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The Citizen marks 100 years

The history of The Prince George Citizen goes back almost as far as that of the city itself. The City of Prince George was incorporated in 1915, one year before The Citizen was born.
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Mayor Lyn Hall, right, presents Prince George Citizen publisher Colleen Sparrow with a proclamation celebrating the 100th anniversary of The Citizen.

The history of The Prince George Citizen goes back almost as far as that of the city itself. The City of Prince George was incorporated in 1915, one year before The Citizen was born. To mark our 90th anniversary in 2005, Valerie Giles put together this history of The Citizen. The following is an edited version of her story of The Citizen's history:

In 1916, the Prince George Citizen began operations as a community newspaper. It has continued as the newspaper of record for the city of Prince George.

The passing years brought new technology which precipitated new equipment purchases. With that came changes in format and publication frequency.

There has been one constant which comes shining through.

A succession of community-minded publishers and editors has kept this newspaper a prominent promoter of Prince George as an attractive place to settle and do business. Unabashedly, The Citizen is the city's best cheerleader and role model as a good corporate citizen.

Looking back over the decades, ownership and technological changes in the newspaper industry had direct impact on the way The Citizen was published and produced. Both types of change affected the newspaper's overall appearance because of format changes driven by a desire for a new look or expanded printing capabilities.

By 1920, printing was done on a Miehle press, the same on which was in use from the newspaper's beginning. At first, the press could accommodate only two pages of the paper at a time.

With an updated configuration, four pages could be printed altogether.

Abandoning the six-column page format allowed more flexibility in the presentation of advertisements which are the lifeblood of every newspaper.

A new folding machine took over the work of folding the paper which to that point had been a laborious manual task.

As with any change, working with a new format meant there was room for error. Anticipating such a possibility, editor Jack B. Daniell hoped that readers would overlook any mistakes.

"In producing the present issue there has been involved a great deal of work consequent upon the change in style, and for any shortcomings in this instance we crave the indulgence of our readers."

Indeed, there were more transpositions and omissions of letters.

In that era, type was set using metal slugs to spell out the words, with pre-formed ones for the most common words and phrases.

Before there were reporters, The Citizen relied on people dropping in to the newspaper office for local news sources. The newspaper office served for many decades as a gathering place and travellers coming through the city knew that sharing their stories would be welcome. News from the rest of the province, country and world arrived by telegraph sent from Vancouver.

At the end of October 1926, a contract was awarded to McInnis & Wilson to build a 30-foot by 40-foot building with a concrete basement. The location was property acquired on Quebec Street.

The building was ready to move in by the second week of February 1927. From the 1930s, that print shop was run with three printers who did the work of setting the type, making up the pages and running the presses and folding machine. With time in between newspaper production, they did commercial printing. As soon as the runs were finished, the papers were delivered to the newsboys who sold papers on the street after school on Thursdays.

The typical run by the late 1930s was about 1,200 copies which took around two hours to print.

The subscription rate was $2 per year in 1937.

The Citizen got some well-earned recognition at the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association's awards in Calgary in July 1940.

The Citizen was recognized in three competition categories for papers with circulation under 2,000 copies.

Those were: best all-round newspaper competition for local coverage; district news; and editorial page makeup.

During the war years, supply of newsprint was restricted and as a consequence, the paper was reduced in size and compelled to reduce the length of stories.

Despite that, at the 1944 CWNA awards The Citizen was presented a trophy "for the most outstanding community service achieved during the past year by a Canadian weekly newspaper."

It was a proud day when The Citizen took delivery of its new printing press in September 1947.

The latest model - a three-horsepower machine weighing 2,850 pounds (a V-50 Miehle Vertical printing press) was brought to town and installed in the newspaper's building on Quebec Street. The equipment represented the finest available in Canada, and was the first press of that model to be installed in B.C.

The change in technology was an important advance in automation. This was the kind of press which could be automatically oiled and operated on a pneumatic system.

The results were impressive.

Printing 3,000 to 5,000 sheets per hour was considered a fantastic production rate - the fastest on the market. That equipment also gave the newspaper capability of producing advertising materials in a variety of sizes ranging from small cards to sheets 14 by 20 inches.

New equipment in the form of a Cox-O-Type letterpress was acquired in the late 1950s. That provided an eight-page flatbed which printed papers from rolls of newsprint rather than single sheets. It was used at the Quebec Street location until 1963 when the newspaper operation moved to its new building on Brunswick Street. Larger premises were required after the decision had been made in 1957 to step up to publishing on a daily basis.

At first, the printing press was located within the Brunswick Street building and fumes from the inks and chemicals used to clean the ink from the press overwhelmed everyone working there. Fans and closed doors didn't help. The only remedy and relief came once the press was moved to a separate building across the street.

Capability of printing in colour came in 1963. Acquiring an offset printing press allowed half-tones for photographs. By then, the press run was about 2,000 to 2,500 copies in a 16-page format. It was possible to complete that print run in about 90 minutes.

During 1955, The Citizen acquired an $8,000 photo-engraving machine. It had capability to scan a black and white photograph and engrave the image onto thin plastic. That could be mounted with the typeset copy and used in direct printing.

It was a dramatic improvement from a news perspective because that machine made it possible to publish photographs within an hour of the time they were taken. Circulation had exceeded 5,000 copies per issue at that point.

The Citizen grew along with the city in the mid 1960s as the pulp mills arrived and thousands of new residents came with them.

The newspaper continued to prosper and outgrew its new home. A major addition to 150 Brunswick St. was completed in 1976.

The Toronto-based Southam newspaper group purchased The Citizen in 1969 from Binnie Milner, who also owned Northern Dairies in Prince George and Eagle Lake Sawmill in Giscome. Milner was the last of the newspaper's local owners. Southam ensured The Citizen had the latest technological equipment and in 1981 the newspaper became one of the first small dailies in Canada to go to computerized word processing.

Southam retained ownership until selling to Conrad Black's Hollinger Canadian Newspapers in 1996. Vancouver-based Glacier Media took over ownership of The Citizen in 2005.

Glacier, like all previous ownership groups, has ensured that a commitment to providing the best local news coverage and being a good corporate citizen are paramount.