LITTLE CURRENT – On Friday, May 24, The Manitoulin Expositor is celebrating its 140th birthday. It seems only fitting, then that the newest (and youngest) member of the Expositor team has been tasked with this retrospective of the paper’s 14 prior decades and the next 14 to come.
The Expositor began as a Manitowaning Saturday newspaper in 1879 by publisher W. L. Smith. He rejected the common newspaper founding practice of printing its guiding principles as an insincere gesture, “more frequently honoured in the breach than the observance.” Instead, he offered readers a simple promise, one which holds true to this day:
“We will make the promotion of the Island’s interests our first aim; for the rest we will be judged by our actions.”
It was a tense newspaper market back then. A total of seven newspapers existed on Manitoulin Island between the 1870s and the 1900s, including The Expositor, the Manitoulin Guide (which was the first newspaper on the Island) and the Enterprise, the latter of which was less than enthusiastic about The Expositor’s arrival. Enterprise editor Harry Mander wrote that his paper would thus adopt the views of the Liberal Conservative Party and expand its size, based on “support from Conservatives of the Manitoulin to which we shall be justly entitled.”
Mr. Smith fired back, requesting that Mr. Mander “be merciful; consider the manner in which you have afflicted these unfortunate people in the past and then compassionately allow your paper to retain its present dimensions.” He added that the Enterprise printed “any kind of a sheet at any time that suited its publisher.”
This newspaper has reflected a number of editorial leanings through its history, depending on who held the role of editor, but it has mainly resided left of centre. Editor J.F. Snowdon, who purchased the paper in 1906, was occasionally referred to as the “preacher-editor.”
In many ways, newspapers reflect the communities they represent. The size of the paper ballooned and shrank through the years, including editions as short as four pages during the Great Depression and the Second World War. However, despite its sometimes-small size, The Expositor steadfastly fulfilled its duty of remaining accountable to its community.
Mr. Snowdon advocated for Carnegie funds to build a library in the 1910s, adoption ads ran in 1931 when the Children’s Aid society had 28 children in its care, The Expositor ran news from abroad during the World Wars and sent copies to Manitoulin troops serving overseas, a child’s letter to Santa Claus was published for the first time in these pages in 1950, it has sponsored all-candidates nights for federal and provincial elections since the 1970s and was shared and celebrated the region’s heritage and history.
That raises a question of what may be still to come in the future of this publication. As technology progresses at an exponential rate, digital content will no doubt become more integral to the way The Expositor delivers the news to you. Followers may have already taken note of some video reports that The Expositor has produced in the past year, something that will hopefully continue to grow in the future.
This is not to say that there is no place for newsprint in a modern age; in fact, the opposite seems truer to form. Manitoulin Island carries with it a certain sense of quaint nostalgia. Residents and non-residents alike can feel it when the Swing Bridge comes into view or when the distant shore of South Baymouth appears on the horizon or when casting a hawser onto a Haweater pier.
It’s the sense of community spirit, of togetherness, of the joy of genuine human connection. It’s visible when walking into a family-run coffee shop rather than a grab-and-go corporate chain. You can see it in the smiles of strangers passing on the street or in the waves between cyclists and cars. It’s visible when Anishinaabe people, Manitoulin’s original inhabitants, invite anyone and everyone into their communities for celebrations and cross-cultural sharing—and vice versa.
Additionally, the rural and remote nature of Manitoulin Island, plus its older population, means that the urban amenities of high-speed internet and widespread technology adoption are not as prevalent here, meaning exclusively digital content can alienate significant segments of the population.
These are the sorts of environments in which traditional media, like newspapers, can thrive and enhance the lives of those who call this unique and special place their home. The Expositor is like a member of the community, sharing in celebrations and offering comfort to those who need it most.
So long as The Expositor continues to be that vital link for current Manitoulin Island, residents and expats alike, it will undoubtedly maintain its standing as the Island’s newspaper of record, regardless of what format that may entail.
It is impossible to predict what the future may hold for Manitoulin Island and The Expositor with any sort of certainty. One thing, however, is for certain—this reporter will be there to celebrate The Expositor’s 200th anniversary (provided the 2019 Canadian male life expectancy of 80 years increases by at least three, and he makes it to that point), and will consider his time as a contributor to Northern Ontario’s oldest newspaper nothing short of a true honour.
The work of Sandy McGillivray and Shelley J. Pearen have been invaluable in chronicling centuries of history of Manitoulin Island and this newspaper. Their projects, ‘Reflections’ and ‘Exploring Manitoulin’ respectively are excellent historical databases in which to examine the Island’s change through time.
Thank you most importantly to all the readers and supporters who have been by this newspaper’s side through the years. The Expositor would not exist without your support over 140 years of independent community news. Here’s to the next 140 years and beyond that will continue to define Manitoulin Island’s place in history.