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History British Columbia (bc)

Printer's Devils

How a Feisty Pioneer Newspaper Shaped the History of British Columbia's Smelter City, 1895-1925

by (author) Ron Verzuh

Caitlin Press
Initial publish date
May 2023
British Columbia (BC)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2023
    List Price

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The grisly murder of a nurse, a crippling 1917 strike, death on the wartime battlefield, the 1918–19 flu pandemic, life on the home front—these are just some of the historic events covered in the early days of the Trail Creek News. In Printer’s Devils, historian Ron Verzuh offers both a study of pioneer journalism and a social history of the smelter city of Trail as it grew into a small but prosperous community. He traces the stories of residents and their evolving attitudes, pastimes and opinions as they respond in times of economic crisis, war, labour strife and life-threatening disease against the backdrop of one of Canada’s pioneer industrial centres.

Beneath these stories is a revealing exploration into the lives of six Trail News editors—Trail’s printer’s devils—in which we see firsthand how their editorial choices were honed by their education, business priorities and experience as tramp printers in the early days of newspaper publishing in the region. Delving back through layers of history, Printer’s Devils: The Feisty Pioneer Newspaper That Shaped the History of British Columbia’s Smelter City is a tribute to the lasting impact of journalism in Canadian society, as chronicled in one single-industry town.

About the author

Ron Verzuh is a writer and historian. His previous books include Radical Rag: The Pioneer Labour Press in Canada and Underground Times: Canada’s Flower-Child Revolutionaries.

Ron Verzuh's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Reading this book is like listening to Ron tell a story—it makes you want to lean in and pay close attention. This highly detailed examination of the News over a 30-year period combines stories of the mundane (such as barn painting, recipes and home remedies for your ailments) alongside events of international importance and entertaining editorials on almost every topic. The result is a book which sheds light on the fundamental importance and influence of a community newspaper in a rural community like Trail, BC, at the turn of the twentieth century. In our fast-paced world of instant communication and information overload, it provides a welcome visit to the past, where the weekly or daily paper was the sole means of connection with the world beyond your front door and local community. In a world where time is often in short supply, reading this book is certainly time well spent.”

—Takaia Larsen, Selkirk College, author of Sowing the Seeds

“Verzuh moves briskly through the social history of the city of Trail in the first decades of the 20th Century through the eyes of six editors, illuminating the almost-lost world of the community newspaper. True printer's devils, these are businesspeople with their hands and hearts in every aspect of newspaper production—from content creation to production, from sales to distribution. They balance the desires of readers for news and events both local and global, reflect the power of industry as the backbone of their town, share the causes they rally around and the prejudices they carry that shape and inform community experience. A fascinating read.”

—K. Jane Watt, British Columbia Historical Federation

Printer’s Devils illustrates life in Trail, BC, through its weekly newspaper from 1895-1925. Framed around individual editors and publishers, the book chronicles growth and development of this town on the Columbia River where the local smelter fumes are ‘balm to the nostrils.’ Well researched quotes and anecdotes bring characters to life and provide context of each era. From politics to enterprise, social standards and entertainment, each chapter reflects the issues of the day. Overt boosterism, rivalries with other towns and newspapers, and political views that consistently favour business interests and conservatism are routine. In contrast, they pilloried the Chinese people and Doukhobors, the labour movement and its leaders, anything socialist and women’s suffrage. The inclusion of contemporary poetry adds cultural flavour, as do reports on the ‘Trail Smoke Eaters’ hockey team, popular movies, and social events.

The book reminds us that history does indeed repeat, as with the anti-vaccination movements around the 1917 flu epidemic and subsequent smallpox episodes. It also confirms how much local interest we have lost with the transition from community-based news publications to the current consumption of media.”

—Joey Hartman, BC Labour Heritage Centre

“In this book Verzuh welds together two of the great loves of his life—newspapers and his hometown of Trail. The result is a fascinating tale that takes the reader on a multi-year journey through a colourful and unique history of Trail, BC, as reported in the pages of the Trail Times and shaped by the personalities and politics of the owners/editors. One of the great joys of this book is the insights into the printer's devils who ran the paper over the years, who were openly political, usually conservative, contested and won political offices, entered brutal editorial battles with neighbouring papers and in one case engaged readers in a heated exchange that ended with all of them in jail. Of course, the smelter with its giant smokestack not only cast a shadow over the life of the town but also over the shoulder of every editor to sit in the newsroom, never letting readers forget this was a ‘company’ town. As we continue to witness the decline of small-town newspapers across BC, this book reminds us how important they were in shaping our communities and our province.”

—Jim Sinclair, former president of the BC Federation of Labour and reporter for the Nelson Daily News

Printer’s Devils by BC historian Ron Verzuh is a fascinating, affectionate look back at the first thirty years of the Trail News, one of the province’s early and most longstanding community newspapers. With a telling eye for detail that covers the gamut from miracle cures to local ‘Swat the Fly’ campaigns, battles over prohibition in the thirsty town, and ‘rage against a passing cloud’ rants by outspoken editor Elmer D. Hall, Verzuh provides a vintage snapshot of life in Trail stretching back more than a century, as seen through the eyes of its newspaper, warts and all. Printer’s Devils is a valuable but poignant reminder of the value of the local paper and what communities lose when it disappears.”

—Rod Mickleburgh, former reporter for The Globe and Mail and author of On the Line