Newspapers from the 19th and early 20th Centuries are often the richest source of information about life during this period. Historians make abundant use of newspapers in their research because they are a mine of information about so many events. They tell us about the latest agricultural techniques, food prices, deaths, births, marriages, the dramatic and ordinary events of day-to-day life. Because they contain precious information on a wide range of issues (local, regional, national and international), newspapers have been kept by generations of Canadians in libraries and archives, enabling us to understand numerous aspects of our collective past.

Generally speaking, Canadian newspapers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries have been well preserved. Large public and university libraries generally possess reproductions of the major dailies or those of their region. However, old newspapers are not always easy to read. Some are at times in such bad condition that they crumble at a touch. Many newspapers have been microfilmed as the only way to preserve them, but it is not uncommon for photographs to be blurred or words to be lost in the folds.

The newspapers of yesteryear are different from those of today, both in content and in appearance. First, their main function was not necessarily to inform, but to earn income for the publisher through the sale of copies to readers and advertising to businesses. It was not uncommon in those days for more space to be given to columns of advertising than to news and announcements. Consequently, in some cases advertisements appear on the front page and most of the real news is relegated to the pages inside. Moreover, contrary to today’s papers, the newspapers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries contain few photographs and illustrations.

The newspaper articles included in this Internet archive come from a wide variety of publications. When analyzing the content of an article, the historian must always keep in mind the point of view of the author and of the publication. A few articles are from Acadian newspapers, most of which were French-language ones. Founded in 1887, the only French-language newspaper in Nova Scotia was L’Évangéline; however, in 1905 it moved to Moncton in New Brunswick. Nova Scotia’s Acadians would not again have a newspaper in French until the founding of the Petit Courier in 1937. The vast majority of publications in the Maritimes have always been in English, representing the Maritimes’ Anglo-Protestant majority. As a result, very few articles in this archive truly reflect the outlook of the Acadians of Clare who lived with Jerome.

Unlike the urban newspapers in our multimedia environment, newspapers in those days tended to give detailed coverage of a wide range of activities. They printed long transcriptions of court testimony, detailed minutes from municipal board meetings, and news from the “Old Country”. For many reasons, these newspapers were not immune to bias, and they expressed the opinions and ways of thinking of their time. Like today, journalists were so hungry for news that they didn’t always verify their stories, so that rumours and hearsay were often published as fact. And like today, sensational stories sold newspapers, so little concern was given to the truth of what was reported.

The content of newspapers was often biased, because in those days such publications generally served as the organs of political parties or interest groups. Newspapers reflected religious or ethnic affiliations, or helped to create them. Paradoxically, these “problems” are the reason why newspapers are such rich historical sources. Even though the facts they report must always be compared against other sources to confirm their veracity, newspapers can tell us much about what most people thought worthy of public debate. If we read them with a critical eye, they reveal the social, cultural and political issues that were subjects of controversy, and the understanding people had of them. Finally, then as now, advertisements and letters to the editor bear witness to the daily concerns of society in the 19th Century. On the other hand, they generally provide few details about aspects of 19th-century life like food, the condition of women and children, or “good news” in general, since those things were rarely subjects of discussion.