Two Centuries of News
All the daily newspapers in Québec, including Canada’s very first one, which appeared in 1764, set up shop in Upper Town. It wasn’t until 1928 that the daily Le Soleil would move to Saint-Roch. It remained in the same offices on rue De Saint-Vallier until 1994, when it moved to a different part of town—but came back ten years later. Founded in 1896 it is a good example of the role played by the print media in Québec City.
News and interest groups
Since they first appeared on the scene, newspapers have served to defend and promote the points of view of one group or another—political parties, the clergy, the business world… In 1900 there were three French-language dailies in Québec City and three in English. They were mainly read by the educated elite.
Then some papers began targeting the working classes. They were sold to one and all at newsstands and by hawkers on the streets. Breaking news and splashy headlines became the rule, and their pages filled with advertising.
The birth of Le Soleil
Le Soleil was born of a sleight of hand by another daily paper, L’Électeur. Founded in 1882, L’Électeur was associated with the Québec Liberal Party. In 1896 it was so roundly criticized by the clergy that its editors decided to change its name. And so Le Soleil appeared for the first time on December 27, 1896, with no changes to the editorial staff or to content.
A few years later, Le Soleil sought to broaden its appeal. Copies sold for a cent. It became the province’s biggest daily outside of Montréal in 1913, with a print run of 20,000 a day for a population of 70,000 in Québec City.
From 1903 to 1927, its main shareholder was Simon-Napoléon Parent, mayor of Québec City, and the Liberal premier of Québec. Le Soleil also played a key role in municipal issues of the day. Its main rival, L’Action catholique, founded in 1907 and run by the clergy, had a daily print run of 12,000 in 1913.
L’Action catholique kept readers informed first and foremost of religious news: messages from the bishop, papal speeches, parish events. It also covered municipal, national, and international news. For its part, Le Soleil was already similar to the newspapers we know today: municipal news, national and international events, news briefs, the classifieds, deaths, and advertisements. It was the main source of information on life in Québec City and the surrounding area.
Of all the news to make its front page, some has lived on long. The Québec Bridge twice fell into the river as it was being built, in 1907 and 1916, killing 88 workers; in 1918 Canadian soldiers opened machine gun fire on locals protesting against conscription, killing 4 and wounding 70; and in 1969 Le Soleil published a statement affirming its “political independence and acknowledging the freedom of the press and the right to information while respecting individual rights,” a first in the province.
In the vanguard
Le Soleil has often led major changes to the press in the past 50 years. In 1968 it became the first Québec newspaper to use photocomposition for typesetting, putting an end to lead matrices; in 1977 an epic ten-month strike threatened the newspaper’s very existence; and in 1994 its new international award–winning layout accompanied the newspaper’s complete switch to the digital age, with staff trained to use the new technology.
Today Le Soleil continues to tackle the challenges of the digital world in ways that have turned the international print media on its head.