The first edition of the Brandon Sun was published 140 years ago today.
Born several months ahead of Brandon’s incorporation as a city after the Canadian Pacific Railway was pushed through the area, the paper has followed the lives of Brandonites through two world wars, the Spanish flu and COVID-19 pandemics, the tenure of every Canadian prime minister except Alexander Mackenzie, 20 Manitoba premiers, six monarchs and 34 mayors.
As Canada approached the 60th anniversary of confederation in June 1927, Sun founder W.J. White recounted the events that led to the paper’s creation in a special edition called the "Old Timers’ Section."
He recalls speaking outside a general store in Exeter, Ont., in July 1881 with Thomas Greenway, the Liberal premier of Manitoba from 1888 to 1900, who described the promise brought by the development of the railway through Manitoba.
After deciding to move to set up shop in what would become Brandon in June 1882, White took a series of trains through Grand Haven, Mich., Milwaukee, Wis., and St. Paul, Minn., before arriving in Winnipeg and catching a final train that took him 35 miles out from his destination.
Hitching a ride on a lumber wagon for the last portion of the trip, White described a wet and miserable journey through what is now Carberry as he arrived at a tent hotel in Grand Valley.
"Boys!" White exclaimed. "That rain was cold. I was cold and wet."
According to White, there were few buildings erected in Brandon when he arrived, with wooden planks placed side by side serving as sidewalks, connecting tents occupied by businesses, along with a few finished homes and businesses.
The first edition of the newspaper on Jan. 19, 1882, bears little resemblance to what the publication would eventually become.
There was no news at all on the front page, just business listings, uncredited advice articles, a historical piece, some jokes and two columns of a depressing love story.
It was more like one of those single-sheet newsletters one might find in a coffee shop or restaurant rather than a full-fledged newspaper.
By 1885 and 1886, the front pages still had business listings, but there was actual local news being presented, like the execution of Louis Riel and a visit to the city by the man who approved his execution — the first prime minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald.
White left Brandon sometime in the 1890s, leaving the paper publishing weekly with C.H. Beaton on the masthead. Eventually, he returned with enough capital to take back control of the paper, which remained a weekly publication until he left in 1897.
Pictures and artwork were rarely printed in the Sun’s early years alongside the written articles. However, a portrait of Queen Victoria ran alongside a story covering her death in 1901. Though that story dominates the news portion of the front page, local advertisements have started to appear in addition to the business listings.
According to internal notes on the history of the paper, the Sun experienced turbulent times as it struggled to find consistent financial support until J.B. Whitehead first purchased a majority of shares in 1903 and then obtained sole control in 1911.
When J.B. Whitehead became ill in 1937, he turned over the business to his son, Ernest C. Whitehead, who took over the paper upon his father’s death in 1941.
Ernest ran the paper until his death in 1961, having worked over the past two decades to groom his sons Ernest and Lewis to assume the family tradition. Unfortunately, Joseph died of polio in 1953 at the age of 28, leaving Lewis to take charge.
After decades at its original home on 10th Street, the Sun purchased the John Deere dealership building at 501 Rosser Ave. in 1963. After taking two years to renovate the building for its purposes, including installing a new printing plant, the Sun officially unveiled its new home on June 17, 1965.
Former Canadian Press general manager Gillies Purcell, whose father had worked for the paper decades before, was on hand to unveil a plaque rededicating the building.
The Sun still calls the building home to this day.
The Whiteheads maintained control until 1987, when it was purchased by Thomson Newspapers, which has since merged with Reuters to become Thomson Reuters.
In 2001, both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Sun were bought by FP Canadian Newspapers, which continues to operate both papers along with the Steinbach Carillon.
After a century of printing the Sun in Brandon, the paper’s printing presses were shut down in 2010 in favour of having daily editions printed in Winnipeg.
"All of us at FP Newspapers are very proud of the Brandon Sun’s long and distinguished history in western Manitoba and very proud to have the Sun as part of the FP family," Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox said about the Sun’s anniversary. "The Sun has survived and thrived for 140 years because it is dedicated to serving Brandon. It is as crucial to keeping Brandon informed today as it was in 1882."
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