The Peace Arch News turns 45 years old this week.
The first edition of what was then known as the Peace Arch News and Consumers’ Guide hit the streets on Tuesday, Feb 10, 1976.
The brainchild of White Rock-based publisher Roy Jelly, the paper was launched with a modesty typical of its founder.
In a one-column item on the first front page he explained that while there had been many problems in getting a first edition to press, “it has been a thrilling experience in that so many of our friends have given us both moral support and real show of confidence by the advertisements that have been placed.
“It is difficult to explain exactly what we hope to achieve,” the soft-spoken, but often dryly witty, Jelly wrote in that first message to readers. “It is impossible to include all the news we would like and we are sure we can do better.”
Originally founded as a competitor for the venerable White Rock Sun, Jelly’s venture ultimately became the newspaper of record in the White Rock and South Surrey area and has continued as an award-winning community newspaper, becoming a member of the Black Press Media chain in 1997.
But all of that was a long way off when the paper first appeared, with a circulation of some 13,000 issues, selling for 15 cents per copy.
At that time it was a twice-a-month publication, with reporter Eileen Toumaala doubling as editor, Graham Evan McDonnell – who joined the team as full-time editor in September of 1976 – recalled.
In the earliest years the production manager was Chuck Clements, McDonnell said, with Marilyn Gillan as office manager and distribution handled by her teenage son Kevin.
The first few years of producing the paper were a seven-days-a-week scramble, McDonnell remembered.
His own multiple tasks included covering Surrey school board meetings and White Rock planning committee meetings, doing all of the photography, developing and printing, editing copy from Toumaala and freelancers Ann Risdon, Judith Doddington, Mary Gillis and Pat Kilt, and delivering pasted up pages to the printer – all the way to picking up the printed copies in a truck to drop off to the carriers.
“In March of 1977 I clocked 114 hours in one week, as I kept a time record according to the tasks I did,” McDonnell said.
But Jelly – who, McDonnell recalled, had borrowed $3,500 to start the paper – was willing to work long hours to make it a success, too, he added.
“Roy would put in about 60 hours a week, sometimes up to 80,” he said.
Previously a printer in Vancouver, Jelly had moved to White Rock with his wife Marje and daughters Diane and Eileen in 1962.
By the early 1970s he had become the advertising sales manager at the White Rock Sun, but decided to go into business for himself by the middle of the decade, partly in response to declining revenues and differences with the owners of that paper.
Although he retired from an active newspaper career in 1985, Jelly remained much involved in the community as a member of and bulletin editor for the White Rock Rotary Club, and as a founding member of the Peninsula Arts Foundation, until his passing in 2006.
Seen today, the front page of the first Peace Arch News offers a step back into far simpler, long pre-pandemic, times.
Big news for that edition was the construction of a bulk distribution Canada Post mail centre at 24 Avenue near the then-King George Highway.
A front page photo of the site showed that, at that time, it was still a largely rural, undeveloped area.
Set to be completed in August of 1976, the mail centre was described as a necessary replacement for the old White Rock post office in the federal building on the Marine Drive waterfront, which offered no more room for expansion.
Among other big news that week was the condition of ailing former White Rock mayor Harry Douglass, who had served from 1959 to 1969, said to be in a coma after a choking incident during a meal while visiting Scottsdale, Ariz.
Conflicts, both local and national, were also reported: White Rock city was arguing in B.C. Supreme Court that the White Rock Hotel, at Marine Drive and Dolphin Street, was operating in violation of a zoning bylaw, while then-Conservative MP Benno Friesen was presenting his case before the CRTC, opposing expenditure for a French language television station in B.C.
But the paper’s commitment to community and health was evident even then – it was also front page news that the White Rock branch of the Canadian Red Cross was holding its annual meeting, and welcoming new members.