150-YEAR-OLD NEWSPAPERS SALVAGED (September 26/17)

When a spring issue of The Acadian was published in Wolfville on May 23, 1867, there was no hint in its four-page broadsheet that a momentous event would take place in a few weeks.

Earlier that year, on February 11, the British North America Act was presented to Queen Victoria. The Act received royal assent on March 29 and July 1 was set as the date when the Dominion of Canada would come into existence.

Some 150 years ago, Major and William Theakston, the publishers of The Acadian, obviously concerned themselves with filling their paper with advertisements for patent medicine rather than the upcoming birth of a nation. Other issues of The Acadian published in the spring and summer of 1867 also ignored the birth of Canada. Aside from shipping news for the ports of Canning and Windsor, and a list of the newspaper’s agents in Kings County (17 in all) there was little news of any consequence in the May 23 issue – and other 150 year old Acadians I had the privilege of examining recently at the Kings County Museum.

Actually, it’s almost a miracle that any of those old issues of The Acadian survived. They were almost lost. Richard Skinner tells me that for nearly 150 years the papers, along with other documents, were stored in a trunk at a house in Canning. It was Skinner who eventually salvaged the contents of the trunk and brought them to the attention of the Museum.

As the story goes, Karnan Ells of Medford found the chest stored in the annex of a century plus house he purchased in Canning. When he wanted to clean up the property, Ells had the chest stored in a friend’s barn. This building collapsed during the winter of 2014-2015, damaging the trunk and destroying most of it contents. At this point the barn’s owner, hoping there was something of historical interest in the trunk, gave it to Richard Skinner; he in turn contacted Karnan Ells and obtained permission to pass the trunk and its contents to the Kings Historical Society.

Most of the newspapers stored in the trunk were destroyed when the barn collapsed. Only a few of The Acadian newspapers where in good enough condition to be recorded digitally. However, numerous letters stored in the trunk also were salvaged by Richard Skinner. The letters date from 1864 to 1916 but are mainly from the 1860s.

As for Major and William Theakston, they barely managed to keep The Acadian going after Canada became a nation, closing it a few years later when vandals destroyed their equipment. They must be saluted as newspaper pioneers, however, but bad luck ones at that.

If you dismiss a short-lived attempt in 1859 by Campbell Stephens to publish a newspaper in Wolfville, the first newspaper in Kings County was started in Canning. This was the Kings County Gazette which Major Theakston purchased after it was in operation for about a year. When Canning was destroyed by a fire in 1866 (the first bit of bad luck for Theakston) he closed the paper and moved to Wolfville. With his brother William he established The Acadian there. After a report in The Acadian about the conviction of apple thieves, the newspaper’s office was broken into and anything moveable was thrown into a nearby creek.

This was enough for the Theakstons and they left the county. A few copies of their newspaper remain, however, thanks to the vigilance of Richard Skinner. Those remaining copies have been digitalised at the Kings County Museum and saved for posterity.

Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner looks over a 150-year-old copy of The Acadian, a newspaper published in Wolfville before Canada became a nation. (Coleman)

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