Author Tags: Humour, Mitchell Press, Publishing

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]

Non-B.C titles from Mitchell Press and independently published books printed by Mitchell Press

1962 -- Douglas in Saskatchewan: The Story of a Socialist Experiment. By Robert Tyre.

1967 -- Uprooted Heather: A Story of the Selkirk Settlers. By Wemyss Cavaick (pseud.)

1967 -- Tom Thomson: The Story of a Man Who Looked for Beauty and for Truth in the Wilderness. By Blodwen Davies. Foreword by A.Y. Jackson. Sketches by Arthur Lismer.

1968 -- The Long Road South: To The End of the Pan American Highway. By Mel and Ethel Ross.

1969 -- 'Stroller White': Tales of a Klondike Newsman. Compiled by R.N. DeArmond.

1969 -- TV In Education and Industry: New Era in Teaching. By T.D. Connochie.

1973 -- A String of Amber: The Story of the Mennonites in Canada. By Blodwen Davies (manuscript prepared for publication after her death by Dr. Winfield Fretz).


1958 -- Three Bar: The Story of Douglas Lake. By Campbell Carroll. Publisher uncredited. Mitchell Press.

1958 -- Tuum Est: A History of the University of British Columbia. By Harry T. Logan. Published by The University of British Columbia.

1959 -- The Report of the British Columbia Centennial Committee. Uncredited. Published by British Columbia Centennial Committee.

1959 -- How to Get Cooperation: A Guide to More Effective Human Relations in Industry. By Robert S. Boaz. Publisher uncredited. Mitchell Press Limited.

1969. -- Salmon: Our Heritage. By Cicely Lyons. Published by British Columbia Packers.

1971 -- The History of The Vancouver Club. By Paul L. Bissley. Published by The Vancouver Club (Vancouver)

1972 -- Success Through Selling: A Program for Self-Development and Salesmanship. By Talbot E. Smith. Published by Talbot E. Smith. First published in Sydney, Australia: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1968.

1977 -- A Place Called Pennask: A Capsule History of the Pennask Lake Company, Limited and the Pennask Lake Fishing and Game Club. By Stanley E. Read. Published by Pennask Lake Fishing and Game Club

1995 -- Real Estate Board of Vancouver: A History of Service 1919/1994. By Anne Broadfoot with assistance by Alan G. Creer. Published by Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (Vancouver)

1995 -- Co-Operation Conflict and Concensus: B.C. Central and the Credit Union Movement to 1994. By Ian MacPherson. Published by B.C. Central Credit Union (Vancouver)

1997 -- The Greater Vancouver Book. Edited by Chuck Davis. Published by The Linkman Press (Surrey)

Background on 'The Murder of Napoleon'

Montreal-based body builder Ben Weider owned two samples of Napoleon's hair that were examined by the FBI to conclude arsenic levels were sufficient to support his arsenic poisoning theory. He also amassed one of the largest private collections of Napoleonic artifacts in the world. He became President of the International Napoleonic Society, with its headquarters in Montreal, and a member of the council of Souvenir Napoléonien in Paris. A recipient of the Order of Canada, he also became President of the International Federation of Body-Builders (IFBB) and the head of his own Weider Sports Equipment Co., Ltd. He also wrote published numerous books related to fitness and strength including The Strongest Man In History: Louis Cyr, "Amazing Canadian" (Mitchell Press, 1976).

As for his theory about Napoleon, various medical experts have since put forth less sensational storylines for Napoleon's deathbed scenes than that which was outlined in The Murder of Napoleon. For instance, Barbara Krajewska has written: "There is a possible explanation for the serious deterioration in Napoleon's health a few days before his death. It has not been pointed out that the cancer-related perforation of the stomach, although sealed by an inflammatory reaction which pushed the stomach against the liver, could have caused the intense abdominal pain which we know Napoleon suffered. I believe that it was this condition which provoked the critical deterioration of Napoleon's health. A perforation was reported at the autopsy. In Forshufvud's opinion, the excessive dose of calomel given to Napoleon 48 hours before his death could explain the pathological findings in the stomach. I doubt however that the perforation was that recent because, at the autopsy, not only was the perforation completely sealed, but it was also firmly attached to the surface of the liver. This suggests that the perforation occurred prior to the absorption of calomel. The frequent illnesses from which Napoleon had suffered since 1815 intensified during the last two years of his life. He began putting on weight in 1805. This became very noticeable in 1815; he eventually became obese and died so. This important statement, particularly emphasized by the advocates of the poisoning theory, requires consideration since it is the focus of a well-known contradiction. Several members of Napoleon's entourage noted his loss of weight, not just Montholon - who according to Ben Weider mentioned it in order to avert the suspicion of poisoning. Whilst noting that Napoleon was "extraordinarily corpulent" before his death, Antommarchi also said that "he (Napoleon) has lost a lot of weight". On another occasion, he insisted even more on Napoleon's weight loss: "He has lost a lot of weight, he is emaciated". According to him, Napoleon's limbs and chest were wasted but not so much his stomach. Arnott also found that the patient's legs and thighs were thin. On 16 April, 1821, Arnott found Napoleon "thinner than the last time he had had the occasion to see him". At the autopsy, Antommarchi maintained that "the Emperor had lost a lot of weight since his arrival at St Helena (and that) he was less than a quarter of the size he was before". Furthermore, it is known that some measurements of Napoleon's body were taken at the autopsy by Antommarchi himself. One day, Napoleon said to Antommarchi, talking about his legs: "(…) they are worn out (…); you see, nothing is left: it is just bones". To which Antommarchi replied that such fragility was a consequence of the disease. In his Memoirs, Marchand gives a similar testimony. Montholon himself, talking about Napoleon's illness: "He is as thin as in 1800 and I look big and fat compared to him". Thus, no doubt remains, Napoleon did lose weight. One point, however, has not been adequately emphasized. Napoleon did not die of advanced cancer, he died of a complication of cancer, in his case a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. At the autopsy, no metastases were found except in regional lymph nodes related to the stomach. Metastases usually accompany cancer in the advanced stage. Whilst this latter detail would imply that the cancer was probably no longer limited only to the stomach itself, nevertheless it was in the early stage of spread, and it was therefore too early to expect dramatic weight loss in the patient. Weight loss always accompanies stomach cancer in its advanced stage. Such is also the case in chronic arsenic poisoning, contrary to René Maury (who claims that "obesity is equally a distinctive sign of chronic arsenic poisoning") and Ben Weider who produces as evidence a compilation of symptoms of arsenic poisoning, listed without references to the sources. I have consulted a number of works on this subject. They all state that considerable weight loss is symptomatic of chronic arsenic poisoning. At the time of Napoleon's death, due to the limited evolution of his cancer, emaciation was not yet manifest, although evident weight loss had been observed by Montholon and others, shortly before his death and at the autopsy."


Assassination at St. Helena (1978) by Dr. Sten Forshufvud, with Ben Weider

The Murder of Napoleon (Congdon & Lattes, 1982; distributed by St. Martin's Press).

The Murder of Napoleon (Berkley Publishing Group, 1984). With David Hapgood

Assassination at St. Helena Revisited (Wiley, 1995).

The Murder of Napoleon (Authors Choice Press, 1999). With David Hapgood and Howard Mitchell.

Was Napoleon Poisoned? ( (1999). With David Hapgood.