EDWARDS, EDWARD, bookseller, printer, publisher, journalist, office holder, and militia officer; b. c. 1756; d. 1 Sept. 1816 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
In 1781 Edward Edwards became the Montreal bookseller and agent for William Brown*, a printer at Quebec. He joined in the political protests of the day by signing in November 1784 the petition of old and new subjects for an assembly. The following year he signed two petitions supporting Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton*. In July 1785 Edwards, who was identified as “a bookseller and director of the press,” was one of the creditors of printer Fleury Mesplet*, who owed him £300. Again in that year, Governor Haldimand reputedly asked him to keep an eye on the material in the new paper that Mesplet was getting ready to launch, the Montreal Gazette/Gazette de Montréal.
In February 1794, when the printing equipment that Edward William Gray had been renting to Mesplet (who had died the previous month) was sold at auction, Edwards made a successful bid for a roller press, a binding press, and a small press, as well as paper and type, paying 1,802 livres 5 sous for the lot.
On 16 July 1795 Edwards, who had opened an office on Rue Saint-Vincent, announced that he intended to continue publishing the Montreal Gazette. The previous week Louis Roy*, a printer at Quebec, had made known his desire to take it over. Edwards’s paper appeared on 3 August, followed by Roy’s 15 days later. For more than a year the two weeklies bearing the same name competed with each other. At the outset Roy stole the limelight by emphasizing local affairs, whereas Edwards devoted more space to foreign news. Edwards, who had been postmaster since 1786, had easy access to newspapers from abroad and did not hesitate to reprint them. Sometimes he prevented them from being distributed to his rival, who openly denounced these unfair tactics. In 1797, for lack of financial means, Roy had to hand his paper over to his brother Joseph-Marie, who was not successful in keeping it alive. The paper ceased publication in November, leaving the field open to Edwards.
Under the management of Edwards the Montreal Gazette was simply a news-sheet. Its columns were filled with official proclamations, public notices, announcements of sheriff’s sales, advertisements, and information on the intellectual and business worlds. Edwards reprinted extracts from British and American newspapers several months after their publication. Anxious to avoid any controversial subject, he rarely published letters from readers.
Besides forms, a few calendars, a song, and an exercise book, Edwards printed Jay’s Treaty in 1795, a sermon by James Marmaduke Tunstall* three years later, and a collection of fables by the English writer Robert Dodsley around 1800. The poor quality of printing in these works, which is in strange contrast with the care Mesplet lavished on production or with that displayed by John Neilson* of Quebec, may explain the fact that Edwards’s printing shop issued no works from 1801.
In 1805 Edwards began having difficulties. In March he published in his newspaper the somewhat sarcastic toasts proposed by Montreal merchants at a banquet where Isaac Todd presided. The House of Assembly, which met in February 1806, called the article untruthful, scandalous, and seditious, and voted to arrest Todd and Edwards. To escape imprisonment the two men took flight and nothing further came of the matter.
The arrival of three professional printers in Montreal in 1807 put an end to the monopoly Edwards had enjoyed. Nahum Mower* launched the Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser in May; the brothers James* and Charles Brown began publishing the Canadian Gazette/Gazette canadienne in July. Edwards could not meet the competition. In fact, his health had begun to fail and he was even forced to give up his position as postmaster in October. Thus, in early 1808, sick and in debt, he sold the Montreal Gazette to the Browns, who the following month announced their intention to rejuvenate it. Edward Edwards apparently then retired from business. In 1813 he was still a captain in the militia, a post he had held since 1800. He died in Montreal on 1 Sept. 1816.
ANQ-M, CE1-63, 3 Sept. 1813. Quebec Gazette, 20 July 1786, 16 July 1795, 8 Oct. 1807, 16 Sept. 1813. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, 1: 5–6, 12, 22. Hare et Wallot, Les imprimés dans le Bas-Canada, 293–94, 352. Tremaine, Biblio. of Canadian imprints, 162, 164, 424, 449, 498–99, 524, 540, 575, 584, 623–29. R. W. McLachlan, “Fleury Mesplet, the first printer at Montreal,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., 12 (1906), sect.ii: 268, 300, 302. Pierre Tousignant, “‘La Gazette de Montréal’ de 1791 à 1796” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1960). Wallot, Un Québec qui bougeait, 63–65.