LOWERY, ROBERT THORNTON, newspaper publisher, editor, and printer; b. 12 April 1859 in Halton County, Upper Canada, son of William L. Lowery and Mary Ann Mills; d. unmarried 20 May 1921 in Grand Forks, B.C.
Following an education in private and public schools, Bob Lowery began working for a Toronto printing office in 1876. His first newspaper venture, in Petrolia, Ont., began on 20 March 1879, when with his brothers William M. and Samuel M. he published the Petrolea Topic. The brothers also dealt in books and stationery. Although they sold the paper around 1886, they continued the stationery business for another year. Bob then drifted westward, first to Sault Ste Marie, where he stayed for several years, and, in 1891, to British Columbia.
On 12 May 1893 Lowery launched his first British Columbia newspaper, the Kaslo Claim. The untimely collapse of silver prices in the United States placed a severe strain on the Kootenay mining industry and this, in turn, forced him to cease publication in just over three months. The front page of the last issue, bordered in black, featured a tombstone to the memory of the Claim. Lowery also identified merchants with overdue accounts by displaying their advertisements upside down (unpaid) or sideways (partially paid).
The lifespan of a weekly newspaper in a mining community was often short, so in the years that followed Lowery moved frequently. Often owning more than one paper at a time, he hired editors and managers for those that he did not personally supervise. He also printed newspapers owned by others. In Kaslo, Nakusp, New Denver, Sandon, Rossland, Slocan, Vancouver, Nelson, Poplar Creek, Fernie, Greenwood, and Princeton, his controversial newspapers championed various causes, such as improved working conditions and better wages for miners, with wry wit and acid humour. Like Calgary journalist Robert Chambers Edwards, he was often critical of commercial, political, or religious bureaucrats and their organizations. Of the Canadian Pacific Railway he once wrote that it was “a wonderfully safe road to travel on, and seldom kills a passenger, although occasionally some one dies of heart failure after looking at their freight charges.”
Constantly reminding readers to honour their subscriptions, Lowery claimed that “one of the noblest works of God is the man who always pays the Printer.” A cartoon that appeared almost weekly in the Ledge, published in New Denver, Nelson, and Fernie between 1900 and 1905, shows an unconcerned Lowery sitting at his desk with money scattered on the floor, but the weapons on the wall and his bulldog ripping the arm off a delinquent subscriber suggest another attitude. As a last resort, Lowery would play a game of poker to raise enough capital to pay his expenses. His enjoyment of whiskey and poker, combined with his smart dress and military bearing, may have been responsible for his being given the title Colonel.
Lowery’s Claim, a polemical monthly started in June 1901 in New Denver and “devoted to Truth and Humor,” was banned from sale on CPR trains in December because of its criticism of the company. In January 1903 it was denied postal service after the authorities, who had received complaints, deemed its contents indecent and offensive. The Post Office Department reinstated service one month later after a repentant Lowery pledged to reform his ways. By August 1906, however, Lowery’s Claim was permanently banned from Canada’s mails and the following month its editor published the last issue.
Like his newspaper colleague John Houston*, Colonel Bob paid the price for tackling the establishment. After the collapse of Lowery’s Claim, he focused on the Ledge, then being printed in Greenwood. He remained there until admitted to the Grand Forks hospital, where he stayed for over a year. His dying wish was to be buried in Nelson, by members of the Kootenay Pioneers’ Association. He succumbed to chronic nephritis and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Anglican section of Nelson Memorial Park Cemetery. Only a fraction over five feet tall, Bob Lowery had loomed large among the newspaper publishers of British Columbia for more than a quarter of a century.
[The numerous newspapers Robert Thornton Lowery published and edited between 1879 and 1920 are one of the most important sources of information on his life and career. A list can be found in the author’s article “The wit and wisdom of ‘Colonel’ Bob Lowery,” Boundary Hist. Soc., Report (Grand Forks, B.C.), 14 (2001): 113–24 and another is in the Lowery file at the DCB. Particularly useful for this biography were the following Lowery publications: Ledge (New Denver, Nelson, Fernie, and Greenwood, B.C.), 1893–1920 (mfm. and originals at the Selkirk College Library, Castlegar, B.C.); Float (New Denver and Nelson), 1 (1903–4), no.1 (copies at the Selkirk College Library); and Lowery’s Claim (New Denver, Vancouver, and Nelson), June 1901–September 1906 (mfm. and originals at the Selkirk College Library and originals at the Kootenay Lake Arch., Kaslo, B.C.). r.j.w.]
BCA, S/F/L95. Ledge (Greenwood), 26 May 1921. B. A. Little, “Robert T. Lowery: editor, publisher & printer,” British Columbia Hist. News (Victoria), 31 (1997–98), no.2: 18–23. George Ryga, Ploughmen of the glacier: a play (Vancouver, 1977; Lowery is one of the characters in this play). R. [J.] Welwood, “Lowery PO’d or Colonel Bob twice cancelled by the Post Office,” British Columbia Hist. News, 32 (1998–99), no.1: 2–5. Who’s who in western Canada . . . (Vancouver), 1911.