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Looking forward, back

It's The Citizen's 100th birthday. Or we think so, anyway.
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It's The Citizen's 100th birthday.

Or we think so, anyway.

Despite our best efforts over the last year to locate a copy, the first edition of The Citizen remains lost but when we count backwards from the edition numbers of some of the earliest existing copies of the Citizen, we arrive at Feb. 16, 1916, a century ago today.

Also lost in the sands of time is who actually started the Citizen, which is Prince George's oldest locally-founded and continuously-operating business, but it likely was an American who had fled to Canada 20 years earlier to escape embezzlement charges back home in Chicago.

The earliest editions of the Citizen from 1916 say the newspaper was owned and operated by the Citizen Publishing Company, with no names listed.

By the fall of 1916, however, the listing changed to read: "The Prince George Citizen - A semi-weekly devoted to the upbuilding of Prince George and Northern British Columbia. LOUIS D. TAYLOR, Editor."

Taylor arrived in Vancouver in 1896 to leave his shady life in Chicago behind him and start over. He bought the Vancouver World newspaper and built a successful but controversial business and political empire.

Although his biography provides few details on why he left Vancouver for a few years to give Prince George a try before eventually returning to his adopted home city.

The fourth editor of the Citizen was Harry G. Perry, who served for 11 years from 1939 to 1948, who was also publisher and owner.

Perry had previously been mayor of Prince George in 1917-1918 and again in 1920.

Tony Skae was the longest-serving editor, from 1967 to 1985. He was followed by Roy Nagel, from 1985 to 1997.

Roy continues to stop in to visit his old stomping grounds from time to time and say hi.

W.B. "Binney" Milner owned The Citizen and was listed as publisher from 1957 to 1969 with his wife, Charity, holding the title of president.

When the Citizen moved into its current headquarters on Brunswick Street in 1963, the same week John F. Kennedy was assassinated, she wrote a fiery letter to readers.

"It is not the business of a newspaper to pacify anyone. Its job is to bring out all the significant news, and tell the truth as it sees truth, no matter whose feelings may be ruffled," she said.

"We will continue to proclaim what we believe is the truth with force and sincerity. We will fight improvidence, rascality, stupidity and sloth in the management of public business and formulation of public policy without fear or favor."

Last year, I had a copy of her entire letter mounted and it hangs in the newsroom, outside my office door, a daily reminder of our mission.

Facing the future, we will be celebrating our centennial throughout 2016 in a variety of ways.

As announced on Saturday, we have donated most of our remaining negative film archives to The Exploration Place, more than 20,000 images chronicling Prince George from the late 1960s through 2001, when our photographers switched to digital cameras.

Later this year, the digital archive of The Citizen will be complete (it's up to 1991 right now) and available for free online at the Prince George Public Library's website, the conclusion of a project that started back in 2007. For now, those first editions and a few others are still missing from that record.

Starting next month, we'll unveil a new free Thursday weekly publication, anchored for the first 26 editions by the Alphabet Project, 26 local artists each rendering their own take on a letter of the alphabet.

We'll also be a big part of the party during this year's downtown Summerfest event.

We have such a rich century-long history that we're so proud of but we couldn't have done any of it without you, Prince George.

It's been our pleasure and honour to serve you for the past 100 years and we will continue to work hard to maintain your trust and support.

-- Managing editor Neil Godbout