Alberta had sported its status as a Canadian province for just over two months when the Lethbridge Herald first appeared. It was autumn 1905 and Lethbridge was a mining town of about 3,000 people already being served by the Lethbridge News, which had just begun daily publication after 20 years as a weekly paper. Two Cranbrook men, Fred E.Simpson and A.S. Bennett, introduced the Lethbridge Weekly Herald, which published its first issue Nov. 8, 1905. Its first home was in a building that used to house a Chinese laundry on what is now 5 Street South. An editorial in the first issue carried a proclamation that remains a part of The Herald’s editorial page: “As long as there is paste in its pot or lead in its pencil, The Herald will bow to no one and endeavor to do justice to all. It will spare no effort to obtain legitimate news from whatever source it might come.”
The debut issue also featured a story about a CPR survey being carried out with an eye toward the building of a new railway bridge spanning the river valley. Today the High Level Bridge is a nationally recognized historic structure. Shortly before The Herald’s birth, a young newspaperman from Ontario arrived in Lethbridge on a bleak, blustery October day. William Asbury Buchanan visited Calgary, where he made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase an interest in a newspaper called the Albertan. He also failed in a bid to land a job with the Edmonton Bulletin. He returned to Lethbridge, which had not provided Buchanan with a favourable first impression, with a chinook kicking up dust and debris.
Nevertheless, Buchanan decided to buy a half interest in the newly launched Lethbridge Weekly Herald. His name first appeared on the paper’s masthead on Dec.27, 1905 and within a year, he became the paper’s sole owner. Under Buchanan’s trained eye, sharpened by his previous work with newspapers in Ontario, the look of The Herald changed, with serious news pushing the society news and poetry off the front page. The Herald began with a staff of six and managed an average circulation of 300 that first year.
Buchanan launched the Daily Herald on Dec.11, 1907 (the Weekly Herald continued as a separate publication until 1950). Buchanan, a canny businessman, had carefully sized up the situation before making the leap and it wasn’t long before the News ceased as a daily paper, reverting to weekly publication. By 1909, Lethbridge was growing quickly and so was The Herald, which had known several homes since its birth.
Buchanan moved his paper once again but this time into a building on 6 Street off 3 Avenue South that was a virtual palace compared to the paper’s previous homes. The Herald was to remain there, with periodic additions to the building, until moving into its present home at 504 7 St. S. in 1952. Buchanan became an unabashed Lethbridge booster, adopting the slogan “Watch Lethbridge grow,” which was introduced by the previous owners, Simpson and Bennett. Buchanan used The Herald’s editorial page to back local improvements and an editorial in March 1908 predicted: “Lethbridge is going to be the centre of one of the best populated districts in Western Canada.”
Buchanan was 49 years old when he was named to the Canadian Senate in 1925, an especially surprising appointment in that he was a newspaperman. He remained a senator for 29 years and while he was forced to divide his time between Ottawa and Lethbridge, “his thoughts never strayed too far from his paper,” Lethbridge historian Georgia Fooks wrote in her book The History of the Lethbridge Herald, 1905-1975.
The Herald weathered the Great Depression in the 1930s with the staff, from Buchanan on down, agreeing to take a pay cut of equal percentage until conditions improved. One year The Herald reported a net profit of just $138. By 1936, business had perked up. The 1940s brought the Second World War and 15 Herald employees joined the armed forces, among them Earl Morris, who had been one of the original employees back in 1905, starting as a “printer’s devil” and delivery boy.
The war presented another challenge because key materials such as newsprint and type metal were in short supply. Only Buchanan’s personal friendship with other publishers and paper mill officials kept The Herald supplied with sufficient newsprint to allow regular publishing. In 1949, Buchanan began making plans for construction of a more modern building to house his newspaper and on Friday, May 23, 1952, the move began into the new home which boasted more than twice the floor space of the former building.
It wasn’t long after the move that Buchanan’s health began to deteriorate. A malignant growth was discovered in August 1953 and on July 12, 1954, just nine days after celebrating his 78th birthday, W.A. Buchanan died. Hugh Buchanan, the younger of the Senator’s two sons, succeeded his father at The Herald’s helm in 1954. He had joined the staff in 1945 and worked in a variety of departments before being named president and managing director of the paper on July 19, 1954.
One of Hugh Buchanan’s first acts after taking over was to boost salaries. Hugh Buchanan remained in charge until July 1959 when F.P. Publications, owned in part by Calgary’s Max Bell, purchased The Herald. Buchanan moved on to write for the Hamilton Spectatorin the 1960s. There, he also collaborated with a former Spectator staffer to write a series of 16 youth-oriented adventure books, the Brad Forrest series, under the pen-name Hugh Maitland.
Cleo Mowers, who had been serving as associate editor of Calgary’s The Albertan, became the Lethbridge Herald’s publisher on Feb. 29, 1960, beginning what would be a 20-year stint in the post. Like W.A. Buchanan before him, Mowers used The Herald to speak out on issues of importance to the community.
Mowers left after The Herald was sold to the huge Thomson Newspapers chain in 1980. The Herald remained a Thomson paper until September 2000 when it was purchased by Horizon Publications Inc., which also owns the Kelowna Daily Courier, Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal and other holdings. Lethbridge was going through its own changes in the 1980s and The Herald continued to report on the developments such as the Crowsnest Trail and Centre Site projects. There were more changes in the 1990s, with The Herald debuting its Sunday paper on April 12, 1992, then switching to full morning delivery on Sept.6, 1996.
The 1990s also took The Herald further into the computer age, with the paper becoming the first Alberta newspaper to introduce an Internet edition in 1995. It is a concept W.A. Buchanan couldn’t have envisioned when he was publishing The Herald in the former Chinese laundry premises.
Those humble beginnings prompted Buchanan to comment on more than one occasion that The Herald was, if nothing else, “a clean sheet.”