W. Hopkins launched the Thorold Weekly Chronicle and Welland County Advertiser. Its motto was "The sun shines for all," and it promised "an earnest attention to the local interests of the County and the Town." However, it survived only a few months.

Soon after the Fenian Raids in 1866 the Thorold True Patriot and Welland and Lincoln Reformer was founded by John Grahame. It bore the inspiring slogan, "While we sing 'God save the queen' let us not forget the people." Publication was suspended for six months following Grahame's in 1870, and the paper was reissued by John McGovern as the Thorold Mercury, only to be absorbed by the Welland Tribune in 1872.

Long-overdue stability came to the Thorold newspaper scene on May 24, 1875 with the launching of the Thorold Post and Niagara District Intelligencer. Proclaiming itself "Born to live," it did just that, continuing with just one short break in publication until 1955.

Advertisements had been placed in the Toronto dailies earlier in 1875 inviting newspapermen to meet a "long-felt want" in Thorold, and it was the McCay brothers of Oakville who took up the challenge. William H. Bone became publisher soon after, and in 1885 the business was bought by the legendary John Henry Thompson, a native of Wainfleet. The paper remained in his family for 70 years.
Thompson dropped the slogan and shortened the name, and in his first editorial promised to make the Thorold Post "the best local family paper in the district," which would be published "in the best interests of Thorold and its vicinity, with neither fear nor favour towards any particular party."

John H. Thompson with daughter Ethel and granddaughter Ruth in the Post printshop.

He was true to his word, and old copies of the Post are a rich source of information about the goings-on in Thorold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If someone was sick, had friends to tea, visited Buffalo, or bought a bicycle (a big thing in the 1890s) it was in the Post. Thompson was an indefatigable champion of Thorold, especially when it came to St. Catharines. He adopted the slogan "Think of Thorold," and on one memorable occasion referred scathingly to St. Catharines as "our little suburb."

A staunch Baptist, temperance advocate and political independent, Thompson held strong opinions and never hesitated to proclaim them in print. His editorials could be quite outrageous, as in this quote from 1910, "Why are Italians, or any other foreigners, allowed to carry their peculiar choice of ous weapons, to whip them out for use on any quick temper, when Canadians, far less fiery in temperament, are to do the same thing? Wherever an Italian community exists, experience and observation has shown that a large portion, if not the majority, will be found to be armed with some ugly weapon if there is provocation to use it."

Office of the Thorold Post at Ormond and Albert streets.

At first the Post offices and printshop were in the Barbeau Block (possibly at 9 Front Street North, home of Hope and Harder Insurance), but in about 1895 they moved to new building on Ormond at Albert (it was torn down a few years ago, and Venditti's Insurance now occupies the site). There the printing business flourished, handling a wide range of products - "anything from a dainty lady's calling card to an Unabridged Dictionary."

In 1898 Thompson published the Jubilee History of Thorold Township and Town (subtitled From the Time of the Red Man to the Present), which remains an essential source about the early years. His other main publications were a beautifully produced Genealogy of the Thompson and related families (1930), a Supplement to the Jubilee History (1932), and a Map of Thorold (1938).

In 1906-07 the Post survived a major challenge from the Thorold Daily News (yes, a daily newspaper in Thorold, and a good one too) published by W.A.E. Moyer. The daily's demise in March 1907 prompted Thompson to publish twice a week, and his paper continued as the Semi-Weekly Post until May 1923, when it ceased publication, only to resume as a weekly a year later.

The Post, like the rest of Thorold, was hit hard by the Depression, and was never the same paper after that. When Thompson died in 1937 it was continued by his daughter Ethel, assisted at first by her brother Theodore. The Post folded in June 1955, because of mounting debts and a "help problem."

The writing was on the wall long before this, however, and the main factor contributing to the Post's demise was competition from the present Thorold News, which was established by Arthur and Belle Furney in 1940. It says much about the decline of the Post that the Furneys were persuaded to start the News by the Thorold Board of Trade (though only after Thompson died), and in the first issue on December 10 Board President Mark Kriluck made no bones about his allegiance: "I believe in the weeks to come we will look upon the Thorold News as Thorold's beacon light."

The first issue of the Thorold News, December 10, 1940.

The first editor was Ronald Rewbury, and he contributed no fewer than five editorials to Vol. 1 No. 1 -- on the birth of the News (a good thing), a proposal thatcouncillors have two year terms instead of one (a bad thing), the need to patronise Thorold businesses ("Shop at home, and buy British"), the existence of Santa Claus ("he lives and lives forever"), and public apathy in the upcoming municipal election ("In these trying times, it would be almost, if not a calamity, to have men elected to office who were not conscientious in their efforts").

At first the News was published in Niagara Falls, where Art had a printing business, though there was a news office at 3 Front Street South (now Harry's New York Bar). After a year the whole operation, including a printing press purchased from the federal government, was moved to 25 Front Street South (presently occupied by MacDonald Ohm Insurance). The sight of Belle operating the linotype machine in full sight of passers-by was apparently quite an attraction.

The stay there was short-lived, however, and in 1945 a fire forced a move to a converted winery at Ormond and Regent (the present site of Tim Hortons). In 1952 Art moved on to other things (including troubleshooting for the Thomson newspaper chain), after which Belle ran the paper with their son Hugo.

The News experienced many ups and downs from 1950 onwards. Early on it included an eight-page comic supplement in full colour, featuring such characters as Dixie Dougan, Red Ryder and Uncle Wiggly, but by the mid-sixties it had been reduced to a four-page product printed entirely in capital letters. It picked up after that, and though it never regained its former glory it did manage to see off two competitors - the Thorold Advance, published by Harry Rustige around 1970, and Town Tempo, magazine-cum-newspaper produced by Paul Carfagnini in the mid-eighties.

But the Furney era was coming to an end, and in October 1989 the "newsy little paper at the hub of the Niagara peninsula" was sold to Rannie Publishing, a division of the St. Catharines Standard, which moved the operation to its present location at 13 Front Street North - just a couple of doors from the original location of the Thorold Post.

Office of the former Thorold News at Ormond and Regent streets.

The Furneys had been running the News as a total market product, which meant it was distributed free to all households in Thorold, and at first Rannie did the same thing. When they switched to paid circulation the move did not pay off, and in 1995 Rannie suddenly announced that the News would be closed in one month unless a buyer could be found.

That is when the two Dougs - Doug Todd and Doug Youmans - stepped in, took a deep breath and bought the paper themselves. Both were already working for the News, the former as editor and the latter as reporter. The "First Doug & Doug edition" came out on December 2, 1995 (the one and only edition, incidentally, to show the old Thorold firehall in the masthead).

The Thorold News now entered a new era, and before long it was ranked among the best papers of its kind in in the country. Though Doug Todd left for the Port Colborne News after a year, the remaining Doug was soon joined by Donna Mouck, Cathy Pelletier, Bob Liddycoat (who became joint publisher) and Doug Draper, and together they made a formidable team. The results speak for themselves - 19 provincial and national awards in 5 years, including best small-market paper in Ontario (three times) and best in Canada (twice, with the 2003 winner still to be announced).

It is always regrettable to see a newspaper die, but when a truly excellent paper like the Thorold News has to fold it is tragic. It is excellent in so many ways - the comprehensive news and sports coverage, the outspoken editorial stance, the quality of the writing, the vibrant letters page, the diversity of the columnists, the superb design and layout, and, not least, the stunning pictures of Thorold's children.

Sadly, those same children as they grow older won't know what they have lost. The Thorold News (and the Post before it) provided Thorold with a special voice of its own, and the place won't be the same now that the voice has fallen silent.

© Alun Hughes 2004

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