June 27, 2014

Quebec City's English paper a survivor

In a city stocked with beautiful, interesting and historic buildings, the five-story gem located at perhaps the busiest corner in Old Quebec doesn’t attract much attention.

In its heyday, though, The Chronicle-Telegraph building, erected in 1907, was known as the “palace of the press” in an era when Quebec City had at one time three daily newspapers — in English.

Building the QCT block was perhaps an act of foolish optimism on the part of the then-publisher, given that the anglophone population of Quebec’s capital was in a steep downward spiral from a point in the mid 1800s when English speakers held a slight majority in the city.

That began to change with shifting of economic power to Montreal, the exodus of hundreds of civil servants to the new capital of Ottawa, plus the departure of the British garrison in 1871.

Last week, civic officials unveiled a plaque on the building at rue de Buade and rue de Tresor — the narrow alley where artists display and sell their work — saluting 250 years of the English press in Quebec City.

The Chronicle-Telegraph still exists and has survived long enough to call itself North America’s oldest newspaper, and no one has effectively challenged that claim.

In 1949, the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, whose name is still visible on the building, moved out of the one-time ultra-modern block with the distinctive dome — last used by a strip club, complete with mirror-ball.

From that point on, the newspaper was in a struggle to stay alive.

In 1971, the QCT became a weekly, as press titan Roy Thomson, who had added the paper to his 200-plus stable, surrendered to the hard reality of the anglophone market in that turbulent period in Quebec. Thomson sold the paper two years later to the first of a succession of owners plucky enough to try to keep publishing.

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