Historians use newspapers extensively in their research. Newspapers are an excellent resource and a mine of information and data on many events. They inform us of the latest agricultural techniques, the price of commodities, deaths, births, marriages, and dramatic as well as everyday events that occur in our community, in the region, and even in the world. Newspaper articles also reflect the attitudes of the reporters and their opinions of their contemporaries.
Until the late nineteenth century, newspapers were organs of political propaganda. But as literacy spread at the turn of the twentieth century, mass-circulation daily newspapers provided information and entertainment for an ever-growing public. Of course, editors continued to show their preferences and their political leanings, particularly on the editorial pages. But in general, journalists tried more and more to report information objectively. New sections (on woman’s issues, sports, entertainment, etc.) appeared - along with an increasing amount of advertising – alongside the “hard news” and the editorial commentaries.
In general, Quebec newspapers from the beginning of the twentieth century have been well preserved. Large public and university libraries usually keep microfilm copies of local and major daily papers. The Canadian Microfilming Company Ltd. (www.socami.qc.ca) preserves and reproduces articles from newspapers, especially from Quebec.
Newspapers from the 1920's are an invaluable aid to our understanding of the Gagnon affair. Through the comments of journalists, we can learn about the atmosphere in the courtroom and the reactions of witnesses and spectators. The newspapers bring to life the information that can be found in the National Archives of Quebec (ANC) and allow us to see how the trial affected the general public.
For this site, we have chosen four French-language daily newspapers, all of which are still in existence today. Two are published in Montreal (La Presse, Le Devoir), one is published in Quebec City (Le Soleil), and one in Sherbrooke (La Tribune). This site features the unabridged coverage of the Gagnon affair in La Presse and Le Devoir, which published 22 and 21 articles on this case respectively between April 5 and October 1, 1920.
By comparing the articles found in these two newspapers, you can reflect on the way that these dailies – one more popular, the other more conservative – followed the trials of Marie-Anne Houde and Télesphore Gagnon. We have also included a selection of articles from Le Soleil and La Tribune, which published 34 and 23 articles respectively on the Gagnon affair between February 13 and October 1, 1920.
Here is some basic information about each of the newspapers chosen for these “virtual archives.”
La Presse (since 1884): When it first appeared, this daily was a popular newspaper, and then it became an informative one. It was founded by William-Edmond Blumhart, following a split in the Conservative party. Thanks to Trefflé Berthiaume, the paper became a profitable national institution. The newspaper took advantage of new typographical procedures (linotype, illustrations) and new ways of writing (headlines, features) to attract readers from among the working class. La Presse went on to become associated with the Liberals.
Le Devoir (since 1910): Founded by Henri Bourassa. It was after the Publicité Ltée. agency was set up in 1908 that this newspaper, devoted to serving the community, was created. Henri Bourassa chose brilliant, experienced colleagues to help him produce his daily newspaper. This nationalist and independent newspaper rapidly became an instrument for the promotion of French-Canadian interests and values. It struggled against British imperialism and defended the conservative social doctrine of the Catholic Church and the farmers’ movement.
Le Soleil (since 1880): Founded by a company of which Wilfrid Laurier, future Prime Minister of Canada, was a member. Ownership changed hands a number of times, passing from one company to another. Moderately Liberal, this daily newspaper, whose name was initially L’Électeur, on occasion drew the wrath of the Catholic Church and consequently saw its readership decrease. For this reason, in 1896 the newspaper changed its name and adopted the name that it still has today, Le Soleil.
La Tribune (since 1910): Founded by Jacob Nicol and Michael A. Foley, associated with the Liberals. It advocated submission to the Church and swore to keep its distance from the ideology of Henri Bourassa and Le Devoir. Thanks to its skilled contributors, this daily became the newspaper not only of the city of Sherbrooke, but also of the entire Eastern Townships region.
This information is taken from Beaulieu, André et Jean Hamelin. La presse québécoise des origines à nos jours. Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1987.