Past, Present & Beyond: Batty visitors and haunted history

Barbara Roden recalls an unusual visitor in The Journal office, which, given the office's long history, may not have been all that unusual.

“Did you put this here?”

Wendy points to a brown smudge on the wall near where she’s standing, beside the air conditioning unit that, in summer, does a valiant job of trying to keep The Journal office cool; or at least cool-ish. The main part of the building was constructed in 1898, when means of controlling temperature were fairly primitive, and subsequent additions and changes have not done much to alter the situation, so in summer we flick the air conditioner to “high” and hope for the best.

I look at the wall and shake my head. “No,” I reply, “what is it?”

“A bat,” replies Wendy, moving away from the wall in a manner that can only be described as brisk. “It wasn’t you?”

[Ed. Note: Barbara fails to mention here that I came back with my camera and took pictures while she cautioned me not to disturb it!]

It’s fairly well known that I love all things creepy and spooky; but this is March, not Halloween, and I have definitely not hung a rubber bat on the wall of The Journal office. We both peer at the creature, which seems quite comfortable clinging to the pegboard lining the wall, and I think to myself, “Well, of course we have bats in this building.”

Ashcroft has done a rather good job of trying to burn itself to the ground over the last century or so; wooden structures plus hot dry weather plus high winds will often produce that result. Yet The Journal building has managed to hang on for almost 120 years, one of the oldest structures in town, and perhaps one of its least celebrated. It’s simply there, part of the fabric of Ashcroft, quietly going about its business and not drawing much attention to itself. I’m not surprised that a bat or two has decided it’s a good place to hang out (quite literally).

These days The Journal is laid out electronically; but when the B.C. Mining Journal – The Journal’s predecessor – began publication in an office on Railway Avenue in 1895 the paper was produced by hand. It was a laborious process, since before a page could be printed it needed to be “set” from trays of individual letters and symbols. These were called “sorts”, and printers had to ensure they had a good supply of them, otherwise they could run short, and thus be “out of sorts”; a phrase that lives on today to describe someone who feels unhappy, or not quite right.

When the B.C. Mining Journal began to run a bit short on mining news to report it renamed itself The Ashcroft Journal, and owner/editor F.S. Reynolds moved the paper to a new building on 4th Street; the building the paper occupies today. “The Mining Journal force are now pleasantly located in their new office. The rooms are commodious and well located,” stated the paper, not long after its move. “If anyone wishes to pay up their subscription we are easily found.” An annual subscription cost $2, and the paper’s office was across the street from the stables of the Ashcroft Hotel; the hotel itself occupied the spot there the post office now sits.

The paper was printed in the building, and over the decades – as printing techniques changed – the building changed accordingly. When “hot lead” switched to “paste-up” – that is, articles and headlines and ads were printed and then physically pasted on to the sheets comprising that week’s paper – The Journal office adapted; stains from the machine that was used to apply wax to the back of the printed pieces can still be seen in the rear of The Journal office. The paste-up tables are still there too; inclined desks where the pages of the paper would have been placed, awaiting that week’s paste-up. At some point a one-storey extension was added along the north side (now the front) of the building, providing more space.

The most well-known editor of The Journal was R.D. Cumming, who took over the paper in 1912, and whose family controlled it until 1978. In the back of the office there are bound volumes of various years of the paper, some of which bear Cumming’s annotations and notes (a complete run of The Journal can be found at the Ashcroft Museum). Some of the printing equipment from the early days of the paper can be seen in the caboose which sits in the Heritage Park on Railway Avenue, while a heavy safe – its combination long since lost – sits empty and open in the back of The Journal office, near where the paper was printed in days gone by.

Cumming was obviously a man who appreciated the importance of preserving the past: by the mid-1930s he had accumulated enough memorabilia to open a museum above The Journal office, and his collection formed the basis of the Ashcroft Museum, when the building next door to The Journal office – built almost 20 years after the Mining Journal made its move from Railway Avenue – ceased being the telegraph, telephone, and post office building and became (in 1982) the Museum as we know it today.

The space above The Journal office was, at some point after the removal of Cumming’s memorabilia to the building next door, turned into living quarters, then as now accessible only by an exterior staircase on the east side of the building. There is still no interior access to the upper floor from The Journal office, so I’ve never seen what’s above my head as I work each week. Every now and then, when I’m in the office by myself, I’ll hear an odd creak from the floorboards above me, and wonder who – or what – is moving around up there. I’ve even gone outside more than once and looked up at the windows, but (thankfully) have never seen anyone looking back at me. Just the odd bat, I tell myself now. I’m sure there are a few of them up there, alongside the ghosts and memories of days long past, in one of Ashcroft’s oldest buildings.

Barbara Roden