Times Past: Stratford Times … Take Three

  • History   Thursday, June 9, 2022   Betty Jo Belton

Newspapers are a highly valued source of information for all kinds of historical research. They provide one stop shopping for details about everything from wedding fashions to who got elected Mayor and why. Articles about school graduations, birth announcements and obituaries are gold mines for genealogists. Like many other heritage organizations, Stratford-Perth Archives has been systematically collecting and preserving local newspapers for decades, including, most recently, the Stratford Times. There have been two other Stratford Times newspapers -- in two other centuries. Both are preserved at the Archives and offer glimpses of life here in times past. 

The first editor of the second Stratford Times was Don Southcott. Michael Nield was photographic editor. They published a sort of introductory flyer to explain their editorial intentions and to reach out to potential advertisers. Copies would be distributed to every home in Stratford. They hoped their new paper would be controversial “in a responsible way.” They were convinced that controversy “solves problems” and warned readers that: “You won’t like some of our opinions, we promise you, because we find it hard to conform, despite an urge for popularity (every newspaper needs friends to survive). But we have a right, if not a duty, to say what we think and we’ll exercise it. We feel criticism should be constructive when it can be, but it can’t always be. We consider attack CAN be constructive… But if you’re left with the impression that our main editorial concern is criticism, don’t be misled. We believe in pats on the back too.”

Southcott and Nield recognized their predecessors in their first issue on May 6, 1964 with the headline: We’re not the FIRST Stratford Times! The article goes on: 

Frankly we thought we were until we talked to Edmund K. Kneitl, RR 1 Stratford. His face lit up when he saw our introductory issue.

“That brings back memories,” he commented with a wry smile. “My father used to publish that paper.” From his sisters – Misses Rhea and Annie Kneitl, 115 Norman St. – we received a copy of the January 8, 1890, edition of “The Stratford Times and County of Perth Gazette.”

Proprietors at that time were E.J. Kneitl and H.T. Butler. Mr. Butler later left the reins to the former, a city gentleman of the time and a penman of distinction. 

The seven members of Mr. Kneitl’s family are still living. They include Sister Amadea, of the St. Joseph order, Chatham; Mrs. James (Bertha) Gannon, Detroit; Mrs. Martha Timmerman, 117 Norman, and Dixon of Toronto. The three local sisters live in the century-old home in which their father was born and they cherish the antique furnishings which grace it.

A grandson of the Times’ publisher, Ted Kneitl, runs Ted’s Hobby, Sport and Pet Shop on Wellington, which is where we met his father, a retired customs man.

Journalism was very much alive in Stratford in the 1890’s, judging by the Jan. 8 issue of the Times. A Mr. Brown had just won the mayoralty election in Stratford with the help of “wirepullers” and “disreputable slanderers.”

In a hell’n fury editorial inside, the Times challenged “the kids” at the Herald to “rake up enough cash to put up in court to cover the costs” of a threatened libel action…The words “serpents, imposters, libertines, disreputable crew” were sprinkled liberally through the writing, as were “donkey, libelers, owls. Lively’s hardly strong enough to describe the newspaper wars in those days. Only one sad note comes from the discovery of the earlier Times. The Misses Kneitl revealed their father lost thousands of dollars before selling the paper to the Herald.

In between the two Times, there was another weekly paper in Stratford called the Mirror. That paper was started on June 22, 1923 by local hat merchant Fletcher Johnston. A frontpage article announced the Mirror as a new weekly publication and pointed out that “few there are indeed who do not like to look in a mirror…We sincerely hope you will read The Mirror with just as much interest as you look into your own mirror…Articles pertaining to the individual as well as the civic and social life, we will try to make the contents of its columns.” The last issue of the Mirror was published on July 16, 1948. By that time the publisher was David Rae who wrote that the Mirror had “chronicled local happenings and provided entertaining weekend reading for a quarter century.” The Stratford Mirror was never microfilmed but 915 issues in the bound set of paper copies donated to the Archives years ago have now been digitized. They will be more easily available via the public computers in our Reading Room and the originals will survive longer. That work is part of a multi-year project to convert all of our newspaper holdings, whether on microfilm or paper, to a digital format. They will eventually be available equally to all researchers via our website but only after they have been converted to key word searchable copies and any potential copyright issues have been resolved.  In the meantime, it is exciting to see these treasure troves of community history being prepared for future generations of curious readers – even as we set aside copies of Stratford’s latest Times newspaper for the Archives.