The Tillsonburg Observer

William Strachan Law, more commonly known as W. S., started the Tillsonburg Observer in 1863. In the early days the paper was printed on Thursdays, had four pages, and was independent in politics. As the paper evolved its length increased and its political viewpoints were established with a definite conservative slant.


Like many small town newspapers of its time, The Observer was a family owned and operated business. W. S. Law was the editor and publisher until his son, John Law, took over control of the paper. Although a few of John’s brothers were also associated with the paper he was primarily in charge until the paper amalgamated with the Tillsonburg Liberal in 1919.


W. S. Law’s paper kept Tillsonburg’s citizens up to date with both local and world news. In those first years of publication, the Civil War in the United States and the saga of Canada’s Confederation filled the pages, along with news from Tillsonburg’s streets. Nothing happened in town that W.S. Law did not record in the paper. In the matter of the Civil War, Law was convinced the North would win and that victory would be best for relations with our southern neighbor. Although Law was initially hesitant about Confederation in Canada, due in part to his time spent in Quebec, his admiration for George Brown, and Brown’s insistence on a federal union, where the provincial governments were recognized and had specific roles, won him over to the cause. Law reported on Canada’s first Dominion Day in the Tillsonburg News including these highlights: a contest walking on a spring pole over E. D. Tillson’s dam and the bridge, horse races on Bidwell Street, and bands playing throughout the day.


A supplement to the Observer, published in 1909, describes the printing house on the east side of Broadway,


“The business office and editorial rooms are handsomely finished in natural wood, and the partitions are of natural wood and chipped glass. The composing and press rooms are at the back and are light and well ventilated and equipped with a first class plant, such as is found in but few offices outside of the large cities, including a two-revolution cylinder press, three platen presses, a gas engine, a newspaper folder, a paper cutter and card cutter, wire stitcher, punching and numbering machines, and all the accessories necessary for producing expeditiously and of superior quality all classes of job printing.”


The Tillsonburg Observer, much like the Tillsonburg Liberal was a victim of the economic times following the First World War when worldwide shortages increased the cost of doing business for many, including newspaper men. In an effort to survive, John Law began negotiations with F. E. Aldrich and H. F. Johnston of the Liberal and on December 26, 1919 a joint stock company was formed which amalgamated the Tillsonburg Liberal and the Tillsonburg Observer. Tillsonburg’s new paper would be christened the Tillsonburg News.

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