There weren't any established trade publishers in British Columbia prior to the 1970s so printers were frequently approached by authors to produce titles. Second-generation printer Howard T. Mitchell of Vancouver was personally involved in dozens of worthwhile books, including a title about Napoleon that was optioned twice by Hollywood actor Jack Nicholson, during a period when Mitchell Printers served as one of the two most important publishers of books in British Columbia. After family-owned Mitchell Press was started in 1928 in order to print the first business-oriented newspaper in Vancouver, publishing books became an almost inevitable sideline. The situation was similar to that which existed for several decades in Victoria for Morriss Printing, another printing firm in which ownership was passed from father to son to son. Some of these titles were funded directly by the authors; others were cooperative undertakings. Regardless, Howard Mitchell felt some obligation to produce some of the best history books about B.C. that were produced in the 1960s and early 1970s. Along the way he and his wife worked directly with authors, and he sometimes went out of his way to have books published on subjects that interested him. As a staunch anti-socialist, for instance, he printed a Canadian version of Henry Hazlitt's Man vs. The Welfare State (Mitchell Press, 1971).

Perhaps the most important intellect at Mitchell Press was Howard Mitchell's wife, Janet Ruth Mitchell (MacDonald) who was born in Leadville, Colorado to Canadian parents on April 30, 1905. When she was in high school, as the eldest of four daughters, the MacDonald family moved to New Westminster. Enrolled in honours French, she participated in the so-called Great Trek to UBC and was among the last class to graduate from the Fairview campus of what became the University of British Columbia. After a year at the Sorbonne where she gained her teaching credentials for French, she taught at Magee High School, St. Clare School for Girls and Victoria College before becoming a co-founder of York House School for Girls in 1932. She married Howard Mitchell in 1933 and quit teaching in 1934. For 15 years she wrote for one of her husband's consumer publications, Western Homes and Living, under the pseudonyn Ann Wilson (her great-grandmother's name) and published two editions of the Ann Wilson Cookbook.
Increasingly involved with UBC as a trustee of the UBC Development Fund for eight years, she turned to fulltime involvement with Mitchell Press, as a proofreader and editor, when her children were fully grown. During the Sixties and Seventies, when Mitchell Press was most active as a book publisher, she worked behind the scenes as a shepherd for some of its better titles, editing manuscripts. Retired in 1979, she reached 100 years of age in the company of her sister Helen, then died on July 8, 2004.

Howard Mitchell died in 1988. He only added his name as an author to one title--an oddity called The Battle of Mole Run... And Other Offenses (Mitchell Press, 1967). It was a somewhat ill-advised attempt at publishing humour in the form of columns he had written for Western Homes & Living and also Ontario Homes & Living. He was the publisher of the former for 16 years, and the latter for four years.

The most internationally auspicious title to be brought into print by Mitchell Press--but not the most lucrative--was The Murder of Napoleon by Ben Weider and David Hapgood. Reviewed in Newsweek and around the world, The Murder of Napoleon has been through numerous editions since its conception via Vancouver where Howard Mitchell and his wife had a central role in the preparation of the manuscript. Ben Weider's various books about Napoleon Bonaparte and his death on St. Helena on May 6, 1821 allege that Napoleon did not die of stomach cancer, an illness he feared because it had killed his father. Weider's murder plot theories are based on the research of Swedish dentist Dr. Sten Forshufvud who first alleged Napoleon was weakened by non-lethal doses of arsenic poisoning, before he was murdered by other means, in his own book entitled Who killed Napoleon? The Mitchells were encouraged by Weider to translate the Swedish material. With Ben Weider's help, the Swede Forshufvud further examined information on Napoleon's last days. They initiated analysis of Napoleon's hair to suggest arsenic poisoning was likely. In their book The Assassination at St. Helena they concluded Napoleon was killed after he was stricken with arsenic. They also provided the identity of a likely suspect for the crime, Count de Montholon, the chamberlain. "I cannot be sure that Forshufvud and Weider are right," a Newsweek reviewer wrote, "but to prove them wrong, their opponent will have to produce an impressive hat and hope there is a rabbit in it." Jack Nicholson, long fascinated by Napoleon, purchased the film rights. According to Howard Mitchell's son--also named Howard--at least two payments were made of $15,000 each. His father earned a third for his partnership in the project.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Journals of William Fraser Tolmie, Physician and Fur Trader


The Battle of Mole Run... And Other Offenses (Mitchell Press, 1967)

[BCBW 2004]