The Telegram proudly turns 135

Much has changed since the first four-page edition hit the streets

Steve Bartlett
Published on April 3, 2014

— Adapted from an excerpt from “The Grit and the Courage: Stories of Success in an Unforgiving Land” by Steve Bartlett

Towards the latter part of the 1870s, people told William James Herder that a daily newspaper would never last in St. John’s, then a city of 30,000. But the 29-year-old printer wasn’t fazed by the naysayers.

Now, 135 years later, his dream lives on as the oldest continuous daily newspaper in Newfoundland and Labrador. Over its lengthy existence, the paper — now known as The Telegram — has informed its readers about some of the biggest events in the history of Newfoundland as a colony, as a self-governing dominion and as a Canadian province.  

From the Great Fire of 1892 to the Newfoundland Regiment’s near decimation at Beaumont Hamel in 1916 to the province’s joining Canada in 1949, The Evening Telegram documented events of significance to Newfoundland and Labrador …

Volume 1, No. 1, of The Evening Telegram was published on April 3, 1879, with Herder as publisher, Alexander Parsons as editor, and Robert Mercer as pressman. Parsons wrote the copy and typeset it. Mercer used a hand press to produce the fewer than 500 copies of the four-page first edition. In terms of length and width, the paper was a little more than one-quarter the size of a modern-day broadsheet. A copy sold for a cent — it was the first Newfoundland paper to ask such a price — and an annual subscription cost $3.20 (although many thought the endeavour would never survive a year). …

By May 1880, 2,000 copies of The Evening Telegram were being published from Monday to Saturday. As circulation climbed, more staff were hired and new equipment was added. The publication moved from the old Courier offices on Duckworth Street to Gregory’s Lane, which connected Duckworth Street and Water Street. A new, cutting-edge press capable of producing 1,800 papers an hour was put in place at the new location. …

Herder’s paper had long silenced any of the early daily-doubters. At the time of his passing (on May 28, 1922), the publication was still seeing impressive annual growth. … (And) The Evening Telegram would continue to grow in circulation and importance. At different periods over the years, it has even been considered the official opposition to government. …

On Aug. 1, 1970 — after 91 consecutive years of being published by W.J. Herder and his boys — The Evening Telegram was purchased by Thomson Newspapers. A member of the Herder family, though, continued running the paper. W.J.’s grandson, Stephen, served as publisher until 1991, bringing the family’s involvement with the paper to 112 years.

After a number of ownership changes since then, The Telegram is now owned by TC Media and continues to publish six days a week — digitally and in print, and is a solid news source, 24/7.


Steve Bartlett is an author and the managing editor of The Telegram.