The Ottawa Valley Journal and The Modern Countryside: A City-Country Newspaper and The New Journalism in Eastern Ontario, 1887 to 1925

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Smith, Dorothy-Jane




Studies of the press as a modernizing agent in the first two decades of the twentieth century usually look at the mass media of the city dailies. I argue that the country edition of an Ottawa daily, the rural Journal, equally was a modernizing agent. It involved itself in the definition of expert knowledge at the agricultural fair, in demonstrating professional road-building to rural residents, and in mobilizing producers against the middlemen and "poor business practices" of the global cheese market. These stories give insight into how a city-run newspaper dressed itself in rural clothing while presenting a model of modernity.

In 1899 the newspaper was renamed from the Ottawa Semi-Weekly Journal to the Ottawa Valley Journal as a statement that it was a newspaper for rural residents. In 1917, it became the Ottawa Farm Journal with the intent of being a regional farm paper. But what made the rural Journal special was activism in the style of the 1890s urban New Journalism. The first two editors made news and not just reported it, but with differing approaches. Herbert Cowan was a city man who relied on the authority of experts for his initiatives. Robert Faith was a farm boy come to the city who saw himself as the voice of the farmer, following his own conscience on what was right.

The determination to be modern on their own terms led many of the readers to resist a hegemonic definition of modern based on technology and increased managerial government. They were interested in Cowan's spectacles of modernity but did not alter their behaviour. They responded to Faith's calls for mass protests as these expressed their ambivalence to "progress" and yet his "agitations" did not change rural conditions. Nonetheless, the rural Journal campaigns told readers that farm issues were important and affirmed readers' aspiration to be modern as well as their unease over the resulting sense of disruption. In doing so, the newspaper helped keep alive a radical spirit in the countryside but it was a spirit which did not challenge the capitalist structures in which producers were enmeshed.


Canadian History




Carleton University

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