John Arnett sometimes refers to himself as “the ink-stained wretch” but in actual fact the real original pipe-smoking, bookish, philosophizing, ink-stained wretch of Sooke was Maurice Tozer.
It all began in a house in the woods off French Road, in 1958. On Jan. 14 1959, he was ready ?” the first edition of Sooke’s own weekly paper The Grapevine, all four mimeographed 8 1/2” by 14” sheets, was distributed throughout the district.
The seed that got the idea of a newspaper growing in the mind of Maurice Tozer was the weekly flyer or “Gibson’s Bulletin” sent out by Gibson’s Shopping Centre. The Gibson enterprise, Sooke’s first “department store” flourished at the NW corner of Sooke Road and Otter Point Road during the 1950s and 1960s. Gibson’s became the largest advertiser in the new weekly paper, and shades of the future, the first editorial written by editor Maurice was headed, “It Pays to Shop in Sooke”.
Retired in the late 1950s from running a business school in Victoria, Maurice lived with his wife Rosamund and their Sheltie dogs at their French Road home, in a small clearing surrounded by trees. Rosamund (who was a sister to writer Peg Pyner of East Sooke) owned a second hand store called “The Haunted Bookstore” in Victoria, so this newspaper enterprise was a new one for both of them.
Maurice was born in Devon, England in 1913, where he, like his seven siblings, was sent to boarding school at the age of five. He became a schoolteacher and was teaching at a boys’ prep school when World War II broke out. Enlisting in the Royal Air Force, he was shipped to Canada for training, and then served overseas in the Bombay area of India. In 1949 Maurice decided to renew his acquaintance with Canada, and immigrated to Alberta.
Living in BC a few years later, he met and married Rosamund, and the couple had a home in James Bay before moving to Sooke. Maurice, a vegetarian, enjoyed the quiet country lifestyle, favouring knitted sleeveless vests, growing his own vegetables and raising his Shelties. A Unitarian, he was interested in Esperanto. He had a highly developed sense of ethics and social conscience, and was regarded as having an intense personality, through his writing clearly showed that he enjoyed chatting with his readers.
When the newspaper became a reality, Maurice hired a carpenter to build a cabin a 100 yards from the house as a production office. One of the first typists engaged, as he quickly got too busy to handle it all himself, was Elizabeth Govenlock (now living in Duncan) while another was Wendy Michelsen (now living in Campbell River). In the early years Maurice had his Gestetner copy reproduced in Victoria, and then hired a crew of neighbourhood youngsters to sort and put the pages together for delivery.
Soon Rosamund had given up her bookstore and was selling the advertising for the paper. As Maurice didn’t drive, Rosamund carried out all the Victoria production trips required to print the newspaper.
Sooke continued to support and depend on its local paper, and on August 14, 1964, the newspaper pages blossomed into size 11” x 17”, with eight sheets making up this fine new edition.
In November of 1964 Maurice Tozer sold his paper to the Leader Publishing Company, but continued on as editor and publisher, while the paper was printed in Oak Bay as part of the Leader chain. Dissatisfied with the resulting arrangement, in March of 1965 Maurice started a new weekly called The Community Mirror, which he produced in competition with the original paper (The Grapevine). It wasn’t long before Maurice’s local-content paper had won the hearts of the readers.
Wendy Michelsen recalled that she had begun working for Maurice Tozer in 1971, and remained at the Mirror through two more publishers, B.J. Pauls in 1974, and Donna and Dan James in 1980. In 1983 the Mirror was purchased by John and Norma Arnett, and Island Publishers became the owners in 1992.
Possibly their 15 years in the newspaper business brought a measure of stress, as the Tozers went their separate way after selling the paper to Bud Pauls. Maurice lived out his retirement in the Fairfield area. Friends relate that in his later years be became a habitue of Swans Pub, and really enjoyed the camaraderie he found on visits there.
Last April, Maurice’s health suffered a setback and he became a resident of Glengarry Hospital, where he passed away on December 10 at the age of 92. He is survived by a sister on Devon, England.
His place in our local history is secure: from its humble beginnings in 1959, Sooke’s newspaper, The Grapevine, Mirror and now the Sooke News Mirror continues to be a vital component of the life of our region.