The front page of the Journal for April 20, 1912 reported the sinking of the Titanic alongside a report on a visit to Ashcroft from someone from the Provincial Health Office. (Photo credit: Journal archives)

Journal 125 part 2: J.E. Knight, an early Journal editor, was also founder of the BC SPCA

Knight had prevention of cruelty to animals statute passed in province in 1895

When the B.C. Mining Journal became the Ashcroft Journal in May 1899, four years after starting publication, the emphasis changed from mining to regional news, but the paper maintained the same look: four pages (measuring 22.5 by 16 inches) per issue, seven columns per page, with advertising surrounding the stories and few, if any, pictures or illustrations.

Printing techniques at the time made the use of illustrations of any kind difficult and expensive. Drawings, for example, had to be etched onto plates, and using varying type sizes—to differentiate between headlines and stories—was expensive, requiring as it did the purchase of new type. With space at a premium, and printing a time-consuming, tedious, and expensive business, the emphasis was on fitting in as much content as possible, meaning that stories were generally short—often no more than one or two paragraphs—and crammed together one after another.

Under the continued editorship of founder Dr. Frank Stewart Reynolds, however, the paper began to evolve. By the time he sold the paper to J.E. Knight in 1902, headlines were a more prominent feature in the paper, and Knight—who introduced a new monoline typesetter to the operation—made them even larger and more prominent, even though the new machine meant a decrease in page size to 21 by 15 inches.

The move to larger headlines continued throughout the 1910s. While the occasional illustration (usually a drawing, and often as part of an ad) became more commonplace, photographs did not start to appear regularly in the paper until the 1920s, and did not start featuring on the front page until the 1930s.

It was at about this time that the paper evolved again into more of what modern readers expect a newspaper to be: longer stories of a hard news variety, rather than short snippets regarding social doings, sporting events, and items of local interest. In those early years, however, it was the rare story that received more than a few column inches, although articles relating to the “pioneer days” of the region were always sure of getting space.

Knight—who owned and edited the paper from 1902 until 1908—was also the founder of the BC SPCA. According to a letter in the Ashcroft Museum and Archives dated April 9, 1992, from Stuart A. Rammage of the BC SPCA, Knight did preliminary work on the founding of the organization while living in Ashcroft in the 1890s, and he was “successful in getting a statute passed in 1895 called the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Mr. Knight was President of the local Branch of the S.P.C.A. at Ashcroft in 1901.”

Knight, who was also the Customs Agent in Ashcroft, sold out to D.W. Rowlands in 1908 and moved to the coast, where he became involved in the lumber business. Little else is known about him; the letter from Rammage was trying to find out information such as Knight’s year of death, as the BC SPCA was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1995. We can surmise that Knight was a modest fellow, however; alone among all the Journal’s editors over the decades, his name never appears even once on the paper’s masthead. The house he had built for himself and his family in Ashcroft in 1902 still stands at the northwest corner of 4th and Bancroft Streets (the Robertson house) across from Zion United Church.

Rowlands, who took over the paper from Knight in 1908, owned but did not edit the Journal; the editing was left to others, who continued to make changes to the paper’s appearance and emphasis. The Journal had always reported on stories of national or international appearance—usually in reports of no longer than one paragraph—but an exception was made for the April 20, 1912 issue, which featured a story about the sinking of the Titanic on page one. However, equal prominence was given to a story about the visit of someone from the Provincial Health Office to Ashcroft, the headline of which was the same size as that for the Titanic story.

Perhaps the reason that Rowlands left the editing of the paper to others was the fact that he spent his days at the Journal office running an insurance business and handling real estate transactions. In 1912 he decided to pursue a real estate opportunity in Savona, and sold the paper to a similarly busy Ashcroft entrepreneur, thereby opening the door to the Journal’s most celebrated editor, and a man whose family would continue to operate the paper for more than 65 years.

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Front page of the Journal for June 8, 1907. (Photo credit: Journal archives)

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