Joseph Alexander Osborne, founder of the Fort Frances Times and a newspaperman for 66 of his 87 years, passed away at Newport News, V.A. on Sunday, July 25, 1948. At the time of his death he was editor emeritus of the Gazette of Williamsburg, V.A., the oldest paper on the continent. It was established in 1736.
Mr. Osborne, during his 20-year residence on the Border, took the lead in promoting the Rainy River District and, being civic minded, he took an active part in its development.
In 1905, he was elected Mayor of Fort Frances, succeeding W.J. Keating, who was the first Mayor following incorporation of Fort Frances as a town in 1903. He also served on town council from 1907-1910, and then again in 1912 and 1913.
He also took an active part in politics, helped elect the late James Coumee, MP, and local members, the last being J.A. Mathieu. He was also offered the nomination for the Dominion parliament and twice was tendered the Liberal nomination for the Ontario legislature. All these honours he refused as he felt that he could not do justice to the Times and be absent from home on legislative duties.
Began Career in 1882
Mr. Osborne, born near Tyrone, Ontario, came west to Winnipeg in March, 1882, entering newspaper work on the Winnipeg Evening Times. Later he switched to the Brandon Sun as manager. From Brandon, he went to Kenora to work with the News and then later the Rat Portage Miner. Wishing to get into newspaper business on his own, he purchased the Rainy Lake Journal, published at Rainy Laker City (just south of Black Bay, 15 miles east of International Falls) which he took over in January, 1896.
“To get to Rainy Lake City (a typical mining camp) I had to go to Winnipeg on to St. Paul, thence to Duluth and Tower in Northern Minnesota, and from Tower by team over ice and snow 150 miles to my destination. This was some trip in those early days and I was tired, cold and hungry when I at last reached my destination. I had a good dinner of venison and fish at a Swedish boarding house, after which I viewed my newspaper property – the Rainy Lake Journal.
“It was not so prepossessing or promising but I settled down to work with one young man who combined that of printer’s devil, printer and pressman. I knew nothing about setting type (it was done by hand in those days) but we managed to get along. We published numerous land office notices at $8 each and homestead notices at $5 each, and had as many as 20 or 30 come in by mail with cheques attached.”
Barrels of Beer
“I put in the balance of the winter there but as spring advanced the little town ran short of provisions and we lived for three weeks on cornmeal and jackfish. About this time the ice began to break up in the Rainy Lake, so with a companion I took a canoe to Fort Frances, 14 miles distant, across and down the lake to get food. Here we also found a scarcity of provisions, so we waited for the boat from Rat Portage 150 miles away. The boat finally did arrive and when they unloaded the freight consisted of one bag of flour and a couple of hundred barrels of beer. With a little more cornmeal, a dozen eggs and a few canned goods, my companion and I paddled our canoe back to Rainy Lake City, there to get along best we could until more provisions arrived and the lake was clear of ice.
“Towards the first of June, seeing that the little American Mine was closed down and people going away, I moved the paper and plan by barge to Koochiching (now International Falls) opposite to Fort Frances. This was the first paper to be published in Northern Minnesota. I went back and forth across the Rainy River each day by canoe and in the winter by canoe and on ice.
“In the fall of the next year (1897) I learned there was some possibility of the Canadian Northern building from Winnipeg to Port Arthur, coming through Fort Frances. So as to be on the spot I arranged to move the paper and plant across the river to Fort Frances where I built a printing office and founded the Fort Frances Times.”
In 1900, Mr. Osborne established the Gazette at Rainy River, while at the same time he published the Brandon Daily Sun.
“On Christmas morning,” he later wrote, “I had a Christmas present handed to me in the form of a telegram from a friend of mine in Rainy River stating that the Gazette office and plant burned the night before and nothing was saved. There was also the news that my manager and printer there had left town with another man’s wife.”