Written by Colleen Palumbo, photo credit Golden Museum and Archives
To truly understand the power of the press, one has to have read an editorial written by pioneer printer, John Houston.
John Houston was born in Caledon, Peel County, Ontario in November of 1850. His father, William, a native of Scotland and his mother Mary, was born in Canada, had their hands full with the headstrong young man.
At the age of 14, Houston left public school and headed for Chicago where he became an apprentice in the printer’s trade. He quickly made a name for himself known in the southern states for his manner. He was a great advocate of several different causes and stick to any promise made like glue. On the other hand, he had the ability to chew you up and spit you out if he didn’t agree with a given situation. It was, on several occasions, this part of his character that got him into trouble.
Houston was a wanderer and tramped from place to place on a whim, often leaving others in charge of his paper while he did so. After his apprenticeship was served in Chicago, he worked for the Boise Statesman for several years and then tramped off to Hailey where he worked for the Wood River Times. During these early years he also worked at newspapers in New York City and Great Falls, Montana. He also worked at the state printing office in Wisconsin. A year later he was in charge of a $100,000 printing office in Dallas, Texas. Upon leaving Texas, Houston went out to Los Angeles and from there to Calgary, Alberta in about 1886 or 1887. Always an advocate for the little guy, Houston set out for Donald, BC., where he believed he would be able to help those he thought were being taken advantage of by the giant Canadian Pacific Railway. It was at Donald that he established his paper named The Truth.
It appears that one of the reasons that he tramped around so much and changed jobs with such frequency was that he drank too much. The only proof that we have of this however, is his own writing. In the last days of his life he wrote the following:
“I speak of these matters and what they mean to both communities and individuals, not as a religious fanatic or a temperance crank, but out of bitter experience, as one who has played the game in many new cities and camps, and by his own mistakes, lost fortunes, health and the regard of many of whose good opinion he most valued.”
Another clue that we have is part of an editorial that he wrote in the Donald Truth in 1888. “Truth typographical imperfections, it must be confessed, are numerous. It was printed from a handful or two of very old type, borrowed from the Calgary Herald, one page at a time on a ‘nutcracker’ press. Its editor was broke, owed three weeks board and had no standoff liquid inspiration. Hence, none of its articles are inspired, all of them sober truth.”
Houston was hones, blunt and brief. He was often sued for his straight-forward manner and once, while being sued, wrote a scathing article about how the judge was handling the case. During his short stay in Donald, he wrote many articles that had no fact to them at all. If it happened to be a slow news week, he’d just make up the news columns using fictional characters.
British Columbia really caught him up and although his time at Donald didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to, it didn’t stop him from staying in BC. He went to start The Daily Truth in New Westminster in 1889; The Miner in Nelson, BC (he was also the Mayor of Nelson and part of the Legislative Assembly) in 1890; The Tribune in Nelson in 1892; The Times at Kaslo in 1895 and The Empire in Prince Rupert in 1907. It was at Prince Rupert that he had the most problem with big business. The Grand Trunk Railway didn’t want him there so they froze him out by refusing to sell him hand on which to run his paper.