You can glean a lot from old newspapers – what grandpappy paid for butter and eggs, what life was like in the horse and buggy days, and so on.
People like to read the old papers. On the other hand, the newspaper directory a friend discovered in the library at Acadia University would probably turn most people off. However, since the directory added to his database on historical Kentville, Louis Comeau was excited by his find. “I found an 1871 directory of North American newspapers at Acadia,” Louis said. “It has a section on Kentville and the Valley. You should have a look at it.”
Look at it I did. I was in the University library the next afternoon. And on the shelf beside the 1871 directory I made another discovery, a later edition of the same publication dated 1903. The directories were compilations of U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines, which at first glance seemed to contain dull, trivial, totally useless, out-of-date information.
At second glance I realized the old directories were more than lists of newspapers and magazines. The publishers, a New York company, were thorough in some ways, providing population statistics as well as a list of newspapers and magazines published in Nova Scotia during the 1870s and the early 20th century. Before radio and television, newspapers were the most important means of communication. The fact that a town published its own paper hinted at its commercial status and importance.
Thus we learn from the directories that some of today’s sleepy little byways were once prominent centers in the 19th century. In the late 1800s, for example, newspapers were published in Hantsport (the Advance with a circulation of less than a thousand) Bear River and Parrsboro.
Prominent centers such as Kentville, Wolfville and Windsor each had two newspapers in this period. The 1871 edition of the directory shows only one paper was published in Kentville. This was the Star, a four-page issue published on Thursday with 700 circulation. However, the 1903 edition which listed papers published in the 1890s gives two Kentville papers, The Advertiser ( 1,520 circulation) and the Western Chronicle with a readership of 1,908.
No doubt an indication of their prominence at the time, Windsor and Wolfville also boasted two newspapers in this period. Windsor had the Hants Journal, a Wednesday issue and the Tribune, published Friday; both papers had a readership in excess of one thousand.
Wolfville’s two papers were the Acadian, a Friday paper, and the Acadian Orchardist, published Tuesday, with both papers having a circulation of more than a thousand. Acadia University’s publication, The Athenaeum, was also being published in this period.
The old directory tells us that many of the weekly newspapers being published today in the Annapolis Valley existed 100 years ago. As well as the papers already mentioned, (The Advertiser, Acadian and Hants Journal) the Berwick Register, Bridgetown Monitor, Middleton Outlook (now the Mirror) Digby Courier, and Annapolis Spectator were being published a century ago.
In the 1890s Nova Scotia also had seven daily newspapers; only one has endured as long as the Valley’s weekly papers.