SIMS, LOUISA (Rogers), newspaper proprietor; m. James Richard Rogers, and they had a son and a daughter; left Toronto in 1925.
Nothing is known of Louisa Sims’s life before she and J. R. Rogers, a London compositor, emigrated from England to East London (Republic of South Africa), where their first child, Frank Arthur James, was born in August 1906. Early in 1910 the family left South Africa, stopped briefly in England, and came on to Toronto, where J. R. Rogers gained employment with the Methodist Book Room. In less than two months tragedy struck. Their son developed a mild case of diphtheria, and, because they lived in a boarding house, they were required to send him to the Isolation Hospital. On 30 June 1910 he died there of complications arising from exposure to scarlet fever and measles. Grief and indignation at the response of medical and civic officials to his concerns about the hospital propelled J. R. Rogers into the public arena. His complaints, once reported in the press, triggered an inquiry. By the time judge John Winchester had reported to city council in late November, exonerating the hospital staff and Charles Sheard, the city’s medical officer of health, Rogers had become an amateur authority on infectious diseases and public health. To draw attention to their crusade, on 29 July 1911 he and Louisa published the first issue of Jack Canuck, a biweekly tabloid that unexpectedly found a niche in the Toronto newspaper world, where notions of virtuous journalism held sway. Through the fall of 1911 Jack Canuck would run articles on pure water, excessive levels of infant mortality, smallpox vaccinations, the Toronto inquiry, and other investigations conducted by Winchester.
The paper was a family affair, launched “without a dollar of capital. It was edited sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the cellar.” As a review of “what the public say, do and think,” it largely lived up to its motto, Truth and Justice. The first months’ issues bristled with allegations of capitalist exploitation (especially of young working women), the betrayal of public trust by civic officials, and calls for reform so passionately felt that R. Rogers (as J. R. signed himself) relinquished the editorship for November 1911, recognizing that “the constant stare of a vacant chair in the home has made us bitter . . . too bitter to render the public service this journal should render.” He recovered and set about to create “a wild and earthy weekly,” evoking the formula pioneered in London, England, by Henry Du Pré Labouchere’s Truth. Weekly publication began on 24 Feb. 1912. Louisa was the legal owner and thus the vendor when, buoyed by their success, the Rogerses in October incorporated the Jack Canuck Publishing Company Limited, which bought the paper.
Various local journalists contributed to Jack Canuck, notably Harry Milner Wodson. To cultivate a national circulation, Rogers relied on out-of-town stringers, or correspondents, whose use meant some loss of editorial control. Sensationalism was the style, a matter as much of tone as content. Stringers and muckraking both carried the risk of libel action, however, and the Rogerses faced their share. As well, there were the self-styled guardians of public morality, among them the Reverend Thomas Albert Moore*, who occasionally complained to provincial authorities about the paper’s corrupting influence. Jack Canuck nevertheless attracted a steady cross-class readership. Sales depended heavily on newsboys and news-stands, though subscriptions were encouraged – even the Senate’s reading room in Ottawa subscribed. Over the years, there would always be the causes of the moment along with the police-court stories, the personal trivia, the mining-stock tips, and innumerable odds and ends. The appeal to readers for articles or letters – an often contrived and well-worn device to encourage loyalty – may have elicited the infamous racist diatribes against the “Yellow Peril” penned for Jack Canuck in 1911-12 by Fred Jarrett. Editorial sympathies, notionally politically independent but resoundingly populist, could waver on particular issues. The most notable instance occurred during the moral panic of 1911-13 over the so-called white slave trade, when the paper printed excerpts from the Reverend John George Shearer’s chapter in Fighting the traffic in young girls . . . (Chicago, 1911) but then exposed the book’s local promoter, the Reverend Robert B. St Clair, superintendent of the Toronto Vigilance Association. Jack Canuck gleefully reported St Clair’s trial for publishing obscene material in an attempt to censor a local burlesque show.
From the outset of World War I Jack Canuck, ever the crusader against corruption and its attendant, lax government regulation, fought war profiteering. Determined to report first-hand on battlefield conditions for the Canadian forces in France, J. R. Rogers lost his life when the Lusitania was torpedoed on 7 May 1915. The paper continued, with Louisa’s name discreetly replacing her husband’s in the masthead. After the war, she bought a house and lived comfortably with her young daughter, Thelma. Contributors such as cartoonist Jack Newton became mainstays, the paper attracted reputable local and national advertising, and, with its modest market in urban centres throughout Ontario, western Canada, and the northern United States, circulation figures appeared healthy. An average weekly run of 65,000 copies in the immediate post-war period placed the paper well ahead of the prominent Saturday Night (Toronto). By 1919 Jack Canuck was championing such serious causes as fair employment for veterans. Although it revived its editorial irreverence in the early 1920s, with biting cartoons and moments of vitriolic commentary at election time, the intelligent, focused passion of the pre-war years was gone. Louisa, an admitted arm’s-length publisher, was rudely confronted with the truth that print-run did not secure commercial success – the key remained minimizing the return of unsold papers. After a couple of years of “very little” profit, the final issue appeared on 13 Sept. 1924 and a printer’s suit for $2,000 forced Jack Canuck Publishing to file for bankruptcy in January 1925. In short order, Louisa sold her house, settled the bankruptcy, and left Toronto, apparently for Florida. As early as August 1926 her solicitors were unable to locate her. Compensation for the loss of her husband was sent in 1931 to a lawyer in Toronto, but there is no conclusive evidence that she was alive at the time.
The brash little paper that Louisa Rogers and her husband had launched in 1911 played a formative role in the emerging culture of English-language tabloid journalism centred in Toronto. The endearing trusting face that Jack Canuck, in its quest for Truth and Justice, turned to the world and its transgressions soon seemed dated. But as the tabloid press of each successive era exploited the sordid and the seamy, it battered conventional, class-based notions of privacy and public interest and, as a consequence, contradicted the assumptions of objectivity and news that underlie modern journalistic culture.
Copies of Jack Canuck for 1911-12, 1914-17, 1921, and 1923 can be found at the AO. Issues published between 26 May and 23 June 1923 are in the Univ. of Toronto Library, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. The City of Toronto Arch. holds Jack Canuck Illustrated Review of the War: the Harvest (1914) in the Jack Canuck fonds (SC 251), and issues from 1916 and 1917 are in the Larry Becker collection (fonds 70).
AO, RG 4-32, 1910, interim box 10; 1915, file 753; RG 22-305, no.30063; RG 22-392, box 183, file 6741; RG 22-5800, 1919, nos.1167, 1176, 1635; RG 22-5822, 4, no.18/25; RG 55-1, liber 142: f.93. City of Toronto Arch., RG 1, B-2, box 6 (1910); RG 5, D, box 10, files 3, 5. LAC, RG 117, 37, file 490, case 1606. Evening Telegram (Toronto), 11 Feb. 1913, 8 May 1915. Globe, 9-10 May 1915. Hamilton Spectator, 5 Sept., 7 Nov. 1913. News (Toronto), 8, 10 May 1915. Toronto Daily Star, 27-29 July 1910. World (Toronto), 11 Feb. 1913, 8 May 1915. S. E. Houston, “‘A little steam, a little sizzle and a little sleaze’: English-language tabloids in the interwar period,” Biblio. Soc. of Canada, Papers (Toronto), 40 (2002): 37-60. Madge Pon, “Like a Chinese puzzle: the construction of Chinese masculinity in Jack Canuck,” in Gender and history in Canada, ed. Joy Parr and Mark Rosenfeld (Toronto, 1996), 88-100. Dan Schiller, Objectivity and the news: the public and the rise of commercial journalism (Philadelphia, 1981). Bill Sloan, “I watched a wild hog eat my baby!”: a colorful history of tabloids and their cultural impact (Amherst, N.Y., 2001).