Newspapers, whether we read them in their traditional paper format or view them online, are inexpensive, disposable and ephemeral goods. We read them and toss them. We complain if their price goes up or if we can't access them on the Web free of charge. We take them for granted. Some of us ignore them completely now, and get all our news from Facebook and Twitter instead. Most of us have never stopped to think about why they are 'important' or valuable.
Newspapers are, and always have been, a mirror held up to reflect who we are, how our communities came to be, how we live our daily lives, and how we view the world around us. 'Old' newspapers have special value, because they enable us to look back and see what the world was like 20, 50, 100 or even 200 years ago.
Old newspapers, whether from last year or last century, are continually at risk — they're fragile, they haven't always been kept or been well taken care of, and the ones that have survived are usually accessible only in archives or libraries. Modern technology, however, is changing all this.
Presented below, in chronological order, are front-page images for thirteen different newspapers published in six very different Nova Scotia communities over a span of 210 years — from The Nova Scotia Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser in 1769, to The 4th Estate in 1977. Click on each image to begin exploring the surviving issues for that newspaper, for the years indicated — 26,220 digitized pages in all, accessible right now and from wherever you are in the world!
We're especially pleased to offer Internet visitors the first forty years of the Acadian Recorder, one of Halifax's most significant newspapers. For nearly a century after it began in January 1813, the Recorder offered its readers comprehensive, thoughtful and robust reporting. An early subject of interest was the War of 1812. Today's readers can now explore how war was reported two centuries ago — long and detailed articles, no photographs, maps or illustrations, and most of the news at least a week old!
Four of the newspapers presented below are early 20th century Gaelic newspapers published in Sydney, Cape Breton. They were designed to appeal to Gaelic-speakers and readers in eastern Nova Scotia, who were at that time frequently only two and three generations removed from the original Highland settlers.
A petition submitted to Premier G.H. Murray in 1920 noted that 29.8% of the population were of Scottish descent, and that "The great majority of Nova Scotians belonging to the Scottish race still preserve the Gaelic language and are deeply attached to the traditions embodied in its literature."
We are pleased to present these four Gaelic newspapers in partnership with the Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University, and Nova Scotia's Office of Gaelic Affairs.
This title is one in an unbroken chain of official and semi-official government newspapers published in Nova Scotia, from the Halifax Gazette on 23 March 1752 to the present-day Royal Gazette. The Nova Scotia Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser has been called 'the liveliest journal of opinion produced in Canada' for its time; regular features included tide tables, shipping news, weather reports and advertisements. It had less than 80 subscribers when it began in 1769, and lasted only a year before taking a new title, the Nova Scotia Gazette and Weekly Chronicle.
Selected issues 1769 and 1770
Shelburne was founded in 1783 by some 15,000 political refugees displaced in the aftermath of the American Revolution. For a fleeting moment it was the fourth-largest community in North America, and with a population that large could sustain several newspapers in the early years. The Royal American Gazette was the first; begun in New York City in 1777, it migrated north with its publisher, James Robertson, in 1783. It featured local advertisements, reprints of news items from foreign newspapers, and some local content. Its Shelburne life ended when Robertson moved to Charlottetown PEI about 1785-86.
Selected Issues from 1785
This newspaper began in 1784, as a sort of literary magazine featuring essays, poetry, stories and letters reprinted from English and American periodicals, with occasional local content. The publisher was the nephew of James Robertson Sr., who published The Royal American Gazette. When Robertson Sr. moved to Charlottetown about 1785, taking his printing press with him, the Gazetteer and Advertiser ceased publication.
Selected issues from 1785
The last of the early newspapers in Loyalist Shelburne, this title began in 1785, was printed on new equipment imported from England, and may have continued as late as 1796. It featured shipping and local news, weather reports, and reprints from newspapers in Saint John NB, Quebec, the United States and overseas. The publisher, James Humphreys, returned to his native Philadelphia in 1797, taking his press with him.
Selected issues from 1786 and 1787
The Acadian Recorder was a weekly Halifax newspaper first published in January 1813 by Anthony H. Holland. He was joined in 1821 by his brother, Philip, who took full control of the publication in 1824. The paper eventually came under the auspices of Mssrs. John English and Hugh W. Blackadar in 1837. The Recorder was what we now call a 'newspaper of record' because of its lengthy publication history (nearly a century) and the quality of its news coverage. In the early days, it printed local, national and international news stories. Other features included a weekly almanac, shipping news, obituaries and wedding announcements, a poetry or story section, and a wide range of advertisements.
Selected issues from 1813 to 1853
This newspaper was published weekly, provided there was sufficient ink and paper, out of S.J.M. Allen's offices in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Taking as its motto, "The Friend of All, the Slave of None," it began in January 1854 and continued under Allen until 1867 when publication passed to Silas M. Bryden, who changed the journal's name to the Liverpool Advertiser. The Transcript was a "weekly miscellany of literature, art, science, and popular information" and is a representative example of a small town newspaper in the mid-nineteenth century. It included local news (though much was omitted, based on the assumption that everyone already knew what was happening in town) as well as national and international items. Other key features included shipping news, poetry and story sections, wide-ranging advertisements, and even, on occasion, word and logic puzzles.
Selected issues from 1854 to 1867
Published in Pictou from 1835 to 1838, this was one of the earliest newspapers in Nova Scotia to appear outside Halifax. It was printed on the press of — and may have been the successor to — the Colonial Patriot, Pictou's first newspaper (1827). Like its predecessor, The Bee supported progress and reform, promoted agricultural interests, and was considered so radical that it was banned from the Halifax Exchange Reading Room in 1837.
Selected issues from 1835, 1836, 1837 and 1838
A monthly publication out of Sydney, Cape Breton, An Solus Iùil was a Gaelic newspaper with English sections relating church news. The focus of the paper was Presbyterian news, including but not limited to, mission efforts, ministerial appointments and church meetings; the occasional wedding was announced as well.
Selected issues from 1925 to 1927
Published monthly out of Sydney, Cape Breton, Fear na Céilidh was bound rather than taking the traditional form of a newspaper, and included advertisements, largely in English with images, on the front and back covers. The newspaper itself was published entirely in Gaelic, in an effort to preserve and cultivate that beautiful language. The newspaper promised a "well-edited selection of interesting reading, carefully written and correctly printed." The annual subscription was $1.00 for 12 issues — a small price to pay for maintaining and promoting the language.
Selected issues from 1928 to 1930
This Gaelic newspaper was published by the Scottish Catholic Society in Sydney, Cape Breton. It appeared monthly, although the first several issues are followed by a gap of five years (1923 to 1928) before monthly publication resumed. In contrast to the other Gaelic papers, Mosgladh was published mostly in English, with a few Gaelic translations of prayers, Gaelic songs, and some Gaelic stories. Most of the news items featured relate to the Roman Catholic Church.
Selected issues from 1922, 1923 and 1928 to 1933
This predominantly Gaelic newspaper was published monthly in Sydney, Cape Breton. It featured Gaelic poetry and stories, with each issue also including a unique feature that demonstrated the publishers' commitment to preserving the Gaelic language — namely a Gaelic lesson, usually consisting of basic vocabulary and some points of grammar. The first such lesson began with a note that there are only eighteen letters in the Gaelic alphabet, and then explained how to pronounce them.
Selected issues from 1924 to 1929 and 1932 to 1934
Billed as 'Canada's Smallest Newspaper,' this unique title was published intermittently in Central Grove, Digby Neck (Digby County) from 1933 to 1943. Printed on a small press with hand-set type, the Tattler began with 18 subscribers and built to over 5,000 at its peak, across Nova Scotia and beyond. A variant title, The Tiny Telegram, was also published by Shortliffe Print in Caledonia, Queens County, beginning in 1938. The issues digitized here were donated by the family and arrived bound in yearly increments, each with a hand-decorated cover. With its own commemorative website at www.tinytattler.ca, the Tattler continues to generate interest in the local news, advertisements and perspective it provided 75 years ago.
Selected issues from 1933-1936 and 1938
From its first issue on 17 April 1969, The 4th Estate established itself as the independent 'second viewpoint….[and] questioning voice in print in our city and province.' Near the end, in January 1977, publisher Brenda Large wrote, 'The 4th Estate really shouldn't exist at all. All the odds are against it and continue to be against it. But it has survived for eight years due to the work of Nick Fillmore and others who have contributed to the paper and have been loyal readers over the years.' Progressive, radical and provocative, The 4th Estate focused on the issues that mattered in late 20th century Nova Scotia — and which continue to matter to this day.
Selected issues from 1969 to 1977
We thank Libraries Nova Scotia and C@P Nova Scotia, the Board of Trustees, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, and the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society for supporting the trial project that has made possible digitization and online presentation of these historical newspapers; and Nova Scotia's Office of Gaelic Affairs for generous assistance with Gaelic translation. We also invite you to visit our project partner, the Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University, to explore their online selection of digitized newspapers from Cape Breton Island.