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A hundred years of connecting community

The BC and Yukon Community News-Media Association turns 100 this year

The BC and Yukon Community News-Media Association celebrates 100 years this year. There aren’t many records of its component members at that time, but nearly 20 of its 93 current members have pedigrees that go back long before they started working together in 1922. 

The two oldest continuously publishing community newspapers in B.C. are the Golden Star and the Chilliwack Progress, both founded in 1891. The Chilliwack Progress was founded by William Thompson Jackman, who purchased a printing press in Toronto and moved it to the then-fledgling agricultural community in 1891. 

The Golden Star was founded as the Golden Era by E.A. Haggen, an Australian mining engineer who came to the community to make his fortune. 

Beyond those two, there are 17 more community newspapers that have been continuously published for 100 years or more that are members of the BCYCNA. (See sidebar.) 

With that rich history in mind, we took a look back on 100 years of the association, as well as the annual awards that bears both its name and the name of one of the province’s feistiest publishers and writers, the outspoken Margaret “Ma” Murray. 

1895: Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal

1896: Boundary Creek Times

1897: Grand Forks Gazette

1902: Okanagan Advertiser
(as Armstrong Advertiser) 

1905: Merritt Herald

1906: Abbotsford News (as Abbotsford Post)

1907: Salmon Arm Observer

1908: Summerland Review

1908: Mission City Record 

1908: Ladysmith Chronicle 

1908: Quesnel Cariboo Observer

1909: Smithers Interior News

1913: Peninsula News Review

1914: Revelstoke Review

1916: Prince George Citizen 

1922: Delta Optimist

1922: Arrow Lakes News

The newspapering pioneer behind the awards

Who is this “Ma” Murray, and why are the BC and Yukon Community NewsMedia Association’s annual awards named for her? 

In a newspapering world dominated by men, she pioneered a host of community newspapers, argued with premiers and prime ministers and took no guff from anyone on her way to becoming a legend. 

Margaret Lally was born in Kansas in 1888, the seventh of nine children. She left school at the age of 13 to enter the working world before moving to Vancouver with her sister Bess in 1912 with the aim of moving on to Calgary and marrying a cowboy. Instead, she met her true love, a young journalist named George Murray at the Greater Vancouver Chinook, and her true calling—the newspaper business. 

The Murrays settled in Lillooet in the 1930s, where George won elected office to the B.C. Legislative Assembly, and the couple founded the Bridge-River Lillooet News in 1934. 

Ma’s unique style came shining through in its masthead: “Printed in the sagebrush country of Lillooet every Thursday, God willing. Guarantees a chuckle every week and a belly laugh once a month, or your money back. Subscriptions: $5 in Canada. Furriners: $6. This week’s circulation 1,769, and every bloody one of them paid for.” 

The Murrays moved to Fort St. John in the 1940s and founded another newspaper, the Alaska Highway News, with another memorable motto still found on the name- plate to this day: “The only newspaper in the world that gives a tinker’s damn about the North Peace.” 

The Murrays also founded papers in Squamish—the Howe Sound News, which folded during the Second World War—and in Fort Nelson—the Fort Nelson News, which continues to this day. 

The Murrays merged politics and journalism over the decades, with George serving as Liberal MLA for Lillooet while Ma edited the paper. She later sought office herself as a Social Credit candidate in the Peace River area (placing third), while her husband became a federal Liberal MP for the Cariboo in 1949—she stayed behind in B.C. to run the papers while George went to Ottawa—as she found the conversation “too damned dull.” 

But she still found herself at the forefront of politics in B.C., backing the provincial Liberals and showing up to heckle Premier W.A.C. Bennett at one of his public meetings. 

Ma and George moved back to Lillooet in 1958, where George died in 1961. Ma rededicated herself to the News, bashing out editorials and columns that were picked up across Canada. 

Her eclectic and utterly fearless writing style, punctuated with her signature ending “and that’s fer damshur,” made her famous despite the relatively remote environs of Lillooet. A 1966 profile in Maclean’s magazine, titled “The Salty Scourge of Lillooet,” begins thus: “She is like her paper—as gentle as a shotgun and timid as a muleskinner.” 

She made a memorable guest appearance on the CBC-TV show Front Page Challenge, followed by her own half-hour, twice-monthly TV program. She also kept up a lively correspondence with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and was named to the Order of Canada in 1971. Playwright Eric Nichol wrote a play about her, Ma! A Celebration of Margaret Murray, which debuted in 1981 at the Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops. 

Even after selling the Lillooet News to Jeff den Biesen in the 1970s, Ma continued writing for the paper with her trademark salty wit right up to her death in 1982 at the age of 94. 

The BCYCNA named its annual awards of excellence in her honour in 2001, and her name lives on in the Margaret “Ma” Murray Community School, opened in Fort St. John in 2018. 

A standard of excellence: Pique has another strong showing at 2022 Ma Murrays

It was another strong year for the Pique Newsmagazine team at the 2022 Ma Murray awards, held in Richmond at the River Rock Casino Resort on May 14—the first in-person ceremony held since 2019. Nominated for nine awards—the most of any other publication—Pique took home five golds, a silver, and three bronze.

Pique took gold in the General Excellence category for its circulation class, narrowly beating out sister paper The Squamish Chief by just 0.2 points on the judges’ scorecards. Pique writer Alyssa Noel also won the Neville Shanks Memorial Award for Historical Writing, for her in-depth epic, “The Legend of Frank Gott”; while Brandon Barrett earned the Environmental Initiative Award for his feature, “Green Lake is a hub of biodiversity, so why aren’t we doing more to protect it?” Pique also took home the Reader Engagement Award for its 2021 Best of Whistler feature, while Whistler Magazine won the Special Publications Award for its circulation class. Braden Dupuis and Barrett, meanwhile, won silver in the Business Writing category for their series on Whistler’s labour shortage. Dupuis and former editor Clare Ogilvie also won bronze in investigative reporting for Pique’s series on last year’s ransomware attack at municipal hall, and subsequent lawsuit by the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Megan Lalonde earned a bronze in the Outdoor Recreation Writing category for her feature on stand-up paddleboarding, “What’s SUP?” while Lalonde and Noel earned another bronze in the Environmental Writing category for their feature on glacial monitoring, “Generations on the Glaciers.” 

- Brandon Barrett

A century as pioneers of technology 

Compared to your smartphone, a printed newspaper may not seem like a high-tech device. 

But the process of printing news on paper has been evolving and innovating for decades—with community newspapers right at the heart of that innovation. 

Many community newspapers at the time of the founding of the BCYCNA would have been individual sheets cranked out—literally, cranked by hand—on roller presses with inked blocks, known as letter-press printing—the same technology that Johannes Gutenberg used when he created the first printing press in the 15th century. 

With that simple but effective technology, the local newspaper was also often the town job printer, printing flyers, forms, business cards and stationery for local businesses and residents. 

Offset printing (also known as offset lithography or litho) revolutionized the printing industry in the 20th century. Printing plates (originally made from lead, now usually made from aluminum) are used, with each plate holding an image of the content to be printed. The plate is mounted on a cylinder on the press, where the image on the plate picks up ink and transfers that image to a rubber blanket, which is then transferred to the printed page. 

Offset printing allowed newspapers to use photographs for images instead of etchings or engraved illustrations, and print more pages more quickly than ever. 

Adding more units to a printing press also made it possible for newspapers to print in colour—at first just spot colour (one unit putting black ink on a page, the other putting a specific colour ink on), and then later in process colour, with four different units printing in different colours—cyan, magenta, yellow and black—combining to make full-colour images. (This is the same process used to print colour pages today). 

The process of preparing pages to be printed has also transformed radically over the years. From setting manual type in frames 100 years ago to linotype machines, which created whole lines of text from hot lead, to phototypesetting (projecting characters and images onto film) and finally to computer typesetting using programs like Adobe InDesign, the process has become extremely streamlined. 

Adding pictures to print has also become radically different as technology advanced. Newspapers used to have to have darkrooms to develop their own film, then make prints and convert those prints to images made of dots (like pixels on a screen) that could be reproduced on printing presses using halftone or photo-mechanical transfer machines. That entire process, which took hours to create a single image for the press, advanced through computer technology, first scanning images into desktop publishing software, then film negatives, and now, with digital photography, the whole process can happen in seconds. 

Even getting the files to the press has advanced. As late as the 1990s, newspapers had to print out and paste individual pieces of copy, ads and photos together onto sheets (called flats) and drive the flats to a printing press where they would be photographed and turned into printing plates. Now, ads, stories and photos can be made into press-ready pages entirely on a laptop computer and sent directly to the press using computer-to-plate technology, all of which speeds up the newsgathering pace. Now a community newspaper can cover a fire or a council meeting at 6 p.m. with the story and pictures in print just hours later—a process that used to take a full day or even two. 

And as we move beyond print and into an increasingly digital world, remember we’ve been here for decades too. Community newspapers were also among the first websites found on the World Wide Web, as it was known in the 1990s, and have also been pioneers in using new social media platforms to distribute news to readers (community newspapers, of course, being the original social media). Today, dozens of our members are using new digital tools to tell local stories, from video shows to podcasts and more. 

In short, innovation and adoption of new technology have been in our blood for 100 years and will be for many more.