Ron Shearer: The early days of the Rossland Miner

Ron Shearer takes a look at the history of the Rossland Miner.

What should be the mission of a community newspaper?

Until a 1972 fire doomed it, the Rossland Miner was an important institution in the city, providing news, information and entertainment and a forum for residents to communicate with each other about matters great and small.

It ended its life as it began: a weekly paper, although for a time it had been a daily, with telegraphic services that brought its readers the news of the world.

In its heyday, it was regarded by many outsiders as the authoritative voice of the Kootenays. However, it had a tortuous beginning, changing hands frequently and successive owners had divergent notions of its purpose, at times with devious intent.

The first issue of the Rossland Miner appeared on March 2, 1895, published in the cramped cabin of Ross Thompson, with David Blyth Bogle as editor and owner.

For Bogle, the mission of his paper was “chronicling the mining news of the Trail Creek district and recording the doings of the people of Rossland” with heavy emphasis on “the doings of the people.”

Each issue was rich in community news and gossip. The son of a Scottish clergyman, Bogle was a committed socialist who had a third, unstated purpose: to educate his readers on socialist theory and the importance of labour unions to workers, the community and the mining industry.

To mine owners and other capitalists, this must have been anathema.

Why Bogle sold the Miner so soon is a mystery, but in September, 1895, John R Reavis and H W C Jackson were announced as new owners. Reavis in particular had extensive newspaper experience, having reported for the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Both men were then living in Spokane and would have known Spokane’s Charles Corbin, whose railways connected Spokane with the Kootenays and whose railway land grant surrounded the original Rossland townsite land that became a vital part of Rossland when the city was incorporated.

Although it was never publicly acknowledged, Corbin provided financial backing for the new owners of the Miner. The announced mission was the promotion of the mining industry of the region, but there was an unannounced sub-text. Bogle, the socialist, had favoured protection for domestic industries like the Trail smelter, perhaps in the form of an export duty on raw ore.

Reflecting Corbin’s interest in having as much ore as possible shipped over his railway to the smelter at Northport; the new version of the Miner opposed such a duty.

In this, Augustus Heinze, owner of the Trail smelter, and Corbin were at odds. Moreover, considerable doubt had been cast on the validity of Corbin’s title to the Rossland lands.

With his title in question, lots were almost unsaleable, populated by squatters who refused to pay rent to a landlord of uncertain tenure.

Corbin’s Miner sought to sway public opinion in his favour on both issues. Why Corbin lost interest in the Miner is not known. Perhaps he was simply offered a price that he could not resist.

In any case, in August, 1897, it was announced that “editorial and business management” of the paper had been purchased by Fred Moffatt, a Toronto lawyer who had come to Rossland as correspondent for the Toronto Globe.

Not announced was that the deal had the financial backing of Corbin’s rival, Augustus Heinze.

Again, the editorial stance of the Miner pivoted, questioning Corbin’s title to the land, supporting the squatters and promoting an export tax on raw ore.

But there was more. Heinze was bitterly critical of the CPR for its tardiness in building a railway into and through the district that would have both lowered the cost of bringing coke to his smelter and provided low-cost access to a wider range of mines that could supply ore to his smelter.

He hired a flamboyant Irish journalist with a vitriolic pen, Patrick Aloysius O’Farrell, to the editorial staff. O’Farrell promoted the granting of a charter and land grant for Heinze’s own railway to the mines of the Boundary District and vigorously attacked the CPR.

Paradoxically, when Heinze sold the smelter in early 1898, it was to the CPR, and in later years the CPR employed O’Farrell as its publicity agent.

In 1901 new owners were announced for the Miner, and again there was not full disclosure.

In the background was a consortium of mining companies, with the leading role taken by the Le Roi organization. The transformation from the Miner of David Bogle was then complete.

The Miner became the biting critic of the miners’ union and played an important role before, during and after the bitter strike of 1901, helping to break it.

For what became a congenial weekly with a focus on the community, the roots of the Rossland Miner were entangled in the conflicting economic interests of the day.