Light of the Great Lone Land shines at Battleford


Patrick Gammie Laurie hauled printing press and equipment by ox cart across 600 miles of prairie and bush to establish the first Canadian newspaper between Winnipeg and Victoria, at Battleford. Glenbow Archives NA-1138-1.


It is “the light that is destined to dispel the gloom that has so long enveloped the Great Lone Land,” Patrick Gammie Laurie promises in the first issue of his Saskatchewan Herald, August 25, 1878, at Battleford, a fur-trading post and police station chosen as the capital of the North West Territories because it lay on the planned route of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was the first newspaper between Winnipeg and Victoria B.C.

Laurie learned the printing trade where he grew up at Cobourg, Upper Canada, later publishing weekly newspapers at Owen Sound and Essex. A job as printer and editor of the Nor’-Wester took him to Fort Garry, soon to be Winnipeg, in 1869, in time for the first Riel Rebellion. With a $200 reward on his head after he clandestinely printed a proclamation for the embattled Canadian authorities and refused to print for Louis Riel’s provisional government, Laurie fled to Ontario, returning after the short-lived rebellion.

When Battleford was proclaimed a capital, 45-year-old Laurie loaded ox carts with press and type and set out on a 600-mile trek across prairie, bush, streams, and rivers. It took 72 days.

The Herald first issued from a log building with a sod roof, a four-page, fortnightly paper set in tiny six-point type; “ a little sheet,” wrote Laurie, “to do away with everything that would needlessly increase the freight bill” for paper and ink hauled from Winnipeg by ox cart.

Laurie was editor, reporter, printer and salesman. With the second Riel Rebellion, Laurie divided his time between military duties and reporting the war.

“Progress” was the paper’s motto, and for 50 years it ceaselessly promoted Battleford. But progress was arrested when the CPR was built far south of Battleford, not too far from the U.S.s border, for better defence from any American invasion of Canada. Five years after publication began, the capital of the North West Territories was moved to Regina. Laurie remained, publishing and editing the Herald at Battleford for 25 years until his death in 1903. His son Richard continued until his death in 1938, when publication ceased.

Unfamiliar Canadian history


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