The Free Press Building is important because of its role in Nanaimo’s cultural development. Founded in 1874 by George Norris, the paper was originally published bi-weekly in a small Hudson’s Bay Company building on the site of today’s Globe Hotel. Six months later, operations were moved to a larger, wood-frame building on this site. In 1893, the current brick building was erected with 3 stories. The building was damaged by fire in 1930 and the third floor was eventually removed in 1956 when the building underwent a major renovation. George Norris died in 1902 but the paper continued to be published by his sons, George E. Norris and W. F. Norris, until 1954 when Thomson Newspapers purchased it. At this time, the name of the paper was also changed from the “Nanaimo Free Press” to the “Daily Free Press” in order to reflect the papers wider regional focus. In 1993, building renovations included the conversion of a ground floor restaurant into the circulation office, and the removal of some front doors to make a large reception area. In 1998, the Southam chain purchased the paper. The Free Press, now known as the Nanaimo Daily News, is currently published from offices in the Northfield Industrial Park. After Victoria’s Times Colonist, the Daily News is the second oldest continuously published paper in British Columbia. The long publishing history demonstrates the historical roots of this institution in Nanaimo and the evolution of communications on Vancouver Island. In geographically isolated 19th century Nanaimo, where alternate communication links were either non-existent, infrequent or unreliable, the Free Press provided local information and an important larger “window on the world.”
The Free Press Building is an excellent example of the stylistic evolution of a building over time. Originally built in the Victorian Italianate style, the building was significantly altered in 1956 as a result of an earlier fire. Many of the elements of the original elaborate façade, including the brickwork and arched window openings, can still be seen on the building’s rear and side elevations. The newer international style façade reflects a contemporary desire to appear modern and progressive, an appropriate choice for a news organization.
The building forms part of a significant cluster of heritage buildings located at the intersection of Commercial, Church and Chapel Streets and has a prominent street presence due to its location flush with the Commercial Street right-of-way. The building also forms a significant modern period grouping with the adjacent Modern Café building.