Burns Lake’s pioneer journalist

Sidney Godwin.

Sidney Godwin, Burns Lake’s pioneer newsman, was born in England in 1886 and immigrated to Canada in 1907.

Godwin must have had a taste for adventure, because in 1922 he decided to set up a newspaper in Burns Lake – a village that at that time had a population of less than 150 and even fewer kilometers of road. A small man (he reportedly weighed 110 pounds and stood less than 5’8”), he arrived in town with a heavy printing press so ancient that it was lever operated.

Andy Anderson and Dick O’Hara arrived at the railway station and helped Godwin move the press to a shed that stood behind what is now the Tweedsmuir Hotel. After clearing hay from the building, Godwin proceeded to publish Burns Lake’s first newspaper, the Observer, while Andy Brown and Taylor Jensen set about constructing more permanent quarters for him and his ancient press.

The Observer’s new home (and Godwin’s, as the structure had living quarters upstairs) was located on the present site of FYIdoctors on Highway 16. A teetotaller who had once studied for the ministry and often delivered Sunday sermons in Burns Lake, Godwin had boundless energy and reputation for getting things done. He loved gardening (his summer home at Imeson’s beach was surrounded by peonies, mimosa, and perennials), taught local children to play the violin and trombone, performed at concerts, read encyclopedias, and spoke several languages. A confirmed socialist, he also dabbled in politics from time to time.

When Burns Lake was incorporated as a village in 1923, Godwin became its clerk-treasurer. He later became its assessor, tax collector, secretary of the court of revision, and returning officer. Council meetings were held in his office on Highway 16.

Sidney and his wife Kathleen clearly had a sense of humour. When the couple’s first child began walking, she was the darling of Sam Marsh and Trygarn Pelham Lyster (Barney) Mulvany. The two men fed the toddler so many sweets that Ms. Godwin hung a sign around the child’s neck that read: “Please do not feed candy.” Thereafter, Mulvany and Marsh took the girl to Jim Locke’s kitchen and fed her soup.

By 1933, Sidney’s ongoing production of the Observer had left him with lead poisoning. He sold his press, shipped it to Prince Rupert, and assembled it there for its new owner. He and his family then moved to Vancouver so Kathleen could attend university, though they returned to Nadina in 1935, where Kathleen taught school.

The couple eventually made their home in Courtenay. Sidney died in 1972 at the age of 85.

© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society

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Sidney and Kathleen Godwin.

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