The community museum and archives receive a steady stream of bits and pieces of the past. Sometimes we get a large collection from an estate, but more often it is something a person has had for a long time and, as they downsize, they look for a new home for it.
It happens to all community museums, and so we received a package of items that had been brought to the Mission Archives, which recognized that they belonged with us.
One item was a 1931 Gazette newspaper. We have original copies of the newspaper and there are microfilms and an index, so it made the most sense to just recycle this extra copy. But then elements of it caught my eye.
Because of the vast amount of newspaper material we hold, we rarely get the opportunity to just pick a day out of time and do a deep dive into the past.
Usually, we are on a quest for a particular person or event and all the rest just goes by. This small bundle of pages from the March 26 edition, plus one page from the April 2 paper granted just such an opportunity.
Early 1931 was ‘between the wars.’ The heady days of the 1920s were over and the economy was into the second year of the Great Depression, though it would be a couple of more years before it really hit this area hard.
April 1 of 1931 did see the institution of provincial income tax for the first time – a levy of one per cent on all wages earned over $25 per week for a person with dependents or $15 per week for all others.
Those wages help put into perspective grocery prices, like 39 cents for a pound of butter or 52 cents for 10 pounds of sugar.
At Taverna’s Red and White Store, the phone number was 116 and delivery of groceries was free.
The most striking element of the March 26 newspaper was the coverage of the McLean High School debates. Running to 84 column inches in very small font, today you would probably need to start a war to get that kind of coverage.
As an introduction, editor J. Junier Dougan states: “MacLean High School is surely developing skillful debatoers for legislators, professors, clergymen, lawyers, and lecturers.”
These were the expectations for those who completed high school in those days. Those not planning a professional career generally left by grade 9 or so as they had all they needed.
The topic of the debate was: “Resolved that military training in schools and colleges is a detriment to world peace.”
Those agreeing with the resolution, represented by Peter Mussallem, argued that such preparation for war would make it inevitable.
Those taking the negative position, ably fronted by James Menzies, stated that military training was essential to maintain world peace.
And so it goes on covering all possible details, aided no doubt by the fact that editor Dougan was one of the judges.
Our community newspapers are a treasure too often taken for granted. Every issue is a snapshot of our lives this week, covering schools, entertainment, religion, social events and politics.
There is no equivalent.
While we may not particularly care about recent issues as the events are fresh in our minds, no other format will so thoroughly recall this week in 50 or 100 years’ time.
Speak up for efforts to digitize and preserve our newspapers.
Val Patenaude is director at the Maple Ridge Museum and Archives.