Bill Lorimer

Reflections of Ponoka: The early days at the Ponoka Herald newspaper

After trying to combine work and play and family for over 50 topsy-turvy years, most of us love to look back and try to pick out

After trying to combine work and play and family for over 50 topsy-turvy years, most of us love to look back and try to pick out some of the best memories of our most eventful trips down the thrilling road of life. Going to school was great and dating was always a challenge, but as a skinny kid just out of high school I firmly believe that the first big break of my young life was landing a job at the Ponoka Herald newspaper.

At first I ran errands around that busy newspaper and print shop but after helping to put the weekly paper together, I dreamed of becoming a cub reporter someday because I always loved writing stories. Gord Galbraith was my favourite early mentor, patiently teaching me how to run the big noisy press, the folder, and all those other machines, and while I was always getting totally covered in ink, I was slowly learning a lot about this exciting business. What fascinated me the most about my baptism as a little “printer’s devil” was watching a fine old gentleman by the name of Bill Lorimer quietly operating a massive steel type machine, called a Linotype, each and every day.

Early history of the Ponoka Herald

The first issue of the Ponoka Herald came off the press on Aug. 27, 1900, with Mr. W.D. Pitcairn the first editor and the paper being printed in Lacombe. In 1902 the business was purchased by the village clerk, Eugene Rhian, a printing press was later added, and two years later, George Gordon took over the ownership of the weekly publication. The first plant was located on 50th Avenue and relocated several times.

The ambitious Mr. Gordon was constantly making additions to the newspaper, which quickly became a colorful weekly ambassador for the thriving new community of Ponoka and surrounding districts in the County of Ponoka. In a letter dated July 13, 1911, Mr. Gordon accepted the application of a fine young compositor, who was working for the Banffshire Journal in Scotland but longed for the opportunity to come to Canada and work at the Ponoka Herald.

Gordon had explained the office was small with a staff of three, and that Mr. Lorimer’s duties would include typesetting, working the machines, and if possible, doing some writing. His main goal was to hire an honest, steady and sober man, and if he were that, everything would be all right to start a new life in a land that would be altogether different than back in the old country. The starting wages would be $10 a week with an increase after six months if he were are the right man, spare time work at other newspapers was also available. He assured the young Scot that Ponoka was a growing and progressive town, and that good room and board would be available for $5 week.

William J. Lorimer accepted the job, gave his notice to the union and booked passage to sail on Sept. 16, 1912. He was later followed by his lady friend, and they were married in Ponoka in 1912. Bill would sit at the keyboard of the Ponoka Herald linotype for many decades, and Mr. and Mrs. Lorimer celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary here in 1962. The great community tradition of the Ponoka Herald weekly newspaper continued in and around our town and districts until its final publication in December of 1997.

As the name implies, the amazing Linotype, which was introduced in 1896, produced a solid line of type in various fonts, and would be used by generations of newspapers and printers. It was a special one-man machine, with the operator sitting in front with the copy to be set at the top of the keyboard. Having adjusted the machine for the required point size and line length, the blocks of lead were heated in a pot to the correct temperature of about 550 degrees F, after which setting began. Each and every day the all-metal machine would methodically produce the thousands of lines of type that would be used in the weekly newspaper as well as countless print jobs.

In 1938 George Gordon’s son John bought the business from his father and operated it until 1953 when it was sold to the Ponoka Herald Ltd. The plant was then moved into a new building at 5210-50 Street, which included modern machinery, under the direction of publisher Keith Leonard, Ernie Jamison and Ken McLean. I fondly remember putting on big thick gloves and helping pour casts at the red hot metal pot, looking after the paper boys and girls, inserting flyers, and running all sort of tasks and errands at the shop and around town.

When Ken and Audrey McLean took over the business I finally got the opportunity to set some copy on a fancy new typesetting machine and to run around town taking pictures and writing stories about everything from sports, to politics to pie socials. I always enjoyed working with such a great bunch like Bill Lorimer, Griff Jones, Sid Jones, Ken and Audrey, Gord, Buster, and so many others, who always encouraged me to keep on writing, and to learn how to spell.

Along the way I did change jobs a couple of times, enjoying great experiences with the Town of Ponoka recreation department and the Ponoka Rising Sun Club House but for some reason, even after retirement, I couldn’t resist coming back to the challenge and magic of putting out a newspaper each and every week. I really appreciate my family and everyone who has assisted and supported me with my career over the years, with special thanks to the Ponoka News for allowing me to carry on my weekly ramblings about Ponoka and districts.