First Printing Press in British Columbia

Demers Printing Press

First Printing Press in BC

The first printing press in British Columbia has its own biography.

This printing press saw many firsts in its journey from France, California and finally to British Columbia in 1856.

Bishop Demers of Victoria received the hand-press from the Society for the Propogation of the Gospel of Paris. It weighed approximately 200 pounds and could handle paper sheets up to 11 x 18 inches.

It being the only press in Victoria, Demers leased the press to the exiled French count, Paul de Garro, to print a French language political and literary journal called Le Courier de la Nouvelle Caledonie. This press was also used to print the very first book in British Columbia, called The Fraser Mines Vindicated or the History of Four Months, by Alfred Waddington. It was printed in 1858 and consisted of 49 pages.

While Count de Garro perished in a steamboat explosion in Victoria’s harbour, the printing press began another journey, this time in the hands of George Wallace.

Wallace brought this press with him to Barkerville where it was used to print the first copies of the Cariboo Sentinel. This press was used for many years and no doubt saw many different editors as the newspaper changed ownership. Due to the quick thinking of the staff, the printing press escaped the fire that destroyed Barkerville and was carried by horseback to nearby Richfield.

In 1880, the press was brought to Emory (near Yale) by Inland Sentinel publisher Michael Hagan. As the location of the Inland Sentinel changed, so the press was moved, first from Emory to Yale and finally to Kamloops. It was never used.

The same Ruggles press used by Amor de Cosmos to print the British Colonist newspaper was used to print the Inland Sentinel until the 1890s, when the Ruggles press was sold to a newspaper in another town.

In 1904, Mark S. Wade acquired the Inland Sentinel and soon learned the history of the ‘old French press’, intact but never used.

“Shortly after coming into possession of the old relic, I donated it to the Convent of St. Ann, Victoria, at the request of the Sister Superior, and it there, I believe rests undisturbed, save by the application of a duster.”

The press was subsequently transferred to the Royal BC Museum with other items from St. Ann’s Academy Museum.