Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 3 – Rena Whitney and the Mt. Pleasant Advocate

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Sara Ann McLagan may have been the first female publisher of a daily newspaper (Vancouver Daily World) in Vancouver, however, the title for Vancouver’s first female newspaper publisher goes to Mrs. Rena Whitney publisher of the Mount Pleasant Advocate from 1900-1908. Whitney took the helm at the weekly paper after the death of her husband, Advocate publisher Mayo Whitney in March of 1900. The Province newspaper wrote this about Rena Whitney after the death of Mayo:

“It is understood that the work he had so well begun in the Mount Pleasant Advocate, will be continued by Mrs. Whitney, who has considerable journalistic experience and who has indeed of late borne the weight of the work as her late husband has been in poor health for a length of time.” – March 21, 1900

The Advocate was established on April 8, 1899, by newspaper publisher/editor and lawyer, (Charles) Mayo Whitney. Mayo Whitney, originally from Massachusetts, moved to British Columbia with his first wife Laura and son Charles Francis Whitney sometime in the late 1880s. By 1890, the Whitneys had settled in Courtenay, B.C. where Mayo and his son Charles (Frank) started a newspaper, the Courtenay Weekly News. After the death of Laura Whitney on December 22, 1893, the Whitney father and son team continued to run the newspaper in Courtenay until at least 1895. They drop off the radar until 1899 when widower Mayo Whitney and his second wife Rena show up living in Mount Pleasant (at 6th & Quebec) and publishing the Mount Pleasant Advocate.

Clippings from the Mt. Pleasant Advocate. Available via UBC Digital Collections.

The Advocate newspaper office was located at 2525 Westminster Avenue (Main Street) in the heart of the Mount Pleasant village; Kafka’s Coffee Shop occupies the spot today. “Devoted to the interests of Mt. Pleasant and South Vancouver”, the paper was not known for its hard-hitting news but was a well-respected and important part of the growing community of Mount Pleasant.

There is not much known about Rena Whitney. The 1901 Canada Census for Vancouver reveals that Rena Whitney was born in the U.S. on July 3, 1854, was a widow, working as a newspaper publisher and living with her son, Ralph S. Cummings (23). Ralph worked at the Advocate with his mother, first as a printer and later as the newspaper’s manager. 10 years later, Ralph Cummings was still living and working in Mount Pleasant as the manager of the Mount Pleasant branch (2505 Main) of the World Printing and Publishing Company, publishers of the Vancouver Daily World.

Rena Whitney sold the Advocate in early 1908 due to health reasons. A Vancouver Daily World item from February 1908 said that she left the city for California. Rena Whitney lived the remainder of her life in Los Angeles until she died in 1934 at the age of 80.

Vancouver Daily World, February 15, 1908.

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