Contributed photo Lacombe in 1908.

Michael Dawe: Lacombe Globe folds after 119 years

On Jan. 6, Postmedia announced that after 119 continuous years of publication, the Lacombe Globe is being shut down. While the news was not entirely unexpected and while this is one of a number of community newspapers to close in the past number of years, it is still sad to see one of the oldest businesses in central Alberta come to an end.

The origins of the Lacombe Globe go back to the turn of the last century. The first newspaper in the community was the Lacombe Weekly Press. It had been created by W.D. Pitcairn. That publication did not last long (i.e. 1899-1900). In 1900, J.D. Skinner started what was initially known as the Western Globe.

Skinner’s operation was quite rudimentary. The original printing press was powered by a donkey walking on a treadmill. Also, misfortune struck Skinner shortly after he started his paper.

In September 1900, he accidentally discharged his shotgun while out duck hunting. His foot was so badly shattered it had to be amputated. Nevertheless, Skinner was determined to continue his career as a newspaper editor.

That determination was soon tested by the emergence of a competitor. Frank Schooley started another weekly in Lacombe which he named The Advertiser and Central Alberta News. While it might seem odd a community of only a couple of hundred residents would boast two weekly newspapers, it was actually not uncommon at the time.

Red Deer was roughly the same size as Lacombe and for many years also had two local papers – the Advocate (originally the Echo) and the News. Innisfail also had a similar population and had two publications – the Free Lance and the Province. Even smaller communities such as Blackfalds and Penhold were able to support at least one weekly newspaper – the Blackfalds Mercury and Penhold Reporter.

The success of the local newspapers was greatly bolstered by the dramatic growth experienced across central Alberta at the turn of the last century. The population of Lacombe jumped from 100 to 1100 in seven years. Red Deer grew from 300 to 1,500 during the same time span. New businesses were continuously being established. Their new owners were anxious to advertise their goods and services to potential customers.

In 1905, Charles Bernard “Barney” Halpin purchased the Lacombe Western Globe from J.D. Skinner. Halpin had a very interesting background. He had served with the military as a member of the Montreal Garrison Artillery. He was one of the soldiers who guarded Louis Riel in a Regina jail cell when Riel was on trial for “treason” in the aftermath of the Northwest (Riel) Rebellion of 1885.

Halpin was also well connected with the newspaper business. His father was an editor of the Calgary Albertan. Barney Halpin was also very successful as a businessman. In late 1910, he was able to buy out his competitor, the Advertiser. Another rival paper, the Lacombe Guardian, was started in 1913 by Frank Schooley. However, the Guardian did not last long and folded in 1916.

Barney Halpin really distinguished himself in the early 1930s when he took on the Ku Klux Klan in central Alberta. J.J. Maloney, the chief organizer of the Klan in Alberta, held a series of very successful local rallies, picking up on the widespread public discontent created by the severe economic hard times of the Great Depression. The Klan provided an outlet for the deep anger and distress.

After a Lacombe blacksmith was tarred and feathered by local members of the Klan, Halpin launched a series of scathing editorials about the organization. He also helped organize an anti-Klan rally at the Lacombe Veterans Hall.

The backlash against Halpin was immediate and fierce. He got a letter stating if he did not desist, the offices of the Globe would be “burned to the ground” and he would be “glad to leave Lacombe before the K.K.K. was through with him.” Later, Maloney made an unsuccessful attempt to have Halpin tried for criminal libel.

In September 1935, Barney Halpin sold the Western Globe to Harry J. Ford and L.S. Walker. However, the days of the newspaper tackling issues of national significance did not end.

In 1937, the Lacombe Globe took part in the fight against an attempt by the provincial Social Credit government to impose official censorship on Alberta’s newspapers. That battle ultimately resulted in the receipt of the first Pulitzer prize awarded outside the United States.

(To be continued)

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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