30th Anniversary: First edition of Saanich News proves to be elusive

Reporter follows a trail from museum archives to the provincial legislature in search of newspaper's first issue

Reporter Travis Paterson holds up the third edition of the Saanich News

It is with tremendous pride and excitement that we celebrate the Saanich News’ 30th anniversary.

But I must admit, there is hollow feeling that comes with the defeat that I could not, despite my efforts, locate a first issue of the Saanich News.

Finding that first Saanich News soon turned into a matter of pride. When our team committed to creating a special section for the Saanich News’ 30th anniversary, I jumped at the task. It was my assignment, my choice to chase it down.

Granted, even if I had located the first issue, it wasn’t going to hold the value of a first-edition Spiderman comic. But it was an adventure regardless. And while the adventure didn’t draw the Indiana Jones out of any local archivists and librarians, I thank those of them who assisted me throughout the campaign.

It grew obvious to me that there was more uncovered trying to find a copy of the first edition, than finding out what our first lead story was. And what I found was that the deeper I dug, the more fascinating the Saanich News’ history became.

Like Rogue One and the Titanic, we know what happens in the ending, but the journey’s been a heck of a ride.

The first thing I discovered was that Steve Hanson was part of the Saanich News’ startup in 1986. It was a three-person office on Penrhyn Street in Cadboro Bay. Sadly, Hanson passed away earlier this year. Archival records suggest that the Gordon Head News predated the Saanich News by 10 months to January of 1986. But in all my searches, there was no physical evidence of the Gordon Head News prior to 1988.

As for the Saanich News office, it grew to 11 people by the end of 1987 and relocated to 1020 McKenzie Ave. (by the Monkey Tree Pub). By 1989, it was purchased by David Black, who had moved to Oak Bay in 1985 and was quickly buying up the Island papers. Black, with newspaperman George Manning, continued a model on the Island that Black started in Williams Lake and put together a cluster of newspapers and a printing press.

I met with Black to talk about the paper’s 30th anniversary, but he knew little of the paper’s origins that preceded his purchase.

Still, I didn’t think finding the first Saanich News issue was going to be the most challenging task for the 30th anniversary edition, which it soon became.

It would have to be somewhere in the massive pile of blue books that make up the Saanich News archives. We are blessed that bound copies for 22 of our first 30 years in print have followed us to our most current office, at 3550 Saanich Rd., next to Uptown. And while the issues date back to 1986, the year we started, it comes up strangely short.

With all this talk about the elusive holy grail of Saanich News issues, here’s what we did find. The earliest Saanich News edition in our office is the third issue, for the week of Nov. 28 to Dec. 3, 1986. That’s just two weeks after what is logically believed to be the first issue.

“I’m close, I can work with this,” I thought.

Next came a trip to Greater Victoria Public Library’s Centennial branch at Pearkes, home of the Saanich Archives, where Saanich archivist Sonia Nicholson confirmed the first copy could not be found there. However, she did locate two copies of the 1939 Saanich News, which is quite likely the first ever. A completely different incarnation, that pre-Second World War paper was short lived but strived to serve the community in the same manner as we do today.

By the end, I had pored through the online Library Archives Canada, visited the Central branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library and B.C.’s Legislative Library.

All had references to the Saanich News, but not what I was looking for.

The closest I came was in the B.C. Archives next to the Royal B.C. Museum. I opened a drawer and inside were several spools with Saanich News handwritten on the boxes.

For a moment, I thought I was Saanich’s Indiana Jones. I thought, “This is it.”

A silver-haired fellow looking up 20th century logging on a microfiche next to mine helped me set up the 1986 Saanich News microfilm. There I found the second issue. Closer, but not the first.


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