The land surrounding the town of Brooks was the home and the hunting ground of the fierce Blood and Blackfoot Indians before Treaty No. 7 was signed at the Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River near Gleichen on September 22, 1877. The signing of the treaty and the arrival of the North West Mounted Police made available a large tract of semi-arid land with nutritious prairie grass to incoming ranchers. In 1881 the Dominion Government set regulations which permitted the leasing of areas up to 100,000 acres each to ranchers for an annual rental of one cent per acre.
The land around Brooks was surveyed in 1882 and the following year the Canadian Pacific Railway pushed its transcontinental line from Medicine Hat to Brooks and westward to Calgary where it arrived on August 11, 1883. When the railway arrived the buffalo had almost disappeared and ranchers were moving in. One large rancher, George Lane, had 24,000 cattle on his lease in 1906. It was Mr. Lane who recommended Brooks’ first citizen, Ernest Morden Crooker, for the appointment for district government brand inspector.
A native of Ontario, Crooker had worked on ranches in southern Alberta but decided to give up ranch work. It was in 1904 that he and his wife built a store close to the stockyards the railway had constructed for the convenience of the ranchers – there was no Brooks; it was just a flag stop at mile 723 west of Winnipeg. The Crookers provided meals and beds for the cowboys when they delivered cattle for shipment; it was their livery barn and combined hotel, café and grocery store that laid the foundation for the present town of Brooks.
The townsite was surveyed in 1907 by which time the population was nine – five railway employees, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Pierce and the Crookers. Shortly after 1907 the Canadian Pacific Railway Company decided to build a dam across the Bow River at Bassano and irrigate a tract of their huge holdings adjacent to the railway. The dam was completed in 1914 which signified the start of irrigation in the 2,340 square mile block – larger than the province of Prince Edward Island.
By 1910 the population of the town was growing as business interests started up grocery and hardware stores, lumber yards and rooming houses. The residents incorporated the hamlet as a village named after CPR employee Noel Edgel Brooks. Businessmen wanted to attract the business of the homesteaders so they formed a Board of Trade and elected E.O. (Bert) Coultis as editor to start up a newspaper for circulation throughout the area. Coultis solicited advertising, wrote general news items and then had the paper printed in Medicine Hat.
In the fall of 1910 a man named Calvin Goss came to Brooks with the intention to start a newspaper; his arrival was welcomed by Coultis whose principal job was to operate the Bowman-Sine Lumber Company.
Goss started his four-page newspaper, all of which was made up by the use of hand type, which means each letter was picked out of a case by hand, and ran it for a year and one-half when he sold out to Leonard D. Nesbitt for the sum of $500. The name of the paper was changed from the Banner back to The Bulletin, which Coultis had named it.
Business was good in the early years. In the printing office about four days were devoted to publishing the little newspaper and two days to commercial printing. Homesteaders often lost their horses and this provided business for the printer at a rate of $2 for 100 small hand bills on which was a description of the horse and brands if any. Rents were comparatively cheap; a small building 16 by 24 feet cost $10 a month – it was the whole printing plant.
World War One caused a slump in the town’s economy because of several leaving to fight and the stoppage of work on the irrigation project. Towards the end of the war, times got better. The railway brought in extra personnel to expand the operation of the irrigation district and settlers moved in from far and near to take up irrigated land.
In the early days the editor and one printer managed to publish the paper with the help of a young man known as the “printer’s devil”. Thus the staff at The Bulletin remained fairly constant until after World War Two. Labour saving machines such as the Lynotype, which set type in blocks of hot lead, and semi-automatic presses took up the slack.
Right from the start it was customary for community papers to appoint a correspondent – usually a farmer’s wife – to write the small happenings and the comings and goings of the resident in each community. Over the years, a number of the Nesbitt family, including Leonard’s brother Howard and sons Clive and Lee, edited and published The Bulletin until 1954 when Jim Nesbitt became publisher. Today, Len Nesbitt’s grandsons Jamie and brother Jon have taken over the day to day operations of the paper.
Today The Bulletin occupies a modern 8,000 square foot building in downtown Brooks with 11 full time and 1o part time employees. Along with a news-gathering staff of three, there are 18 country correspondents and several contributing columnists through syndication services. The paper is published every Tuesday of the year regardless of holidays and enjoys a circulation of some 3,500 newspapers delivered through the mail and sold over counters in several locations throughout the district.