Treasures Revealed Episode 4 – The Halifax Gazette

Greenish stylized treasure chest with Library and Archives Canada maple leaves at the bottom and rays rising from the chest at the top. Numbered #04. 

In the fourth episode of Treasures Revealed, we talk to Meaghan Scanlon, Senior Special Collections Librarian, about the Halifax Gazette, the first newspaper published in the territory that would become Canada. It is the only copy known to exist of the first issue.

Duration: 10:14

File size: 10 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: September 23, 2021

  • Transcript of Treasures Revealed episode 4

    Théo Martin (TM): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I’m your host, Théo Martin. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.

    Welcome to Treasures Revealed!

    In this podcast series, we’ll be showcasing certain items in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Each episode, we’ll speak to a LAC employee and highlight an item that they consider a real “treasure” in our collection.

    They may be rare items, perhaps unusual or valuable, or items with historical significance. Perhaps they will have a compelling or interesting story to go along with them. More importantly, all of them will showcase our vast and rich collection that is the shared documentary heritage of all Canadians.

    Now, on to Episode 04, “The Halifax Gazette.” Our guest on this episode is LAC Senior Librarian Meaghan Scanlon.

    Meaghan Scanlon (MS): Hello, I'm Meaghan Scanlon. I am a Senior Special Collections Librarian at Library and Archives Canada. My job is to work with the rare book collection, and I have been here since 2010.

    TM: Meaghan, what is the treasure that we are talking about today?

    MS: This is an issue of the Halifax Gazette newspaper, which was published on March 23, 1752. The printer is a man named John Bushell, and he was actually the first printer to set up a business in British North America. He was born in Boston, and he went into the printing business there. He had a partner named Bartholomew Green. Green moved to Halifax in 1751 to set up a shop there, but he died before he could get it going, so Bushell moved to Halifax and took over that business.

    So most of Bushell's work consisted of government documents and ephemera like forms and bookplates, and this newspaper!

    TM: Can you give us a description of the newspaper? What does it look like?

    MS: The newspaper itself, it's one piece of paper printed on both sides, with the news in two columns. Mostly international news, but there is some local content including some ads. For example, there is one ad for a place that sells paper and writing supplies, and another that sells, it says, “'Choice butter sold by the firkin”’, which I learned is a cask (laughing) that was used to sell butter! One firkin is something like 25 kilograms, which is a lot of butter!

    TM: Canada’s first newspaper features two elegant woodcuts at the top, a ship in full sail on the left, and a bird hunter chasing game on the right.

    Some of the foreign news included in this first edition of the Halifax Gazette were the facts that a “madman” had thrown a stone at the Pope’s head in Rome and that London had a new Lord Mayor. The first issue also included an item about the death of military officer and businessman John Goreham, who died in London “of the Small Pox.” By 1769, the paper began to publish local marriages, deaths and births on a regular basis.

    How did Library and Archives Canada acquire this item?

    MS: As people probably know, I think, there's a lot of movement between Halifax and Boston. There's like a historical connection there. When the Halifax Explosion happened in 1917, Boston sent a lot of aid, and Halifax actually sends them a Christmas tree every year. So that sort of, you know, corridor between Boston and Halifax has always been important.

    Somehow, this newspaper actually ended up in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Not sure how, but when they found it, they were kind enough to, you know, recognize its importance to Canadian history, and they gave it to LAC in 2002.

    TM: Of all of the copies of this premier issue of the Halifax Gazette printed on March 23, 1752, only one remains. As Meaghan mentions, it was the National Library that acquired the first issue from the Massachusetts Historical Society on June 20, 2002. The National Library and the National Archives joined to form LAC in 2004.

    Meaghan, why is this item a treasure?

    MS: Well, simply, it is possibly the first document ever printed in the territory called Canada. It's certainly one of the first. That's pretty important. The printing press was developed in Europe in the 1450s, and it gradually spread around Europe and then made its way to North America. It's a full 300 years between Gutenberg and the first printing press in Canada. For us, I think that's hard to understand, because we're used to technological change happening at a much more rapid pace (laughing).

    The other thing about it is this is the only copy known to survive of this newspaper. It's issue number one of the Halifax Gazette. You know, newspapers are not really made to be preserved. They're still today printed on pretty low-quality paper because it's expected that, you know, you'll read it and get rid of it. So this is very, very rare, which also adds to its importance.

    TM: How is this item stored at LAC?

    MS: It's in a frame inside a box, so it really, you know, it doesn't get a lot of light exposure or anything. It has been digitized, so it's available online. Because it's in a frame, right, so, it's actually, it's in a frame with the original on one side, and then a reproduction of the second page next to it, so people can read both sides. Of course, since there's only one copy and it's printed on both sides of the page, you know, that's an issue (laughing) making the second page available if it's not, if it's in any kind of housing.

    TM: More than 265 years later, the Halifax Gazette continues to appear every week, as the Royal Gazette, an official publication of the Nova Scotia government.

    To view images of the premier issue of the Halifax Gazette, head on over to LAC’s Flickr page. There, you will find an album of images called Treasures Revealed. We will update that album with each episode, giving you a chance to view the treasures that we will be highlighting. We will also add a link to the Flickr album in the Related links section on the episode page for this podcast.

    Thank you for being with us. I’m Théo Martin, your host. You’ve been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank you to our guest today, Meaghan Scanlon. Special thanks also to Isabel Larocque and Sandra Nicholls for their contributions to this episode.

    Treasures Revealed theme song provided by Blue Dot Sessions.

    This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox.

    If you liked this episode, you’re invited to subscribe to the podcast. You can do it through the RSS feed located on our website, Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

    If you’re interested in listening to the French equivalent of our podcast, you can find French-language versions of all of our episodes on our website, Apple podcasts and Spotify. Simply search for “Découvrez Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.”

    For more information on our podcasts, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts.

Host: Théo Martin, LAC archivist

Guest: Meaghan Scanlon, LAC Senior Special Collections Librarian

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