Alberta Newspapers, 1880-1982: An Historical Directory

Gloria M. Strathern

Ask any student working on a subject concerning the near or distant past about useful sources for their intended project, and they invariably reply with confidence--"newspapers." Press them further about what newspaper or newspapers they intend to use, and the confident tone often becomes more subdued. Pry more into what they know about the appropriateness and availability of those newspapers for their topic or locale, or about the inclusive dates of publication of those newspapers, or where extant copies of those newspapers can be found, or about publishers and the circumstances surrounding the publication of those newspapers, and cheerful confidence usually gives way to glum uncertainty, followed by the plaintive query, "Aren't there guides or directories that will tell me these things?"

Frequently there are not. Computers and modern systems of information retrieval have excited our expectation of immediate gratification in bibliographic searches but the reality is that historical guides, directories, and indexes of newspapers are seldom readily available. Those with a general familiarity of this genre of guides may remember Palmer's Index to the Times Newspaper, 1790-June, 1941, or Clarence S. Brigham's History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, but these classics are the notable exceptions. When we look at regional guides and directories for western Canada more particularly the field thins out. For example, with the exceptions of the Historical Directory of Saskatchewan Newspapers, 1878-1950, and A Historical Directory of Manitoba Newspapers, 1859-1978, comprehensive historical directories of newspapers remain few and far between, generally focusing on special topics newspapers alone, or on the holdings in specific collections or libraries.

Gloria Strathern's historical directory of Alberta newspapers presents us, therefore, with more than a new addition to what is often a truncated and selective bibliographic literature. Her work is truly far-reaching and comprehensive, and as thorough and precise as available information allows. As Bruce Peel notes in the introduction to this directory, over 1,090 newspapers were published in Alberta between 1880 and 1982, ranging widely from the lacklustre productions of "jobbing printers" to the provocative journalism of newspapermen like "Eye Opener Bob" R. C. Edwards. Yet, because Alberta has "had no legislation requiring newspaper publishers to provide annual returns from proprietors, publishers and editors" (p. xiv), the identification of those newspapers is extremely difficult. Examining carefully the holdings of twenty-one institutions, conducting an "extensive correspondence" with various archivists, librarians, editors, and publishers, and employing a questionnaire sent to three hundred "informants," Strathern has compiled a directory remarkable for both its breadth and organization.

For the first 258 pages of this directory, Strathern presents her core index, the "Historical Directory." Arranging newspapers geographically by the place "they principally served" (p. xx), she details initial and parallel titles, titles of continuation, frequency of publication, inclusive dates of publication, the ethnic affiliation of newspapers, and the language in which they were published. Furthermore, she includes notes on many of these newspapers, describing amalgamations and mergers, a brief chronicle of each newspaper's history, and a summary of those who edited and published each paper. A coded reference line advises readers of the bibliographic sources she employed in compiling information on each newspaper, while a final line on holdings refers readers to one or more of the fifty Canada-wide locations of extant copies she lists in her user's guide.

The next 200 pages of this exhaustive directory incorporates biographic details on all editors and publishers, each cross-indexed by item number to the main historical directory. Limited information leaves most of these biographies very sketchy but still useful for reference purposes. The next 80 pages offers cross-listings of newspapers chronologically by inclusive dates of publication, with subsequent alphabetical listings by ethnic affiliation, by subject and finally by title. Her concluding bibliography incorporates principal sources consulted, other relevant checklists, directories and union lists of newspapers, and a brief list of newspaper indexes.

Although anyone using this directory might naturally wish that a more thorough history of each newspaper was included here--a wish far beyond the design of this work and probably the capacity of a lifetime's work, none should be able to cavil at Strathern's remarkable accomplishment. If all provincial newspaper directories were as skilfully done and as meticulously printed as this one is, there would be fewer laments about locating and identifying newspapers, and no research optimisms crushed at the start by the lack of directory assistance.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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