In an era when newspapers would print multiple editions each day, the news vendor was once upon a time a common sight on Vancouver’s busy downtown street corners. They would stand all day beside their small display kiosks, hawking the papers and shouting out the headlines. They were not employees of the newspapers, but rather purchased the papers from the publishers and sold them as independent agents. News vendors, like street photographers, were active participants in the daily buzz of the 20th-century city.
Newspapers have a long history, and for centuries were essentially the principal way to disseminate local and world news to the general public. The first English newspaper was published in the mid-17th-century. The first newspaper in Canada, The Halifax Gazette, began publishing in 1752. In the late 19th-century, mass production methods courtesy of the Industrial revolution, contributed to massive growth in the newspaper industry. Even after the advent of ‘new’ media like radio and television, traditional newspapers were still a critical part of the news landscape. They have been hit hard in the 21st-century as most of us now consume news instantly on digital platforms. Especially hard hit are smaller, local newspapers, which are either purchased by larger media corporations, or cease to exist altogether. Case in point: the recent demise of Vancouver’s arts and entertainment weekly, the Westender.
This Black & White, Silent news film (below) was used in an obit for a local newspaper vendor, known as ‘Newsie Jack’. It aired December 2, 1969 on the CBUT (CBC Vancouver) current affairs program Hourglass and was accompanied by a soundtrack of the song “Jimmy Brown The Newsboy“. According to the lineup sheet for the program, Newsie Jack sold newspapers for many years on a street corner in downtown Vancouver. The footage shows him vending at Granville and Georgia in front of the old Birk’s building, hamming it up with a young man who is peddling The Georgia Straight. In those days, the underground Straight used the ‘mainstream’ distribution model of street vendors who charged a quarter per issue.
Newsie Jack turned out to be Jack Kanchikoff, who died suddenly from a massive heart attack on November 29, 1969. As I was scrolling through the November/December 1969 reel of the Vancouver Sun newspaper on microfilm looking for his obituary, I noticed this headline on page 12 of the December 1, 1969 edition the Sun: Newsie Jack Collapses and Dies.
“Newsie Jack” died Saturday. His proper name was Jack Kanchikoff, but few of the people to whom he sold newspapers from his kiosk at the south-east corner of Georgia and Granville knew him by that name. Jack had been there since 1940 and at other locations for 10 years before that. His customers knew him as “Newsie”, a man who drew rough cartoons in chalk to illustrate the big or little news of the day. And they knew him as a man who squeezed their pockets each year for contributions to the March of Dimes appeal for crippled children. Jack was 69 when he died. He collapsed in The Bay just across from the corner where he stood for so many years.
The simple fact that two of the major media outlets in the city at the time made an effort to comment of the passing of the man speaks volumes about the presence he once had in Vancouver. Both of these accounts suggest he was considered to be quite the character, one who endeared himself to his regular customers and those who passed by his corner on their daily commute. It’s people like Newsie Jack who make city streets more engaging and less impersonal.
I discovered the James Crookall picture at the top of this story (dated 1940) in the City of Vancouver Archives. After studying it for a while, I knew that the unnamed newspaper vendor in the shot was indeed a young Newsie Jack Kanchikoff. It shows him standing beside a newspaper kiosk near the corner of Granville and Robson. If you look closely you can the read hand-written cardboard sign pinned to his kiosk – “Hitler will commit suicide soon”. From what I learned about his character, this a classic Newsie Jack idiosyncrasy. He was often writing his own headlines or drawing “rough cartoons in chalk to illustrate the big or little news of the day”. An item about him in the April 3, 1948 edition of Canadian Broadcaster, notes that Kanchikoff “started using self-made posters during the war, with his own inscriptions such as ‘Hitler is a Schtonk’.” Shortly after this photo was taken, Jack moved to the high traffic corner at Georgia and Granville, “under the Birk’s Clock”. This corner would serve as his “office” for the next 30 years.
Jack Kanchikoff was born Jacob Kanchikoff on June 15, 1900, in Lemberg, Austria (now Lviv, Ukraine) the eldest brother to three sisters. His father, Morris M. Kanchikoff, immigrated to Canada around 1904. About five years later Jack, his mother Annie, and sister Clara joined Morris in Quebec. His two youngest sisters, Sarah and Cecila, were born in Quebec. By the time the 1921 Census of Canada was taken, the entire Kanchikoff family was living at 367 Flora Avenue in Winnipeg, a predominately Jewish neighbourhood in the North End.
In 1929, Jack married Lottie (Lotte) Frant (1893-1985) in Calgary. He was 29 and she was 36. During my research, I discovered a Manitoba “Death Index” listing for an unnamed “Kanchikoff” who was born and died on the same date – May 28th, 1930 in Winnipeg. The initials “sb” are listed on the certificate, conceivably indicating a stillborn baby? Could this be a baby born to Jack and Lottie? It seems possible, but there is no other identifying information available on the record, so it is hard to say for sure. Shortly after, Jack and Lottie headed west to Vancouver arriving sometime later in 1930. Perhaps this move was a new beginning for the couple after such a tragic loss? Jack and Lottie never had any more children. They were buried together at the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster.
During their 39 years in Vancouver, Jack and Lottie Kanchikoff lived modestly in different rental apartments near the eastern edge of the West End. They always had time to participate in their community. As mentioned in the Vancouver Sun obituary, Jack tirelessly canvassed for donations to charities like the March of Dimes. The Kanchikoff’s also participated in celebrating the 1958 BC Centennial with a greeting they placed in Centenary Edition of the Jewish Western Bulletin.
Standing some 5’1″, “Newsie Jack” Kanchikoff was a small man in stature, but he left a big impression in the historical fabric of the city. If anyone remembers ‘Newsie Jack’ or knows more information about him, I would love to hear from you!