With so much uncertainty in our industry today, the story of this Edmonton printer is both remarkable and inspiring.
At 85, Pioneer Press owner Jim Edgar still comes work each weekday. Like his company, his passion for people and print endures. He fondly remembers coming to Canada from Scotland when he was only 15 – and his first foray a year later into the printing industry in 1949 at Community Publications. “I was just 16 and my pay for running a press was $1 per hour, which let me buy my mother a Christmas gift,” he recalls.
Pioneer Press owner Jim Edgar at the door of his shop today and circa 1950.
As you can see, he was neatly dressed then – and still is today!
The roots of Pioneer Press date back to September, 1894 when 19-year-old R.P. Pettapiece arrived in Strathcona, Edmonton from Eastern Canada, started the South Edmonton News and opened a job printing department. On September 1, 1896, the business was purchased by James Hamilton McDonald and his brother Robert, was renamed The Alberta Plaindealer, and the print shop was named The Pioneer Press. This was in honour of their father Alexander McDonald, the first Baptist missionary in Western Canada, who established many churches and missions and was rewarded with the title Pioneer.
McDonald was the owner and editor of the newspaper under a variety of subsequent names. However, the common thread was always The Pioneer Press. In 1922 his son Cody joined him and eventually inherited the company when his father died in 1936. He operated the shop from 1936 to 1963 when he sold it to one of his long-term employees (and current owner), S.D. (Jim) Edgar, and his business partner George McEwen. Cody continued to work there until his retirement several years later. The new owners became friends and entered into a partnership in 1963 that lasted until 2001 when George died.
Success and growth
Over the years, Edgar has seen significant changes – not just to the industry, but to Pioneer Press. Staff has grown to over 20 employees and they expanded into new premises in 1965 and 1974. In 1972 the partners created Norset Business Forms and in 1994, they purchased Industrial Printing. In August of 1996, the companies merged and re-organized into one production plant. The year 2005 saw more growth with the acquisition of Don Rite Printing. But above all, Edgar insists: “It’s our people who have always played the major role in the growth and success of Pioneer Press. Today is no exception.”
(Left) Pioneer Press owner Jim Edgar with his staff, 2019.
(Right) The original Alberta Plaindealer production crew, circa 1950.
What’s in store over the next several years? “I’ve seen so much over the decades,” said Edgar. “The remarkable transition from letterpress to digital, so many incredible emerging technologies, sophisticated presses that can print stunning quality – sometimes I can’t believe my own eyes. But we’ll continue to stay focused on our core values of trust, transparency and personalized client service, while welcoming new technologies that help our customers succeed. That brought success for 125 years, and I’m confident it will for the next 125.” In addition to his business career, Edgar has had an active 60-year Masonic career and has been a Shriner for over 50 years.