The British Colonist was founded in Victoria on December 11, 1858, just three weeks after the colony of British Columbia was created. The Colonist quickly became the most important newspaper in Western Canada, and carried news stories from throughout the province and around the world. In its fourth year, the Colonist reported on the birth of a new city called Victoria. In its eighth year, it argued that Victoria should be the capital when our two colonies -- Vancouver Island and British Columbia were merged into one. In its ninth year, it commented on the creation of a new country, one called Canada. In its 13th year, it covered British Columbia's move to become a province in Canada.
In other words, the Times Colonist is older than the city, older than the province, and older than the nation. The newspaper was founded by Amor De Cosmos, a man who might be described as a visionary or as an eccentric. Born William Smith in Nova Scotia, De Cosmos had arrived in Victoria in April 1858, but wasted little time before deciding to take on colonial governor James Douglas. The first edition carried De Cosmos's promise that it would be "an independent paper, the organ of no clique or party; a true index of public opinion." The Colonist fought for maintaining Victoria as capital of British Columbia, separation from England and an independent Canada with its own protectionist policies. The first edition of the Colonist was just four pages, with a print run of 200 copies. After starting his newspaper as a weekly, De Cosmos started publishing three times a week in 1859 and moved to daily publication in 1860.
Soon after, De Cosmos sold the newspaper to some of his employees. He devoted his time to politics, serving as a member of the legislature, as premier, and as a member of Parliament. In the 1860s the newspaper was sold again, to the operators of a competing newspaper, the Chronicle. The combined newspaper, run by David W. Higgins and T.H. Long, carried the name the Daily British Colonist and Morning Chronicle until the Chronicle name was dropped in 1873. In 1873, the Colonist built a new four-storey building on Government Street and added new steam-run presses. On Jan. 1, 1887, the Colonist dropped the word "British" from its nameplate and became simply the Daily Colonist.
By then it faced significant competition from the Victoria Daily Times, which made its first appearance on June 9, 1884, as an afternoon rival to the morning Colonist. In the days when newspapers identified themselves with political parties, the Times was the first Liberal paper in British Columbia. In the 1890s the front windows of the two newspaper offices featured the top headlines of the day. Crowds would gather on the sidewalks outside to get updates, and would try to be the first in line when newsboys emerged from the offices with papers for sale. Newspapers were, after all, the only source of news. When Higgins retired in 1886, the paper went into the hands of W.H. Ellis and A.G. Sargison, who sold it in 1892 to James Dunsmuir, who formed the Colonist Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd.
Dunsmuir, the son of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and a future premier, bought the newspaper to bring its editorial policy more in line with government views. In 1906 the Colonist was sold to J.S.H. (Sam) Matson, and it stayed in Matson hands for almost half a century. In 1950, Calgary businessman and publisher Max Bell bought the Colonist and the Daily Times and brought them under a single corporate umbrella, Victoria Press Ltd. The two newspapers were merged into the Times Colonist in 1980. A century and half after Amor De Cosmos started the British Colonist, the Times Colonist is the oldest newspaper in Western Canada.