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Fire guts Sono Nis

The office and warehouse of one of B.C.’s most venerable publishing imprints, Sono Nis, were completely destroyed by a West Kootenay fire on August 4.

August 08th, 2016

Started in 1968, Diane Morriss' family-owned Sono Nis Press has been laid low by a fire in Winlaw.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.


“My husband Jim had been in town (Nelson) running errands,” says Sono Nis publisher Diane Morriss, “and when he was driving home he saw thick black smoke up on the mountain where we live and knew it was our shop.

“He tore home and managed to get our two dogs out of the shop, rescue a couple of computers, take files out of my filing cabinet, and save the beautiful Myfanwy Pavelic portraits of my dad and grandfather.

“Everything else is gone including my beautiful orange cat Caber who was always with me day and night. I am in shock.”

Founded in 1968 by poet J. Michael Yates and operated with his wife Ann, Sono Nis Press was bought by Diane Morriss’ father, Dick Moriss, in 1976 when the literary press couldn’t pay its bills to Morriss Printing. For almost twenty years the imprint received considerable input from Victoria’s resident literary maven, Robin Skelton.

When Dick Morriss died in 1994, Morriss Printing was sold to a former employee (Keijo Isokmaa) and Moriss’ daughter Diane made a deal with her siblings to continue the Sono Nis book publishing company even though she was divorced with two young children and knew very little about running a publishing company.

Sono Nis 1 Diane Morriss

Diane Morriss just an hour before the news

She operated the company from her home in Rockland, Victoria, until she married book designer Jim Brennan in 2002, at which time they moved to his home on 33 acres in Winlaw, near Nelson, B.C. Using the money from the sale of her Victoria house, they built an office and a large warehouse with a guestroom for visiting authors.

“We are in shock and disbelief,” says Diane Morriss. “We’re up to our ears dealing with insurance and waiting for the office phone, fax and internet to be moved to our little house near the office where we were internet and computer free by choice.  “We’re also trying to salvage what we can from the building although not a single book remains. Sadly all of the Morriss Printing archives were lost in the fire.”

Diane Morriss is the granddaughter of book printer Charles Morriss who was born in Winnipeg in 1907. He moved with his family to Victoria in 1910. At 14, Charles Morriss began to apprentice in a printer’s shop. He worked in countless printing shops before serving in World War II. Thereafter he opened Morriss Printing on Victoria’s Fort Street.

Morriss Printing in Victoria and Mitchell Press in Vancouver became the two leading producers of books in B.C. prior to the rise of five new imprints that formed the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. in the early 1970s. The first book printed by Morriss Printing was Who’s Who in British Columbia, in 1953. The record of the hundreds of books produced by Morriss Printing has now been lost.

Sono Nis Fire 2Dick Morriss learned the printing trade from his father and semi-reluctantly acquired Sono Nis Press in 1976. The odd name is derived from the name of a character in the first book published, Man in the Glass Octopus, by press founder J. Michael Yates. Sono in modern Italian means “I am”; Nis in Anglo-Saxon means “are not”.

Diane Morriss was traveling with one of her authors, Sylvia Olsen, in Vermont and New Hampshire, when she received the news of the fire that started in the carport at the far end of the office building. It hadn’t spread to the warehouse before the volunteer firefighters arrived about half an hour after it was called in. The volunteer crew had little training for containing such a blaze. It eventually took several fire departments eight hours to put out the fire. Morriss says the facilities were under-insured.

Today Sono Nis has more than 150 titles in print.

“We are unable to reprint all of the books we had in stock.” she says.

The press has published more than 400 titles from 200 Canadian authors.

sono-nis-publishing before the fire

Before the fire.

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