Why does this document exist?

Unlike Inquests, Criminal Trials, Probate Files, Wills and Inquests, daily newspapers in what is now Canada were not created by the government to document any specific event or type of event in a uniform and regular way. And unlike those sources, newspapers did not limit themselves to describing behaviours that were deemed so unusual or unacceptable that they generated a whole set of procedures (like an inquest or a court trial) to deal with them. Daily newspapers were created to tell society about itself, or at least about those parts of itself that were considered "newsworthy" and interesting to those buying and selling newspapers. Nineteenth century newspapers, unlike urban papers in our own multimedia universe, often carried very detailed coverage of a much broader range of activities -- transcriptions of evidence given in court, for example, or the complete content of a municipal council meeting, or information about who was visiting whom from the "old country". Those wanting publicity for products or services took full advantage of newspapers' popularity and advertisements, classified and otherwise, provide the historian a rich, if more mundane, source of information about daily life at any particular time than the front page stories. Unlike newspapers today, newspapers in the nineteenth century were often financially supported by particular political factions whose ideas they promulgated, as well as by advertising revenue and newspaper sales. Because they carried so much information about such a wide range of issues -- local, regional, national, and international -- newspapers have been preserved by generations of Canadians in libraries and archives, helping us to understand many aspects of our collective past.

Why would we use this source?

Newspapers contain an abundance of information that can help us to understand both specific and general aspects of the economic, social, and cultural history of Canada. But should we believe it all? There are many reasons why we should not. The hunger for news and the lack of information in the nineteenth century, for example, often meant that rumour and here say were published as fact. On July 3, 1869, the British Colonist provided some specific information relating to Tshunahuasset's execution, information that is contradicted by a variety of other newspaper reports and government documents. Many newspapers in the nineteenth century were financed and supported by political factions and "the news" was presented through partisan eyes for explicitly political purposes. Newspaper content was also biased by cultural assumption about what was newsworthy; many aspects of nineteenth century life that we might like to read about -- diet, the experiences of women and children, or "good news" stories generally -- seldom presented themselves for discussion.

Old newspapers are not always easy to read. Sometimes they are faded while other times so brittle that pieces crumble under the touch. In order to preserve them, many newspapers have been microfilmed but the filming is often not clear or misses words in the creases. In these cases where words are not clear we have inserted [illegible] into the text.

These "problems" are, paradoxically, also the newspaper's greatest strength as an historical source. While the factual accuracy of newspaper coverage always needs to be checked against other sources, newspapers can, if read critically, tell us a great deal about what many people thought was worth discussing in a public forum. They demonstrate the terms upon which ideas were raised and addressed, giving us insight not only into what important social, cultural, and political issues were raised, but how people understood them. And, then as now, newspaper advertising and Letters to the Editor can highlight some of the concerns of everyday life in nineteenth century society.

How do we find and use this source?

In spite of nineteenth century difficulties in communicating over large distances, there were a number of newspapers in colonial British Columbia, each covering international as well as local news. A wide range of newspapers was published in the nineteenth century and many of them still survive on microfilm. An important newspaper in mid-nineteenth century British Columbia, and one used in this website, was the Victoria Colonist (aka the British Colonist and the Daily Colonist), which started publication in 1858 and is still in print today as the Victoria Times Colonist. Other newspapers used here include the Victoria Chronicle, the New Westminster British Columbian, and the Victoria Gazette. A history of newspapers in the Colonial Period is available online from the Resources section of Victoria's Victoria, but the best way to search for the large numbers of historical newspapers available to British Columbia researchers is to use the BC Legislative Library Newspaper Index.

An index to the British Colonist from 1858-1918 is available online from the Resources section of Victoria's Victoria. The BC Legislative Library Newspaper Index, which covers the major BC papers from 1900-1970, with updates for 1970-1980 and 1980-1990, is available on microfilm at most larger public and university libraries. The 1900-1970 index (minus the two ten-year supplements) is also available at the BC Archives.

The BC Legislative Library Newspaper Index continues the microfilm coverage with an online index that covers 1991 to present (with daily updates) and is available at There is also a pre-1900 index (BC Archives and Records Service Newspaper Index (BCARS) 1850-1900) available on microfilm at the BC Archives.

Historical newspapers can be searched by title and by place of publication, and so finding newspapers is not difficult. Using them is not so easy, and this is not just because of poor microfilm readers throughout the province. Most newspapers, with the exception of the Colonist, are not indexed in the nineteenth century, making it difficult to research a particular topic, event or person. Historian Daniel P. Marshall has argued that the advantages of indexing have had some unforeseen results on the history of British Columbia. Because of the relative ease of finding out about specific people and events through the Colonist's index, researchers have tended to "see" the region's history primarily through the biased lens of the Colonist's explicit liberal reform politics.