Paper History

The History of the
Fort Nelson News

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The Fort Nelson News is British Columbia’s most northerly newspaper,  and covers a region larger than Nova Scotia.

On October 24, 1959, the famous newspaper publisher Margaret L.  Murray, better known as “Ma” set out to give Fort Nelson its own voice.  Previously, her newspaper, the Alaska Highway News,  carried news of Fort Nelson sent in by residents.

At 71-years of age Ma agreed to come to Fort Nelson and start a newspaper.  She stayed at Stella’s Motel where she set up a sturdy wooden table  and began to report the events taking place at that time.  It was here that she read copy, sold ads, and stored her film.  News stories and ads were stuffed into a large envelope and sent by bus to Fort St. John. Copy was set, photographs printed, and display ads  inserted by her daughter Georgina Keddell, printed on their press and the newspapers were returned by bus.
These were the days of pioneer aviation. The Alaska Highway had been completed by the Americans and handed over to Canada, but the road remained little more than a pioneer trail.  Ma wrote copiously stories of  bush pilots and their adventures and the nascent years of the oil and gas industry.  These issues remain as part of the bound copies of every issue published by the newspaper throughout its history.

Once the newspaper had been established, Ma decided that the rigors of pioneer life where getting too much of her and she retired to Lillooet, where she continued her newspaper career for a further decade.

She found a buyer for the Fort Nelson News and Watson Laker. A former newspaperman, Robert L. Angus, better known as Bob,  he had worked for newspapers in Vancouver before opening a café at Charlie Lake, an endeavor that ended abruptly when the building burned down.  With the insurance money, Bob signed the deal, loaded his worldly goods into a trailer and set up shop near the old Pioneer Motel.  His $3,000 bought the table, the typewriter, a camera, and the title of the newspaper.  Bob became the voice of the community and his slogan was ” Watch Your Step Pardner,This Country Is Loaded With Opportunity”.

Bob Angus was a visionary, ahead of his time, who saw a dream bigger than the reality of a dusty truck stop and motel strip.  He encouraged many people, particularly professionals, teachers, doctors and lawyers to share his dream.  He also managed to spend most of the five months of winter outside the country, leaving the 12-page tabloid in the hands of any aspiring writer who might be passing through town. An Australian pilot did the photography one winter, mainly party shots; a young woman who left the Alaska Highway to attend college in Japan wrote pages of correspondence about her experiences, all faithfully reproduced in the pages of the newspaper.  And the United Church minister’s wife became a star attraction by creating beautiful cartoons of local characters.

In 1966 Anthony and Judith Kenyon and their four-year-old daughter, Abigail, arrived from London, England.  Anthony, with a shiny new surgical degree, was here for a four-month locum at the request of the resident physician Dr. Damian Metten. Bob Angus offered Judith a job as an  reporter photographer and Dr Metten offered an immediate partnership in the medical clinic practice.
This was a carefree time, taxes were low, distances vast, and those who had good jobs came and went at two-year intervals.  The permanent residents comprised First Nations, Métis and an assortment of wanderers, who found the place  amenable to their eccentricities.

Throughout the 1970s Fort Nelson secured its place as a transportation hub and with barges,  highways, airport and railway and pipelines, it coalesced into a regional centre for an area rich in natural resources.

No sooner had Bob Angus’s dream been realized, and his business  grown to add a travel agency, that he was cut down in his prime by a debilitating car accident and a rare form of cancer from which he succumbed and died quite suddenly.  After his death, his estate was sold and the Kenyons purchased the newspaper from his mother.

The Fort Nelson News, now one of the oldest businesses in the region, has seen much change.

Soon after taking over the newspaper the Kenyons  abandoned the large envelope and the bus ride to Fort St. John.  In its place, two blue Compugraphic typesetters arrived with layout boards.  The News was now a proper  broadsheet and  included two full-time staff members, several part-timers, a darkroom and deadlines.

With the exception of one short period when it was printed in Prince George, the Fort Nelson News has been printed on the presses in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.

In 1986, on the advice of the publisher of the Alaska Highway News, Bill Dyer, the newspaper went digital with the purchase of Mac computers. More color was added and a website, paid subscribers can now access their paper on the web.

The format is still broadsheet and this allows coverage of all the local news of the Northern Rockies region from bear attacks, plane crashes and river boat accidents, scatter bombs dumped on the Alaska Highway, and the regular day-to-day court, council, hospital and school board stories, clubs and organizations all covered.  In addition columnists supply news of the province, the federal government, and international news, and their comics strips and editorial cartoons.

The Fort Nelson News serves Fort Nelson, the Alaska Highway, the Northern Rockies, Watson Lake, the Horn River Basin, Fort Liard, and the South Mackenzie in the Northwest Territories.

It is the newspaper of record for the top third of BC and is unopposed in its market.  It has a press run of 2,800, paid circulation is 2,600 and is distributed in Watson Lake, Fort Nelson, at lodges along the Alaska Highway, the Horn River Basin, Liard and Cordova  camps, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Fort Liard.
Recently, it has entered into book publishing with a history of Fort Nelson and the North West trading company from 1805 to 1905 authored by Anthony Kenyon and edited by K. Jane Watt.

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