Empire vs. Optimist

Two newspapers fight it out in a tent town

Housten standing outside his modest Empire

John Housten came from the Kootenays in 1907 and founded The Empire, Prince Rupert’s first weekly newspaper. The first ten editions were printed in Vancouver because of a dispute between Housten and the authorities—the Chief of Police was withholding Housten’s printing press for reasons unknown.

Housten was a feisty character with unbridled anti-government and anti-company opinions, so unsurprisingly The Empire was highly controversial among the soggy tent dwellers.

Sawle, founder of The Optimist

In 1909, G. R. T. Sawle came to town looking to buy The Empire but Housten wouldn’t accept Sawle’s offer. Sawle, an opportunist, founded The Optimist and set up his treadle-powered press in an old Butcher shop on the dock.

Meanwhile, Housten cut a deal with Seville Martineau Newton—a newcomer, coincidentally, in Housten’s likeness. Newton was a fighter with a scathing pen—to give you a taste, he was once sued for fifteen hundred dollars on account of libel. One can only assume Newton’s passionate quarreling didn’t make him too unpopular because he later became the city’s third mayor in 1912.

After three years, Sawle decided to sell The Optimist to a syndicate of the Liberal party—the paper took on a new moniker: The Prince Rupert Daily News. After Newton’s death, The Daily News took over The Empire in 1947.


Large, R. G. (1973). Prince Rupert: A gateway to Alaska and the Pacific.Vancouver, Canada: Mitchell Press Limited.

Photos courtesy of Prince Rupert City & Regional Archives