I was in Winnipeg (my hometown) for a few weeks this summer, and that got me thinking about a BC bookseller with a Winnipeg connection: John Bowerman Ferguson.
Part of the BC bookselling scene from 1885 to 1889 in Victoria and Vancouver, Ferguson was originally from Ontario. But before establishing himself in BC, he spent close to a decade in Winnipeg, initially as a school teacher and then principal at the Central School from 1876 to 1882 (1), and then as a partner in Parsons & Ferguson.
Building on the wholesale stationery business started by Silas R. Parsons in 1878, Parsons & Ferguson not only dealt in stationery, but also acted as agents for the sale of mining stocks, farms, and other property.
In March 1884, Ferguson’s intention to move to Victoria was announced in the British Colonist. Calling Ferguson “a leading stationer of Winnipeg,” the Colonist noted that he had leased the building formerly known as the Brunswick on Government Street and would soon be opening a “first-class stationery and fancy goods establishment” (2).
Located at 325 Government, three doors south of the post office, J.B. Ferguson & Co. opened on May 31, 1884, with an initial stock of books, stationery, and fancy goods valued at $18,000 (3). Later that same year, Ferguson raised his market profile by publishing Illustrated British Columbia, a book of lithographic prints of Victoria.
In May 1886, Ferguson took a huge competitive step in the BC bookselling scene when he partnered with Thomas Robson Pearson, David Robson, and J.A. Hart in forming the British Columbia Stationery and Printing Company. The new company absorbed Ferguson’s Victoria concern as well as T.R. Pearson & Co. in New Westminster and Vancouver.
“All the gentlemen are practical stationers and full of energy, and we predict for the new organization a bright and very prosperous future,” declared the Daily Colonist (4).
A series of setbacks, however, would challenge this prediction and ultimately prompt Ferguson to move back to Winnipeg. I’ll pick up from there next time.
(2) “The Brunswick Leased,” Daily Colonist (March 28, 1884).
(3) Books and Notions (December 1884): 78.
(4) “The B.C. Stationery and Printing Company,” Daily Colonist (May 22, 1886): 3.