Bartholomew Green, like his father and grandfather, was a printer in Boston, establishing his own printing office there in 1725. He left Boston in 1745 to fight at Louisbourg, but when he returned, was unable to rebuild his business successfully. Green saw opportunity for a fresh start in the newly established town of Halifax. In the summer of 1751, at the age of 52, he arrived aboard the Endeavour and acquired premises on Grafton Street just north of Duke Street in Halifax. This would become Canada’s first printing office. While Green planned to publish a newspaper, his press did not arrive from Boston until early October. It was made of wood, its design virtually unchanged since Gutenberg’s day, and known as a “common press.” (A similar one, built by Fred Matthews and Bob Dawson, is now in NSCAD’s Dawson Printshop.) This would be Halifax’s first printing press. Green also brought some cases of type – individual metal letters that were set by hand, one-by-one, to form words and sentences. Green hurriedly set up the press and issued a prospectus for his newspaper. Unfortunately he died just weeks later, before he could produce the first copy.
Learning of his death, his former partner, John Bushell, came to Halifax with his family and took over the printing business, assisted by his daughter Elizabeth. Bushell was a few years younger than Green and had worked with him in Boston.
Among the earliest items Bushell produced was Canada’s first newspaper, the Halifax Gazette, which came off the press on 23 March 1752. It was printed on a single sheet of paper with two columns of text on each side. In those days, newspapers did not have the lavish illustrations that we see today, instead, the Gazette’s front page was ornamented with two woodcuts, one each side of the title. The newspaper largely contained news from Britain and Europe plus some from other North American colonies and a few advertisements from local businesses. We don’t know how many copies Bushell printed as only one survives, now in the care of Library and Archives Canada. The Halifax Gazette was published weekly and became the official medium for colonial government notices and proclamations. It continued under various titles and has evolved into the present day’s Royal Gazette.
Bushell’s daughter, Elizabeth, assisted him at first, but in 1758 he took on another assistant, Anthony Henry. By that time Richard Bulkeley, the Provincial Secretary, had assumed editorial control of the paper, and Bushell concerned himself more with its printing than its content. His work also included printing government documents as well as jobs for local businessmen.
Although John Bushell was a competent printer, he was a poor businessman and was frequently in debt. Henry did much of the work of the printshop and became a partner in the business in 1760. Bushell died the following year leaving Henry in control of the business and the publication of the Gazette. Henry also printed official Crown documents, for which he received the title of King’s Printer.
The Halifax Gazette was the first of many newspapers to be printed in Halifax; among later ones was Joseph Howe’s Novascotian. Today, the Royal Gazette is the official government record of proclamations and other notices, and it has the distinction of being the first and oldest Canadian newspaper.
In 2002, Halifax marked the 250th anniversary of the Gazette’s publication. As part of the celebration, a re-enactment took place of printing the first issue. A reproduction was set by hand by printer, Joe Landry, and Canada’s Chief Librarian, Dr. Roch Carrier, pulled the first copy off the press. The only surviving copy of the Gazette, on loan from the National Library of Canada (later Library Archives Canada), was on display during that summer at the Nova Scotia Archives.