History of The Forester
This history of newspapers in Huntsville is a compilation of various articles which have been written over the years. The first article appeared in 1940 in recognition of Newspaper Week, and although it is not signed it was more than likely written by H.E. Rice. The second article appeared in H.E.’s 1964 book, Huntsville, A brief Centennial History. This piece has been updated to reflect the more recent history of publishing in Muskoka.
When a tiny settlement had been established in Huntsville in the late 1860s, the only local newspaper giving them the happenings in their new-found home in the northern wilderness, was the “Free Grant Gazette” published by the late E.F. Stephenson at Bracebridge. It was not until 1876 that some discussion took place concerning the establishment of a “paper of their own.”
In the previous year, Dr. Howland, the pioneer physician had come in from Woodstock. He brought with him strong convictions on political issues, and was here only a few months when, at a local meeting of “the faithful”, he suggested the establishment of a newspaper. Subscriptions were pledged, and an arrangement made with Mr. Stephenson to publish the new paper on his presses. It must have been a “gritty” gathering called to discuss the project, for the decision was reached to name the newspaper “The Liberal”.
Early in April, 1876, the first issue came off the press. Dr. Howland, then a young man, and in close touch with the whole community,, volunteered to be the first editor. He supplied the local news, and was not restrained in his comments on the political situation. Liberalism had found a new champion in the north.
“The Liberal” was published until the fall of 1876, when Dr. Howland met F. W. Clearwater, a young printer from Whitby. He and Dr. Howland decided to form a partnership, and purchase a plant to be established in Huntsville. Mr. Clearwater accepted the mechanical side of the undertaking, and the doctor continued as editor. “The ‘Liberal’s’” name was changed to that of ‘The Forester”, and the first issue of “The Forester” appeared fresh off the local press in October 1877.
It was a four page weekly publishing with encouraging regularity. A few months later, Mr. Clearwater purchased Dr. Howland’s interest, and become sole proprietor.
The Forester clung tenaciously to its political affiliation with the Liberal party, a connection which did not lessen until 1902.
In 1894, when the whole business section of Huntsville was wiped out by fire, “The Forester” lost its plant and all its file copies. A new plant was purchased however, and within two weeks it was again in operation.
For 22 years Mr. Clearwater continued publishing but in 1899 he took over the position of postmaster of Huntsville. The Forester was for sale and George Hutcheson Sr., father of the Hutcheson family here, induced H.E. Rice to join with him in taking over “The Forester.”
The paper was still being issued as a four page sheet, but shortly after a change was made to an eight page paper. The political affiliation, with some modification, continued as friendly to the Liberal party.
The Forester had been, from its founding, an advocate of Liberal politics, but when ownership was changed, the announcement was made that henceforth it would be politically independent.
This prompted a group of leaders in Liberal politics in Huntsville to decide upon the establishment of a new Liberal organ. “The Huntsville Standard” was organized in 1901, and continued during broken intervals, for two years, when it was finally sold and removed from town. At an earlier period (in April, 1894) following the great Huntsville fire, “The Huntsville Enterprise” was established, but within a year, it was sold out to become part of the Burk’s Falls Arrow.
“The strangest personal incident in the many years during which I have been associated with The Forester, said H.E. Rice, came in 1902 when the famous Hart-Mahaffy by-election was launched, upon which the fate of the then Ross government depended. A legislative vacancy occurred in Muskoka, through the death of Dr. Bridgland, the Liberal member. The Ross government had then only a two majority.
A syndicate was formed of Huntsville citizens, and a new paper was established, known as “The Standard.” It became the organ of the Liberal party locally, and gave strong support to the Ross government.
The local Conservatives, noting the position in which “The Forester” had been placed by the action of a group of Huntsville Liberals, made an offer to purchase “The Forester.” A condition of the purchase was that I should remain in charge of the financial interests of Mr. Hutcheson and continue as editor. Although skeptical of my loyalty to the Conservative interests in the by-election, the purchasers finally agreed, and the paper, overnight, became an unconditional ally of the Conservative candidate, while ‘The Standard” looked after the interests of the Liberal candidate, whom I had personally been assisting up to the moment of the sale. I became the paid servant of the Conservatives, in order to provide opportunity to oppose the action of our former Liberal allies. The two papers fought the election with keen vigor. The Conservative candidate was elected, and within a few months, the Ross government resigned, and Sir. J.P. Whitney became the Conservative Premier.”
At the end of the year, with their candidate elected in the by-election, the Conservatives retired from the publishing business, and the paper again reverted to Mr. Hutcheson.
In April 1913, four months after having been elected Mayor of Huntsville for the first time, H.E. Rice took over the paper and became its editor and publisher. Two years later he purchased the printing plant from Mr. Hutcheson. In 1930, he took into partnership his eldest son, Paul.
In 1942 Paul Rice became publisher of “The Forester” although H.E.’s influence and opinion were never far away. Described by many as “Mr. Huntsville”, H.E. continued to have a presence in the paper until he became ill and died in 1967 in his 93rd year. His son Paul died a year earlier.
Newly married and expecting their first child, H.E.’s grandson, Peter, moved with his family from Montreal. He was to learn about newspapers from one of the most respected newspaper men in the country.
While H.E. and Paul had enjoyed virtually no competition during their history of publishing in Huntsville, times were changing. The town was growing, sporting a population of about 3,600 by the mid ’70s, and others were eager to enter the publishing field in Muskoka.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s many new papers came into town. There was the Muskoka Free Press, the Huntsville News, the Huntsville Herald, the Muskoka Advance, the Muskoka Times and many other types of media.
Peter Rice always believed that intergrity, honesty, fairness and hard work would win the affections of the community. In the long run he was right.
In 1991 Peter’s daughter, Elizabeth, became publisher of the Huntsville Forester. Today the Huntsville Forester publishes an award-winning weekly newspaper that often contains over 40 pages. It also co-publishes the District Weekender, the Muskoka Advance and a host of specialty publications.
Forester joins Metroland family, October 1, 2005
The Huntsville Forester has been purchased by Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing Ltd., Canada’s fastest growing and most dynamic community newspaper company.
Forester publisher Elizabeth Rice Aben, whose family has owned the newspaper for more than 125 years, announced the sale on Monday. She is delighted that the newspaper’s proud tradition of community journalism will be carried on by the same dedicated staff, who will now have the support of Metroland behind them.
“An exciting new era for the Forester is about to begin. The same team of professionals will continue to produce the Forester each week, and their efforts will be enhanced by the resources and expertise of Metroland,” said Rice Aben, who will remain at the Forester during the transition phase.
Leading the Forester under Metroland’s ownership will be the newspaper’s long-time advertising manager Bill Allen, who has assumed the title of general manager.
“Our readers can expect the same high level of quality from the Forester and its sister publications. We are excited about being part of the Metroland family,” said Allen, who began his media career in sales with the Parry Sound radio station in the late 1970s.
Allen and his family moved to Huntsville in 1986, where he helped start the Muskoka Advance. He went on to hold a number of managerial positions with the Muskoka Publications Group before joining the Forester team.
Joe Anderson, Metroland’s Vice-President and Regional Publisher, Simcoe Region, said the company is excited about the acquisition of the award-winning Huntsville Forester and it looks forward to fostering the newspaper’s continued dedication to readers and clients.
“We are honoured to add the Huntsville Forester to our publication family. Metroland shares the Forester’s philosophy of commitment to readers and the community,” said Anderson.
Metroland owns and operates 100 community newspapers in Ontario.
Forever Young, City Parent, The Shopping News, eight regional editions of The Business Times, eye, Real Estate News and the Chinese daily Sing Tao are all published by Metroland, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Torstar Corporation.
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