Toronto Celebrates the Coronation of Queen Victoria, 1838

Coronation portrait of Queen Victoria by Sir George Hayter, 1838.

Whatever your level of care or indifference may be, coronation weekend is upon us. While there are some events marking the event, such as free admission to the ROM, a tree-planting ceremony at Coronation Park, and green lighting at local landmarks, there won’t be the level of general decoration and festivities around the city that marked previous royal crownings.

Which leads me to my usual habit when it comes to these things: what were the earliest coronation celebrations like in Toronto?

Given the spotty availability of early Toronto newspapers online, I didn’t find anything on how the coronation of King William IV was marked in September 1831. It’s possible there is a line or two deeply buried in William Lyon Mackenzie’s Colonial Advocate, but I didn’t feel like grabbing a magnifying glass to find out.

So I’m setting the wayback machine to the July 5, 1838 edition of the British Colonist, which was published a week after Queen Victoria’s coronation.

A few notes:

Toronto’s mayor in 1838 was John Powell. At the time, the mayor was chosen by council and Powell was the unanimous pick based on his efforts to defend the city during the Rebellion of 1837, which included killing a guard and nearly shooting Mackenzie to death after briefly being captured by the rebels.

The jail mentioned here was the Second King Street Gaol, which was located at King and Toronto Streets. Three months earlier, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews were hanged there for their participation in the rebellion.

The procession of firefighters also included members of the Queen’s Rangers. The coverage focused on detailed descriptions of the decorated fire engines, such as this one:

The Fire Engine, drawn by four grey horses, with brass mounted harness, postillions riding with rosetta and ribbons. Engine painted red and gold mouldings, having on back the battle of Quebec and death of General Wolfe; painted and decorated with red and blue Union Jacks. Painting done by Gillespie and Alex. Hamilton.

Front page of the July 5, 1838 British Colonist.

The British Colonist launched on February 1, 1838 as the Scotsman, changing its name after its first two editions. Published by Hugh Scobie, it initially represented conservative elements of the Upper Canadian Scottish community. “Moderate in tone,” the Dictionary of Canadian Biography observes, “as a rule the Colonist resisted hyperbole, excessive partisanship, and attacks on personalities. Through its editorials and articles, Scobie sought to influence public opinion by advocating such causes as an open and liberal education system and by supporting Upper Canadian sectionalism while implacably opposing French Canadian nationalism. Many of his editorials, undoubtedly influenced by his early legal training, read like well-documented, closely argued, legal submissions.”

Yet its coronation coverage included an attack on a personality.

I’m wondering if there were existing disagreements between Scobie and Stanton that the coronation became an excuse to air.

Illustration of Robert Stanton. Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Robert Stanton served as the official King’s/Queen’s Printer of Upper Canada from 1826 to 1841, which published the official Upper Canada Gazette. Early in his tenure he was reprimanded by lieutenant-governor Sir John Colborne for publishing a side paper, the U.E. Loyalist, which was an editorial mouthpiece for vicious Family Compact attacks on Reformers. Colborne suggested that “the King’s Printer should be more exclusively devoted to the performance of duties strictly official.” Stanton complied. He later served as one of the city’s defenders during the Rebellion of 1837.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography summed him up as a loyal servant to the crown and the Family Compact. “A frequent casualty of the rise of Reform politics and government, at the same time he possessed sufficient tenacity to survive contrary winds of fortune without compromising his decidedly colonial world view.”

Other stories in this edition of the British Colonist included:

  • Breaking news that Lord Durham had proclaimed that no legal proceedings would be taken against anyone currently charged with high treason in Lower Canada.
  • Two stories marking the death of the legendary French diplomat Talleyrand.
  • The launch of the transatlantic steamer the British Queen.
  • Brief notes on coronation celebrations in Cobourg and Kingston.
  • An excerpt from English sociologist Harriet Martineau’s Miss Martineau’s Western Travels complaining that female visitors to the U.S. Senate could display more dignity and respect the gravity of the institution by wearing less flashy clothing and generally being less distracting. Martineau was a guest at Queen Victoria’s coronation.
  • An ad for a revised version of one of the first major Canadian novels, John Richardson’s Wacousta. Richardson spent his formative years, and some of his military service, in my hometown Amherstburg, where is commemorated with a plaque at Fort Malden.

The Assassination of George Brown

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on May 2, 2009. This version is based on a reprint published on March 31, 2012.

Illustration by Henri Julien, the Canadian Illustrated News, April 10, 1880.

Late afternoon, Thursday, March 25, 1880. The front page of the 5 p.m. edition of The Evening Telegram bore breaking news occurring at a rival newspaper that had been the subject of quickly spreading rumours over the past hour.

We stop the press to record one of the most dastardly and daring acts of violence and attempted murder ever perpetrated in this city. This afternoon, about 4:10 o’clock, an ex-employee of the Globe, named George Bennett, entered the GlobeOffice and met the Hon. George Brown and shot him with a revolver. Mr. Brown is at the present writing lying in the Globe office with physicians attending him.

So would mark the beginning of the end for a man whose life encompassed such roles as newspaper editor, political leader, and Father of Confederation. The assassination of George Brown was essentially a case of the victim being in the wrong place at the wrong time and a lesson on how not to handle an agitated former employee.


Left: Globe Office, 1877. Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, J. Timperlake, Toronto: Peter A. Gross, 1877. Right: Illustration of George Bennett, Evening Telegram, March 27, 1880.

George Bennett (born Dickson) had worked in The Globe’s engineering department for five years. Initially regarded as a sober, upstanding employee, within a few years he gained a reputation for frequently hitting the bottle and engaging in domestic disturbances with a woman who may or may not have legally been his wife. March 25, 1880 found him hanging around The Globe offices in a drunken state after having been fired shortly before for “intemperance,” as well as being out on bail after his spouse charged him with neglect. He was seen with the paper’s chief engineer around 2:30 p.m, who he called an enemy for, among other things, being subpoenaed in his court case. An hour later Bennett was found rambling in the press room, where the head of circulation informed him that strangers were not allowed on the premises. Bennett proceeded to rattle off his list of grievances, ran up and down from the basement several times in an agitated state, then briefly passed. Unbeknownst to anyone, Bennett carried in his pockets a pistol and a packet of letters outlining his grievances towards fellow employees he felt had wronged him and plans of revenge on them worthy of a modern school shooter, mostly threats to chop others up violently.


Hon. Geo[rge] Brown. Archives of Ontario, C 133-0-0-0-4.

Sometime after 4 p.m., Bennett made his way to George Brown’s private office. He knocked on Brown’s door, entered, then closed it behind him. He pressed a letter indicating the length of his employment at the paper upon Brown, urging the paper’s proprietor to sign it. Brown refused, urging Bennett to have the head of the engineering department do so. Bennett indicated this wasn’t possible, so an increasingly irritated Brown suggested that he go to the head of the treasury, who had all of the employment records. Bennett refused to go and urged Brown to “sign it, sign it.” As historian J.M.S. Careless noted in the biography Brown of The Globe, “Brown was impatient. He did not know the man, He did not know Bennett’s record of drunkenness, neglect of duties, and wife-beating, or that he was now out on bail after being arrested for non-support…the one thing Brown did know was that he had been needlessly disturbed by this unprepossessing creature, who had no doubt got what he deserved.”

Brown then noticed Bennett’s hand moving towards the pistol and thought “the little wretch might be meaning to shoot me.” A scuffle ensued, the results of which were reported in The Globe the following morning:

Yesterday afternoon one of the most seditious and dastardly attempts at murder ever made in this city took place in the private office of the Hon. George Brown in the Globe Building. Fortunately, owning mainly to Mr. Brown’s presence of mind and superior physical strength, the attempt was unsuccessful, the only results being a severe flesh wound to the thigh and the nervous prostration which is the inevitable result of such an encounter. Had the miscreant who made the murderous assault been a little more prompt in taking his aim, or had the pistol been of a different construction, the attempt could hardly have resulted so favourably, for he persisted in his efforts to effect his bloody purpose until he was overpowered and the weapon was wrenched from his grasp.

Other employees quickly rushed in to separate the two men. Police arrested Bennett, who was initially silent then indicated “I don’t know anything about it.” At the police station, he threatened an officer with “I’ll get even with you yet.” Globe staff temporarily closed the office as Torontonians rushed down to confirm rapidly spreading rumours and offer their best wishes to Brown. As the paper noted, “the effect upon the community was to create a general feeling of indignation. All condemned the cowardly and murderous attack. This feeling of condemnation was intensified when all the circumstances surrounding the affair came to be known, and when it was learned how little ground there was for so bloodthirsty an attempt to take life.” Other papers, including those who opposed Brown’s Liberal politics, offered their best wishes and played up Bennett’s mixed-blood background—The Evening Telegram noted he was “as dark as an octoroon.”


George Brown House, corner of Beverley and Baldwin Streets. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

Initially Brown’s wound was treated as non-threatening and he continued business from his home at the corner of Beverley and Baldwin streets. He took the incident in stride, treating the wound as “trifling” and laughing at “the solicitude of those near him.” The first signs of infection appeared four days after the attack, which didn’t stop Brown from holding court at the paper’s annual shareholder meeting. As The Globe later noted, “very soon troublesome symptoms appeared. The nervous system became very much deranged, inflammation set in, the thigh swelled, and abscesses were formed in the region surrounding the wound. Three incisions were made, and the discharge was copious and continued till nearly the end of the illness.” Regular bulletins on Brown’s condition reflected the optimism of the doctors that he would recover. The battle took its toll on Brown and by May 7 his condition was rapidly deteriorating. At 2 a.m. on May 9, Brown died at the age of 61.

The following day’s edition of The Globe saw every column outlined with a thick black line and offered the following conclusion about its deceased proprietor:

He loved his country and laboured for her good; the objects he set before him were high, the plans he formed vast, and when he failed it was from no lack of courage or self-sacrifice on his part. The bed of death calls for other consolations than the praise of men, but it may be that his passing spirit was cheered by the thought that in the estimation of his fellow countrymen he had not lived altogether in vain.

An inquest into Brown’s death was quickly launched and Bennett was charged with murder. The case went to trial on June 22 and after two hours of deliberation the jury came back with a guilty verdict. When asked for comment before sentencing, Bennett replied, “I have only to say that I have not willfully committed this crime.” Sentenced to hang, Bennett treated his fate flippantly, which observers felt was a sign that he was tired with life and ready to die. When brought to the scaffold at the Toronto Gaol on July 23, Bennett spoke his final words clearly and firmly and seemed to pin responsibility for Brown’s death on the deceased:

He has gone to his death through an oversight on my part. It was a foolish thing for me to have drawn the revolver, but I was in liquor or I would have never done it. I could not control the event. I went there purely on a matter of business and my business was very simple and very plain. The result was as it was. I am prepared to die.

The execution took place at 7:50 a.m. The Globe reported that “the arrangements were thorough and the ceremony was carried out without any of those terrible hitches which too often occur to intensify the horror which must necessarily attend an execution. Death was painless and easy.” His final letters warned young men against the dangers of temptation and thanked jail officials for their hospitality.


George Brown’s grave, the Necropolis. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

As for Brown, his funeral procession took place on May 12. The route started at his home and wound its way along Beverley, College, Yonge, Carlton, Parliament, and Winchester before arriving at his final resting place in the southwest end of the Necropolis.

Sources: the March 26, 1880, May 10, 1880, June 23, 1880, and July 24, 1880 editions of the Globe, the March 25, 1880 and March 27, 1880 editions of the Telegram, and Brown of The Globe by J.M.S. Careless (Toronto: Macmillan, 1963).


Montreal Daily Witness, May 10, 1880.

As a major public figure, there was no shortage of coverage surrounding the shooting and Brown’s death outside of Toronto. Here is a sampling of those ilustrations and editorials.

Kingston Daily News, March 27, 1880.

Ottawa Citizen, March 27, 1880.

Daily British Whig (Kingston), March 29, 1880.

The hyperpartisanship of newspapers from this era is very evident here.

Ottawa Citizen, May 10, 1880.

Montreal Herald, May 10, 1880.

The heavy black lines printed here were used to mark all columns on a page in many Canadian papers covering Brown’s passing, which was a standard convention when a major death occurred during the late 19th century. Sometimes the black lines remained for days, as was the case for some Conservative-leaning papers when Brown’s rival John A. Macdonald died in 1891.

Daily British Whig, May 10, 1880.

An editorial using the death of Brown as proof of the ned to uphold and enforce stronger gun control laws.

Montreal Daily Witness, May 10, 1880.

Buffalo Express, May 11, 1880.

On May 10, Buffalo city council discussed Brown’s passing, and unanimously agreed to lower the flag in front of city hall, as would many Canadian communities.

More reactions from the United States:

No man in this generation has lived who has made a deeper mark upon the politics and history of Canada, and he is a man whom the people of the United States will remember with respect and honour. He was a statesman rather than politician. He was a Gladstone rather than a Beaconsfield. He had no plastic or convenient convictions. He was a man whose position on every public question was perfectly well understood. – editorial, Brooklyn Union and Argus, May 10, 1880.

It may be doubted if there is today in Canada a man whose career promises to be as conspicuous or as useful as that of the deceased statesman and editor; and it is lamentable, indeed, that so valuable a life should have been ended by so wanton and useless a sacrifice. – editorial, Detroit Free Press, May 11, 1880.

Pall Mall Gazette, May 12, 1880.

Reaction from England on Brown’s passing.

Grey Review (Durham, Ontario), May 13, 1880.

A poem written in Brown’s honour from rural Ontario.

More reactions from Canadian editorial pages:

Mr. Brown had his faults, and his very force of character made these more prominent than they would have been in any other man. But few men have exercised in their day greater control by the mere force of character and will than has Mr. Brown over the destinies of his party during the last quarter of a century. The manner of his death has excited for him and his family the most intense sympathy on the part of all classes of the people, and as he is followed to his last resting places, thousands, irrespective of political opinion, will feel that a great man has passed away. – editorial, Montreal Gazette, May 10, 1880.

In his private life he was a most estimable and lovable man. He had certainly strong prejudices and likes and dislikes, but that, if a fault at all, was the fault of a sterling character cast in the mould from which only manly characters come. He was frank in manner, candid in speech, and a true friend. He was decidedly aggressive in disposition and true to his convictions. This, in public life, made him many enemies and at times unpopular, but he outlived all that and now he is no more, many a tear will be shed by his old antagonists over his too sad fate. – editorial, Canadian Statesman (Bowmanville), May 14, 1880.

The Telegram Sets, The Sun Rises

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on October 27, 2012. This article won the “Short Publication” category at the 2013 Heritage Toronto Awards.

The final front page of the Telegram, October 30, 1971.

11:20 p.m., Friday, September 17, 1971. Telegram publisher John Bassett entered his newsroom at 440 Front Street West. Assistant city editor Tim Porter, the son of one of the paper’s most colourful columnists, noticed something was amiss when he greeted his boss. “There was anguish on his face,” Porter later told the Star. Bassett tore a sheet of paper off a teletype roll, entered his office, locked the door, and sat down at his typewriter.

Two hours later the sheet was delivered to a copy editor. After two minor errors were fixed, Bassett’s piece went to print. It was published in a grey box on the front page of the weekend edition of the Telegram. Black would have been more appropriate, as Bassett had composed the death notice for the 95-year old-bastion of Tory Toronto, out of whose ashes emerged a tabloid which soon declared itself “the little paper that grew.”

Toronto Life, November 1971.

“The decision has been taken to cease publication of the Toronto Telegram,” began Bassett’s message to readers on September 18, 1971. “Many details must be completed and, hopefully, the newspaper will continue to appear for a time, but the decision has been taken.” He cited losses of $2 million over the previous two years, projected a deficit of $1 million for 1971, and noted that $8.3 million from other sources had been required to keep the paper alive. Bassett had made $5 million by selling shares in Maple Leaf Gardens and the Argonauts earlier that month; it was used to reduce the Telegram’s corporate debt. Deals to sell off the paper’s assets were underway, with the proceeds used to pay off banks, employees, and suppliers. The decision to close the paper was “the saddest I have ever had to make in my life, in war or peace.” Bassett ended the notice by thanking readers and staff for their loyalty and offered an apology: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t do better.”

The paper’s unions were immediately blamed for the paper’s demise, two of which had voted to authorize a strike action two days earlier at the King Edward Hotel. Labour strife had dogged the Telegram for years: members of the International Typographical Union had picketed all of the city’s dailies since 1964, while agreements with the other unions had expired at the end of 1970. Bassett offered a wage freeze for 1971 and a $10/week raise for 1972, and opened the paper’s books to verify that the paper was, in fact, losing money. The unions later proposed taking any wage increases for 1971 as IOUs, but Bassett held firm, coldly stating in a meeting before the vote “You’ll have to take whatever steps you feel are necessary and so will I.” Some union members felt that Bassett was close to capitulating or couldn’t believe that, given his interests in CFTO-TV and sports teams, he didn’t have enough money to meet their demands.

440 Front Street West, home of the Telegram from 1963 to 1971, later home of the Globe and Mail, The Telegram, September 20, 1971.

What they didn’t know before voting was that Bassett had already decided to shut the paper down, despite having the third largest circulation of any English daily in Canada. He had shopped the paper’s assets around for awhile, including negotiations with the Star to sell the Telegram’s subscription lists. He offered the paper to journalists Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton, who declined after seeing the books. The final decision to fold the paper was made on September 13, when Bassett sought permission to do so from the paper’s trustees. The Telegram’s fate was sealed during a meeting that night at John David Eaton’s home at 120 Dunvegan Road, where the Bassett and Eaton family members who were shareholders in the paper gathered. Only the publisher’s son Johnny opposed the closure.

During the strike vote, Bassett dined at Mister Tony’s restaurant in Yorkville with Telegram managing editor Douglas Creighton and political editor Fraser Kelly. After they learned the vote results, Kelly told Bassett that there were many Telegram employees who felt he didn’t care about the paper anymore, believed he had or was about to sell, and that regardless of the vote the paper was through. “You’re right on all counts,” Bassett responded.

Three writers who migrated from the Telegram to the Sun. Advertisements, the Telegram, October 28, 1971.

Employees were shocked when they heard about the paper’s closure, which had inspired fierce loyalty. Hartley Steward captured this in a Toronto Life article on the paper’s demise:

Nobody ever had a job at the Tely. You were with the Tely. And if you weren’t with the Tely, you were against it. At cocktail parties we were backed up against the wall, always with drink in hand, to answer for its insanities. And we came back off the wall swinging every time at the armchair critics because, with all its imperfections, it was our newspaper and it was put together four times every day with so much energy, so much loving care, against so many odds, that it could not go undefended.

The most quoted line regarding the closing came from veteran sports columnist Ted Reeve: “When I started to work for the Telegram in 1923, I thought it was going to be a steady job.”

Jaws dropped when it was soon revealed that the Star bought the Telegram’s subscription lists for $10 million and would lease the paper’s home for two years (the building was soon bought by the Globe and Mail, who moved in after the Star’s lease was up). The unions and groups of employees scrambled to find anyone willing to buy the paper, though potential saviours like Ed Mirvish and mining magnate Steve Roman passed, or placed conditions Bassett did not wish to honour. They urged all levels of government to save the Telegram, which produced little more than regrets and partisan bickering.

Among the more immediate concerns: questions about how the timing of the paper’s closure would affect coverage of the provincial election in October 1971. After Bassett announced that the paper’s final edition would appear on October 30, a week after the election, Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis charged that the Telegram was hanging on long enough to print editorials supporting Premier William Davis and the Progressive Conservatives.

The Telegram, October 15, 1971.

While the paper’s 1,200 employees looked for new jobs, a handful revisited a recurring idea to improve the paper’s advertising and circulation numbers, which had declined against evening rival the Star for years. Around 1966, Creighton and Johnny Bassett had discussed a companion morning tabloid which would be physically easier for commuters to handle, and offer a livelier alternative to the city’s only a.m. paper at the time, the staid Globe and Mail. This idea was refined by former Telegram managing editor Andy MacFarlane in 1967, who supervised mockups designed by artist Andy Donato of a multi-edition paper called “The Sun.” MacFarlane pictured a paper which was light on hard news and heavy on columnists, features, and sports. Publisher Bassett rejected the idea, feeling that it would compete with the Telegram instead of complement it. He wasn’t comfortable with the tabloid format due to its association with past sleazy Toronto rags like Flash and Hush. Creighton and MacFarlane tinkered with other tabloid formats, including a national paper inspired by the New York Post, but all received thumbs down.

As prospects of saving the Telegram dimmed, a group which coalesced around Creighton, Telegram Syndicate manager Don Hunt, and foreign correspondent Peter Worthington planned a new weekday morning tabloid. There was little time to develop the proposed publication, as Creighton and Hunt felt it needed to hit the presses within 24 hours of the Telegram’s final edition. Remembering Bassett’s qualms about the tabloid format, the paper was dubbed the Toronto Sun because it sounded like a traditional newspaper name.

The Telegram, October 30, 1971.

Over the course of October 1971, the Sun developed its editorial policy. In his biography, Sunburned, Creighton included Worthington’s notes from the discussions that would shape the paper’s viewpoint, elements of which won’t surprise long-time readers:

Policy would be of basic “independence” and ideologically in the centre—more so than either Globe or Star. It would appeal basically to people who work for a living, not those who seek a free ride from society.

It would concentrate on local affairs—would be brightly written, irreverent, but balanced and responsible. In essence, it would tend to be an “opposition” newspaper and have no sacred cows. It would be the mouthpiece of no group—and certainly not the fashionable “left” elements of our society.

The editorials would be straight, hard-hitting and opinionated, and quite unlike the wishy-washy editorials that the Telegram indulged in. They’d be Daily Mirror-style in bluntness. We would stress the idea that we are Toronto’s “other voice”—the voice that the death of the Tely deprived Torontonians of. Keep stressing our independence.

Creighton would be publisher, Hunt general manager, and Worthington executive editor of the new paper.

Nailing down financial backing wasn’t easy. Lawyer Eddie Hyde was the initial financial point man, but a deal he built collapsed. Another lawyer, Progressive Conservative fundraiser and advisor Eddie Goodman, rounded up $700,000 worth of promised support (half of which was actually collected). With those funds in place, the Sun’s existence was publicly announced on October 14, 1971. Negotiations with Bassett allowed the paper to claim the Telegram’s paper boxes and news archive, as well as the Telegram Syndicate. Major media figures like Roy Thomson and the management of Southam Press gave the Sun little to no chance of survival in an age where long-running papers like the Telegram were folding.

The Telegram’s last editorial page cartoon, illustrated by John Yardley-Jones, October 30, 1971.

A lone print run of 340,000 copies was made for the final edition of the Telegram on October 30, 1971. Sensing a future collector’s item, people grabbed as many copies as they could. One antique dealer, who claimed to be serving former Torontonians, ordered 1,000 papers. Demand was so high that some copies of the 25 cent paper reportedly sold for five dollars. While some carriers reported that their bundles were stolen, one creative paperboy tossed his papers in a shopping cart and hawked them along Jarvis Street. His lineups were up to six vehicles deep.

At the Telegram, the farewell celebrations began with a champagne delivery to the sports department around 8 a.m., and continued at various apartments and watering holes across Toronto for the rest of the day. Even the police supplied complimentary booze. One worker showed up in a rented top hat and mourning suit, and repeatedly played “The Last Post.”

Despite hangovers, Sun employees were expected to show up at the space the paper rented at the Eclipse Building on King Street West on Halloween, to prepare the paper’s debut. Because the second floor was still being renovated, the paper initially operated out of the fourth floor, recently abandoned by a silk screening company. The worn, grimy conditions fit the underdog image the paper built. It also had a shaky electrical system, as columnist Paul Rimstead quickly discovered. When he attempted to plug in a kettle to make, depending on the source, either tea or booze-laced coffee, he plunged the newsroom into darkness.

Rimstead got plenty of mileage from the sad state of the premises, who referred to it as “the beautiful downtown Eclipse Building right next door to Farb’s Car Wash and across the road from King’s Plate Open Kitchen where you can buy a beef steak pie for 50 cents.” His ability to get away with revealing the behind-the-scenes world of the Sun, especially when he insulted his bosses in a manner that would have seen him canned elsewhere, became a key element of the new paper’s style. Many found it incongruous that a paper of such ‘conservative’ beliefs could be so liberal in its treatment of staff,” Worthington later noted, “not realizing that this was the essence of consistency for a paper that believes in and trusts individuality.”

The first print run didn’t go smoothly. First a courier got lost on the way to Inland Printing in Mississauga. One story was still sitting at the Eclipse Building. When the presses finally rolled at 2 a.m. on November 1, 1971, they produced a loud bang. The low-grade newsprint they were using was prone to breaking on the press, causing paper to spill everywhere. Less than two hours later, the first papers were ready. Because of the delays, only 75,000 out of the intended 125,000 copies were printed. Just like the final Telegram, the first edition of the Sun disappeared quickly.

The Sun’s debut front page, November 1, 1971.

Readers who saw the Sun rise discovered a paper whose content and tone linger in more sensationalized forms today. The headline story by future columnist Bob MacDonald spotlighted wasted government spending. The Sunshine Girl was in place, though she more closely resembled Worthington’s original vision of a girl-next-door than the later tarted-up models. Letters received snappy one-line responses. Cultural sensitivity was on display: an Asian-themed fashion spread was titled “Next: the year of the coolie.” Lubor Zink promised to continue providing “serious analysis of the complex domestic and international problems” that he had in his Telegram political column, which was code for obsessing over Communism and the evil of Pierre Trudeau.

The paper started with 62 employees and a tight budget, forcing everyone involved to come up with creative approaches to fill its pages. Because the Sun couldn’t afford the fee the Toronto Stock Exchange charged for listings, it copied the Star’s stock pages. When the Star found out, they purposely inserted mistakes. Eventually, Star managing editor Martin Goodman had a good laugh, then allowed the Sun to continue copying the Star’s listings for the princely sum of one dollar a week.

An example of early Sun reader devotion. Toronto Sun, November 3, 1971.

The paper quickly developed a rapport with its intended audience with its self-mythologizing narrative as the underdog of Toronto media fighting for the little guy. Staff received plenty of gifts from readers, including Chinese takeout, cigars, flowers, and a lost Telegram box. Phone lines jammed after Rimstead promised to give away bumper stickers on day three. An editorial celebrating the paper’s one-week anniversary thanked the readers for their support and provides points about the Sun that are still debatable:

For all us underdogs trying to challenge the goliaths, journalism has suddenly become fun again. We are the lucky ones in the Tely’s death. We are still fighting for something; we have hope. For that we thank you, our readers. And we’ll get better. Honest.

Sources: The Death of the Toronto Telegram & Other Newspaper Stories by Jock Carroll (Richmond Hill: Pocket Books, 1971), Sunburned: Memoirs of a Newspaperman by Douglas Creighton (Toronto: Little, Brown, 1993), Life in a Word Factory by Ron Poulton (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1976), The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993), Looking For Trouble by Peter Worthington (Toronto: Key Porter, 1984), the November 1971 edition of Toronto Life, and the following newspapers: the September 18, 1971, September 25, 1971, and November 1, 1971 editions of the Toronto Star; the November 1, 1971 and November 8, 1971 editions of the Toronto Sun; and the September 18, 1971 and October 30, 1971 editions of the Telegram.


Final back page Simpsons ad in the Telegram, October 30, 1971.

It was 41 years ago on Halloween weekend that the Toronto Telegram went out of business and the Toronto Sun was born – 1,200 people out of a job, 62 got with new ones. What brings this to mind is an account of the Tely’s demise on the website, by one Jamie Bradburn which is detailed and about as accurate as anything I’ve read about those turbulent times. – Peter Worthington, introducing a column on the Sun’s 41st anniversary, October 31, 2012.

When you have a regular column, sometimes you hack out pieces to get them done. Other times, you take your time to produce a labour of love, a piece that you hope tells a story the way you want it to be told, and that stands up as a work readers will enjoy for years to come.

This story was a labour of love.

The tale begins in my grandparents’ basement in Leaside, sometime in the early 1980s. Amid books saved from my father’s childhood and games like Tiddlywinks, there were some old newspapers. Three stick out in my mind: the King George VI memorial edition of the Telegram, the final edition of the Telegram, and the first edition of the Sun. I doubt I processed much apart from the ads, but these old newspapers were fascinating.

Add in my father’s stories about delivering the Tely when he was a kid (including, he claimed, during Hurricane Hazel). Add in my childhood fascination with the Sun, which he picked up whenever we visited Toronto. Tabloid dailies didn’t exist in southwest Ontario or southeast Michigan. None of the other papers we received had comic book sized weekend funnies. The ads had a different feel the papers I liked flipping through (looking at you, Friday movie section of the Toronto Star and Sunday arts section of the New York Times). Given my later feelings about the Sun’s political and philosophical leanings, it’s fascinating to think back at how innocently I looked at it.

As I grew older, my interest grew in publications that no longer existed, and how much of an outlier the transition from the Telegram to the Sun was in the early 1970s, an era where many major papers died across North America and new launches usually failed.

From the moment I started contributing “Historicist” columns, I knew this was a story I would tackle. I worked on it off-and-on for several years, gathering material until I reached a point that I felt confident that the piece was ready to be unleashed on the interwebs. The writing process took longer than usual—instead of doing my usual dash out the final draft in one long burst, I took my time over several days, refining all the way along.

The effort paid off. The feedback was among the best for anything I’d ever written, culminating in the Peter Worthington quote I led off this section with. If people who were there felt it was accurate, I guess I used good sources. The story won a Heritage Toronto award the following year, and has had a decent online afterlife. I even wound up with a copy of the final edition of the Telegram that one reader offered, as I never knew where my grandparents’ copy wound up.

I’ve resisted doing an updated/expanded version in case I ever summoned the courage to pitch a book based on my backlog or incorporating it into a history of Toronto newspapers I’d love to write someday (if you’re a respectable publisher reading this, let’s talk – just sayin’…). But the 50th anniversary of the Sun seems like an appropriate time to go the deluxe edition route.

Enough babbling from me. Let’s dive into the additional material…


The front page announcement on the September 18, 1971 edition of the Telegram that the paper would soon cease to be. Technically, Bassett’s claim that the Tely was Toronto’s oldest daily was true, if you separated the Globe and Mail‘s existence from the Globe (born 1844).

Telegram delivery trucks, September 18, 1971. Photo by Bob Olsen. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, TSPA_0110627F.

The original caption for this image, as published in the September 20, 1971 edition of the Star: “Telegram trucks stand ready to deliver a newspaper that, according to publisher john Bassett, is doomed to extinction. Bassett announced Saturday morning that the afternoon Toronto daily could no longer publish; but did not indicate when its last edition would come out. Bassett, in his announcement, said it was no longer economically feasible for the newspaper to publish. The move will end the jobs of some 1,200 employees; 250 of them in editorial and 200 truck drivers and helpers. Publisher John Bassett has turned down offer of help from Ontario government.”

Globe and Mail, September 20, 1971.

Toronto Star, September 20, 1971.

The Telegram, September 21, 1971.

One of the first eulogies from the Telegram‘s columnists.

The Telegram, October 28, 1971.

The Telegram, October 29, 1971.

Veteran Ottawa columnist Douglas Fisher‘s two-part finale. He would continue with the Sun until 2006.

The Telegram, October 28, 1971.

Dennis Braithwaite would bounce back and forth between the Star and the Sun over the course of the 1970s.

The Telegram, October 29, 1971.

Entertainment editor Roy Shields’ goodbye feels at home in the 21st century, especially his reflection on racial issues and a certain strain of Canadian smugness. Shields had been the Star‘s TV critic before moving over to the Tely in 1967.

The next day, he had a few more sentences…

The Telegram, October 30, 1971.

The Telegram, October 30, 1971.

Switching from microfilm to my copy of the final edition of the Tely, let’s begin with Bassett’s final editorial.

Peter Worthington’s preview of the Sun where, with some breaks, he remained until his death in 2013. His final piece was his own obit.

Goodbyes from the sports department.

The front page of the “On View” section. Note use of City Hall iconography in the section box.

Advertisers like Honest Ed’s said their goodbyes.

Toronto Star, November 1, 1971.

The Telegram, October 27, 1971.

Beyond the birth of the Sun, the death of the Telegram impacted what readers saw in Toronto’s other two dailies.

The Star increased its daily print run by nearly 200,000 copies to 622,000 on weekdays and 815,000 on Saturday, making the Star the fourth-largest afternoon paper in North America behind the New York Post, Philadelphia Bulletin, and Detroit News. Some of these papers were printed at 440 Front West under a two-year lease of the Tely‘s print facilities. All 93 delivery vehicles were acquired, along with the services of 6,000 carriers who would deliver copies of the Star to former Tely subscribers for a trial period.

Around 350 employees moved over to the Star across all departments. Content wise, the Star gained columnists Dennis Braithwaite, Dalton Camp, and Gale Garnett, movie critic Clyde Gilmour, entertainment writer Sid Adilman, and sports writer Bob Pennington. The “Today’s Child” adoption column moved over. The comics section gained Peanuts, along with Andy Capp, B.C., Beetle Bailey, Judge Parker, Marmaduke, Nancy, On Stage, and The Wizard of Id. Columnist Ron Haggart was slated to join the Star to comment on Queen’s Park, but the deal was cancelled after he wrote an article for an NDP publication praising its candidates during the provincial election campaign. He ended up helping launch CITY-TV’s news department

The Telegram, October 18, 1971.

The Globe and Mail bought 440 Front West and would move in after the Star‘s lease was up. It also acquired the rights to Weekend Magazine. On the writing side, its most significant scoop was Tely sports editor/Neil’s father Scott Young.

Birth and death notices from Editor & Publisher, November 6, 1971.

Toronto Sun, November 1, 1971.

Toronto Sun, November 1, 1971.

From day one, the Sun printed some questionable headlines.

Toronto Sun, November 2, 1971.

A welcome from mayor William Dennison, who compared a competitive press to beauty contests.

Toronto Sun, November 2, 1971.

The War of the Welles

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 26, 2013.

Orson Welles and unidentified man, before 1950. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4562.

Radio listeners enjoying the strains of Ramón Raquello and his orchestra on the evening of October 30, 1938 grew anxious. The mellow music they had tuned into on CFRB to wind down their weekend was interrupted by a steady stream of news bulletins concerning the observation of strange activity on the surface of Mars. Around 8:10 p.m., Toronto played its role in the unfolding drama:

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. Toronto, Canada: Professor Morse of MacMillan University reports observing a total of three explosions on the planet Mars, between the hours of 7:45 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. This confirms earlier reports received from American observatories.

Sharp-eyed readers will observe a few discrepancies. The time is off by an hour. MacMillan University was not among our finer institutes of higher learning in 1938. The Intercontinental Radio News never chased a hot story.

The Martian invasion which followed wasn’t real either, but that didn’t prevent scared listeners from flooding the switchboards of every legitimate media outlet in Toronto with calls. While the level of hysteria didn’t approach that of south of the border, we weren’t immune from the impact of Orson Welles’s broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

The radio listings for 8 p.m. on October 30 gave little hint of the drama to come. A few listeners might have tuned into religious programming on CKCL (later CKEY) or Melodic Strings on CRCY (later CJBC). Most would have dialed CBL to listen to NBC’s The Chase and Sanborn Hour starring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his wooden pal Charlie McCarthy. CFRB countered with CBS’s The Mercury Theatre on the Air, a series of adaptations of classic literary works spearheaded by 23-year-old boy genius Orson Welles.

Welles later admitted that he feared The War of the Worlds “would flop on account of being so dull and old-fashioned. We were afraid of being accused of going Buck Rogers.” Scriptwriter Howard Koch crafted an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s tale that, using modern news broadcasting techniques, tapped into the fears of listeners wearied by the recent Czechoslovakia war scare. Koch later described it as “that extraordinary night when the submerged anxieties of tens of thousands of Americans surfaced and coalesced in a flood of terror that swept the country.”

Part of the problem was that many listeners missed the show’s introduction. The Chase and Sanborn Hour tended to shed listeners whenever it brought on a musical act, and October 30, 1938 was no exception. People tuned out guest star Nelson Eddy (whose selections that evening included “The Canadian Logging Song”) and flipped around the dial. Anyone joining The War of the Worlds would have heard bulletins on the first Martian landing at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.

The Telegram, October 31, 1938.

Switchboards lit up at all Toronto media outlets. Police forwarded calls to CFRB. Worried callers relayed the details of the invasion and asked for further information about the situation in New Jersey. “Typical of the calls,” reported the Telegram, “was that of a sobbing woman who asked what army had invaded the United States and whether the invaders would come to Canada.” The Star heard from a north Toronto man dealing with hysterical women after listening to the broadcast. It took a while to convince him it was only a radio play. “It does seem fantastic, but is it true?” he asked. “Why in the world did they put on a show like that?” Calls flowed in after the broadcast ended at 9 p.m. from people so caught up in their fears that they missed Welles’s closing disclaimer that the show was a “radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying ‘Boo!’”

A letter to the Star from one reader described how panic spread, and how simple precautions could have prevented it. As summarized in the paper:

The writer was urged to listen to the play by a friend who had missed the opening announcement. On hearing the description of the “Invasion,” the writer called a cousin, who became excited and called his mother. Before they learned the program was a play their entire circle of friends has been alarmed and one was on the verge of entering a church and warning the congregation. Ruefully, the writer remarked, the damage would have been averted had they looked up the advance billing of program on the Star’s radio page Saturday.

While there were no reports of people jumping out of windows or hospitals being flooded with hysterical patients, fear did provoke some sharp reactions. Students at Orde Street Model School told their teachers stories ranging from parents who ordered them to shelter in the basement to a boarder who hopped in his car after declaring “this is no place to stay.” In Burlington, diners at a restaurant shook hands and kissed farewell in preparation for their imminent demise.

Cartoon by Les Callan, Toronto Star, November 1, 1938.

Papers consulted psychologists for their take on the scare. University of Toronto professor David Ketchum felt Torontonians worried so much about world events that it would take little prodding to make them believe Martians were invading or German war planes were flying over the city. “Just because people are getting more education today than a century ago,” Ketchum noted, “it does not follow that they are learning to think any more clearly.”

Politicians quickly expressed their outrage. Toronto mayor Ralph Day believed that future horror broadcasts should be censored. Controller Fred Hamilton joined calls for an inquiry. Toronto city council didn’t go as far as London’s, which adopted a resolution that condemned the show and called on the federal government to prevent future broadcasts that “might be calculated to disturb the peace of the inhabitants.” The feds didn’t take the bait, noting only two private stations (CFRB and Montreal’s CKAC) carried the show in Canada. Ontario Attorney General Gordon Conant resisted calls for provincial action, though he did say that such broadcasts were not in the public interest.

Cartoon capturing the general mood of Halloween 1938, the Telegram, October 31, 1938.

Promoters of rival entertainment forms like movies and live theatre couldn’t resist skewering radio. Shea’s Hippodrome manager Jerry Shea felt “they should all be arrested for allowing such a broadcast,” while Royal Alex manager W.J. Breen believed “all kinds of stuff like that should be cut out.” Newspaper editorials, such as the Globe and Mail’s, warned about the power of radio and how easily listeners could be misled.

Radio is not taken like the movies or a stage play. By no means all the radio “fans” tune in at the beginning of a program and follow it to the bitter end. As entertainment, radio commands remarkably little concentrated attention. Many programs are tuned-in part way through. Many are interludes in conversation, heard, as it were, in snatches. Under these circumstances it would not be unfair to say that producers of the play were at fault in adapting the “news bulletin” to their drama without special precautions against misunderstanding. During the European crisis radio audiences grew accustomed to having programs interrupted by special news “flashes” as the various networks competed in covering day-to-day developments. To come suddenly on a news announcement of a “meteor killing 1,500 persons” near Paterson, N.J., would give most people a shock. After all, meteors do fall.

The broadcast sparked interest in the red planet, temporarily making Toronto’s astronomers the hottest interviewees in town. Neither the Dominion Meteorological Service on Bloor Street nor the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill received any panicky calls during the broadcast, however. When asked about the possibility of life on Mars, a Dunlap staffer told the Star’s Gordon Sinclair that “we couldn’t answer such a question with yes or no; it would have to be maybe.”

The man Toronto media really wanted to talk to was Orson Welles. Among the reporters who rushed down to New York was the Globe and Mail’s Bruce West, who asked Welles how it felt to become famous overnight. Welles’s reply:

My idea of fame always was that it might be something that…oh…made more people ask for your autograph, or maybe prompted the head waiter to bow a little lower when you walked into some swanky restaurant. But all this seems to be a little different. Every time I walk down the street now I hear some guy say “There goes that son-of-a-bitch Welles, who scared the hell out of us the other night.” This is not exactly the kind of fame I had in mind, when I used to dream about it.

Welles rode on his notoriety for a while, quickly earning the nickname “Man from Mars.” The Star capitalized on the furor by inviting Welles to participate in its Santa Claus Fund holiday broadcast. Aired on December 21, 1938 by both the CBC and private stations, the show was held at the Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu) to raise money to provide “Santa Claus boxes” for needy children. Besides Welles, the broadcast’s other guests included Dionne quintuplets physician Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe (who auctioned photos of the quints), bandleader Percy Faith, Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor Ernest MacMillan, and members of CBC’s Happy Gang. In the lead-up to the show, Welles gave the Star little hint of what he would perform: “I’ll probably make up my mind what I’ll do when I face the microphone.” He chose a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard III, reportedly because he picked up a 98-cent paperback copy of the play at a railway station drug store.

Orson Welles “shown here smoking one of the set of pipes presented to him at the civic reception at noon yesterday.” Welles is pictured with Rupert Lucas. The middle picture shows Star writer Greg Clark, Denton Massey, and Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe. The picture on the right shows Clark speaking with Wellington House resident William Williams. The Toronto Star, December 22, 1938.

Welles praised the city during the holiday broadcast. “I’m not from Mars,” he joked. “I’m from New York and very happy to be in Toronto. The entire city seems to be inhabited by Cossacks in fur caps. Mayor Day told me they were the policemen. They are entirely too polite for that—I don’t believe it.” After portraying the hunchbacked king, Welles apologized if he frightened anyone. He donated $25 to the fund “because this audience has been so good to him and for being allowed to read Richard the Third. It’s cheap at the price.”

Years passed before journalists who had worked in newsrooms during the airing of The War of the Worlds actually got to hear the tape from that night. Bruce West didn’t catch it until CHUM reran it for Halloween in 1973, and used his column to reflect on the reaction when it originally aired. “When reports of the great spoof and its spectacular effect upon the U.S. public appeared in the press, Canadians, as usual, smiled rather smugly at the curious antics of ‘those high-strung Yanks,’” West recalled. “But my countrymen didn’t fool me on the matter, because I had seen that night the switchboard in our newsroom light up like a Christmas tree as hundreds of worried Torontonians called the paper to seek assurance that the men from Mars weren’t heading our way.”

Sources: The Panic Broadcast: Portrait of an Event by Howard Koch (Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1970); the November 1, 1938, November 11, 1938, November 5, 1973, and November 6, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 1, 1938 edition of the London Free Press; the November 1, 1938 edition of the New York Times; the October 28, 1938, October 31, 1938, November 1, 1938, December 10, 1938, December 16, 1938, and December 22, 1938 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 31, 1938 edition of the Telegram.


Hamilton Spectator, October 31, 1938.

“There is no doubt that [the] United States government will conduct an investigation, and we will leave it them,” federal minister of transport C.D. Howe told the Globe and Mail. “We have very friendly relations with their communications commission, but on program matters we deal directly with NBC or Columbia [CBS]. We take the occasional program from Columbia, but it so happens that we had Charlie McCarthy on CBC last night when this broadcast was on Columbia.”

The Telegram, November 1, 1938.

A front page photo two days after the broadcast. This shot of the unfortunate Ms. Cantlon ran in many newspapers. Given recent accounts which suggest newspapers hyped up the hysteria to fight back against the encroachment of radio on their profits, a cynic might speculate this shot was faked or highly embellished. If this was legit, those knee scrapes look painful.

Above the previous photo ran this headline…

…and here’s the accompanying story. It’s hard to say what would have struck more terror in readers: a knife attack by a Czechoslovak in Parry Sound, or the just-averted possibility of a streetcar strike.

The Telegram, November 1, 1938.

All of Toronto’s papers issued editorials about the broadcast and its impact. The Telegram‘s is typical in warning of careless radio listening.

London Free Press, November 1, 1938.

London’s city council was not amused by Welles’s broadcast. This clipping presents the full version of its resolution calling on the federal government to prevent similar broadcasts in the future. I’m with Alderman Skaggs on this one.

Toronto Star, December 10, 1938.

The front page of the December 10, 1938 edition of the Star proudly announced the securing of Orson Welles as a headliner for its Santa Claus Fund radio broadcast. How much of this article contains an actual conversation and how much was invented by the writer is for you to decide. The paper promoted the heck out of the event over the following two weeks, mixing descriptions of eager participants and stories of disadvantaged children designed to soften the hearts (and pocketbooks) of readers.

Roy Thomson, MP for York Centre?

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on August 8, 2009.


Roy Thomson, photographed by Gordon W. Powley, 1945. Archives of Ontario, C 5-1-0-113-2.

As he neared his sixtieth year, Roy Thomson had reached a crossroads. The newspaper baron’s publishing empire was entering the United States and Great Britain and he held the presidency of the Canadian Press. These accomplishments were tempered by the emptiness in his life created when his wife succumbed to cancer and by a sense that he had reached the limits of what he could do in the Canadian media business without repeating himself. As he noted in his autobiography After I Was Sixty:

This was a bleak period in my life. I threw myself into business activities but somehow nothing seemed the same. Now there was no one in whom I could confide, on whose understanding I could count…I know I had to get out of that rut. So I tried another card. I thought I might get in the Canadian Parliament and put myself forward as the [Progressive] Conservative candidate for the riding of York Centre.

Thomson’s political experience was limited to a stint as alderman in North Bay and an unsuccessful run as mayor there in the early 1930s. Would the growing suburbs of Toronto prove more receptive to him as a federal representative.


Progressive Conservative campaign advertisement. North Toronto Free Press, July 24, 1953.

Thomson was named as the Progressive Conservative candidate for York Centre on February 7, 1953. One of six new federal ridings in Ontario, York Centre covered all of North York Township west of Yonge Street, a sliver of Vaughan Township south of Highway 7, and the town of Woodbridge. The area had sided with the Liberals in the 1949 federal election and polls indicated that Thomson faced an uphill battle.

The Thomson campaign stressed the benefits of his business acumen for the running of the nation. “For too long,” he noted in campaign literature, “the money which Canadians have invested in the Government has been wastefully spent because the investment has not been carefully managed. If I am elected, I shall make every effort to see that every Canadian gets a dollar’s value for every dollar of tax that he has to pay.” His stress on financial matters often implied that if the Tories were elected, the Ministry of Finance would be the best place for his talents. He also admitted during a rally involving all Toronto-area Tory candidates that “I’m not trying to solve all the problems of the world.”
Despite the polls, Thomson campaigned as if he were destined to be the winner, with a stamina that exhausted his campaign workers. He threw himself into visiting every home in the riding, yelling “I’m only selling myself, come have a look” when residents refused to open their doors. He also set up tea parties, which Russell Braddon described in Roy Thomson of Fleet Street:

He gave package-deal tea parties, where he provided everything from the tea service to the dainty sandwiches and asked only for a co-operative housewife who would fill cups and have all the neighbours into her home to meet him. The tea drunk, the sandwiches eaten, the hands shaken, he had the crockery washed and the plates replenished, and then moved the lot onto yet another house for yet another party.


Thomson campaign advertisement. North Toronto Free Press, August 7, 1953.

Thomson canvassed until 5:30 p.m., stopping at that time so as not to interrupt any constituent’s dinner—not everyone wanted to digest political rhetoric with their meat and potatoes. This touch of gentility permeated the quiet yet close race in York Centre, about which the North Toronto Free Press was happy to note “there has been practically no evidence of mud-slinging or dirty tactics in the contest, and verbal personal attacks by one candidate upon another have been laudably absent.” Thomson didn’t even use his nearest paper, the Weston Times and Guide, as a stump to push his campaign. Braddon noted that CCF candidate William Newcombe was “almost unnerved to find his meetings covered on page one whilst Thomson’s appeared on page two.” Conservative-leaning papers like the Telegram softened Thomson’s image, noting that “he has a well-stocked library but Mr. Thomson’s taste in literary relaxation—whodunits—keeps company with that of thousands of Canadians. He is a man of simple tastes, and spends many of his off hours in his garden, with his pet Scotty always at his heels.”


It was to Newcombe that Thomson admitted late in the campaign that “you know, I haven’t got a chance. We’re going to get beat by fifty per cent.” This proved true across the country, as Louis St. Laurent easily led the Liberals to a huge majority. Thomson didn’t fare too badly, losing to Liberal Al Hollingworth by just under 2,400 votes. Though he felt slightly humiliated, defeat proved a relief—“I can tell you if I had won the election, I would have certainly lost The Scotsman.” During the campaign, he had been presented with an offer to purchase a majority in the Scottish newspaper. Since Thomson knew that the paper was looking for a hands-on owner, and since he felt that dropping out of the election campaign to pursue the offer would leave the Tories scrambling and add an air of disrepute to his name, he sent over a pair of executives to show his interest. Within a week of the election results, Thomson was off to Edinburgh to start on the path that ultimately led to his ownership of the Times and a peerage. As Thomson summed up the long term effect of his unsuccessful Toronto political career, “I was adopted and defeated, thank heaven.”

Sources: Roy Thomson of Fleet Street by Russell Braddon (Toronto: Collins, 1965); After I Was Sixty by Lord Thomson of Fleet (Don Mills: Nelson, 1975); the July 15, 1953 edition of the Globe and Mail; the July 31, 1953 and August 7, 1953 editions of the North Toronto Free Press; and the July 27, 1953 edition of the Telegram.


Globe and Mail, July 15, 1953.

Thomson and the other Toronto-area Tory candidates, which include a future finance minister (Donald Fleming) and governor-general (Roland Michener). The accompanying article

The accompanying article included transcripts of each candidate’s brief speech. Here’s what Thomson said:

I want to get elected and I’m right down to grass roots; I’m not trying to solve the problems of the world. The plank in our platform to do with municipal taxation is a valuable one and I think one of the main reasons I am going to get elected. I have been in touch with 3,000 voters personally and I promise you now we’re going to win York Centre and make it safe for the Conservatives as Eglinton.

Fleming, who had held Eglinton since 1945, would retain his seat and stay there until his retirement before the 1963 election.

Globe and Mail, July 15, 1953.

Hollingsworth proved to be a one-term MP, losing to PC Fred Stinson in 1957. The Liberals regained York Centre in 1962 and, apart from a one-term break in 2011, have held it since. Notable future representatives included Ken Dryden, Art Eggleton, and Bob Kaplan.

Ottawa Journal, July 27, 1953.

Ottawa Citizen, September 3, 1953.

Evening Standard, September 3, 1953.

Story by “Pendennis,” The Observer, September 6, 1953.

A pair of stories from British newspapers on Thomson’s acquisition of The Scotsman.

Sir John A. Macdonald’s Last Hurrah: The 1891 Federal Election

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on March 14, 2015.

Conservative campaign poster, 1891.

Were it another age, or another paper, the screaming headline on the front page of the February 14, 1891 edition of the Empire would have been claimed by the latest lurid Jack the Ripper murder across the Atlantic. But this was the Empire, an experiment in direct newspaper ownership by the Conservative party, and a federal election campaign was on.

Amid the sea of text that Saturday morning, readers caught this eye-catching headline:

“For several days anxious enquiries have been made as to the date when Sir John Macdonald would address a Toronto audience,” the paper reported. There may have been legitimate anxiety among local Tories. When the campaign began two weeks earlier, the prime minister had intended to use Toronto as his base of operations. But the avalanche of mail from candidates and party officials, along with the 76-year-old leader’s increasing infirmity, had kept Macdonald off the hustings. He skipped a large rally in Toronto the week before, leaving it to several cabinet ministers to excite the faithful.

But after that false start, Macdonald was finally coming. The date: February 17. The venue: the Academy of Music on King Street. Located where University Avenue now crosses the south side of King, it was the city’s first fully electrified building. The rally would witness the last great speech Macdonald made.

The Empire’s headline also hinted at the problems festering among the Liberals. Former leader Edward Blake was unhappy with the party’s direction regarding a key campaign issue. Following his defeat in the 1887 election, the party pursued a policy promoting “unrestricted reciprocity” with the United States. The idea was to loosen the heavy tariffs on goods Macdonald’s government had applied via the National Policy since the late 1870s. What unnerved Blake was the fervour displayed by policy architects like Oxford South MP Sir Richard Cartwright toward a potential effect: a commercial union with the Americans which could lead to full annexation.

Blake decided not to run again in his West Durham riding. He ordered the Liberal-dominated Globe to print a letter in late January 1891 outlining his issues with the Liberal stance on trade. Globe editor John Willison, realizing the damage the letter could inflict, stalled as long as he could. It took a visit by Blake’s successor, Wilfrid Laurier, to Blake’s home, Humewood, near St. Clair Avenue, to convince the former leader to wait to publish the letter until the campaign was over.

Cartoon by J.W. Bengough depicting John A. Macdonald and Oliver Mowat. Grip, March 7, 1891.

As for Cartwright, he loved irritating the Conservative press even if his comments made fellow Grits grimace. “No other leading Liberal had his legendary capacity to make comments and take actions that could so disastrously embarrass the party, especially when it came to Canadian-American relations,” observed Christopher Pennington in his book The Destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the Election of 1891. “Cartwright, to the great delight of the Conservatives, never seemed to appreciate the patriotism of most ordinary Canadians.” During a speech in Boston on January 30, Cartwright noted that Canadian land and resources potentially added up to “the addition of half a continent for commercial purposes, and the creation of a complete new tier of Northern States.”

Like Cartwright, fellow Liberal loose cannon Edward Farrer had once backed the Tories. But now he was the chief editorial writer at the Globe, where he endorsed economic union. Before the election, both men travelled south to discuss future political and trade scenarios with American officials. So did Macdonald, who held secret talks with US Secretary of State James Blaine in January 1891. The PM couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and thought he could outfox the Liberals with a limited free-trade deal. When the Empire leaked details, Blaine denied any discussions. With that plan scuttled, the Tories framed the election around loyalty. Would Canadians back a party aiming to sell us to the Americans, or one who remained true to the country and the British Empire? As the famous campaign poster put it, the Conservatives offered “the old flag, the old policy, the old leader.”

While Macdonald was holed up, he prepared the campaign manifesto, whose loyalty-stressing conclusion contained one of his most famous quotes:

As for myself, my course is clear. A British subject I was born—a British subject I will die. With my utmost effort, with my latest breath, I oppose the veiled treason which attempts by sordid means and mercenary profit to lure our people from their allegiance. During my long public service of nearly half-a-century, I have been true to my country and its best interests, and I appeal with equal confidence to the men who have trusted me in the past, and to the young hope of the future, with whom rests its destinies for the future, to give me their united and strenuous aid in this, my last effort, for the unity of the Empire and the preservation of our commercial and political freedom.

“Knowing that his end was near,” observed biographer Richard Gwyn, “and knowing also that most Canadians knew it, Macdonald by these devices was challenging voters to stay with him, their founding father, in the last he would ever make to them to remain Canadian rather than become Americans.
Rally day was unseasonably warm. By 6 p.m. thousands had gathered on King Street outside the Academy of Music, a throng later estimated to be around 15,000. Pushing and shoving reigned. Sharp-dressed attendees were caked in mud and slush up to their knees. The hot rumour was that Macdonald had damaging goods proving an alleged conspiracy by the Globe to sell out the country.

This rumour worried one man in the crowd. John Willison feared that whatever the Prime Minister had on his paper might spark a riot leading back to the Globe’s office at Yonge and Melinda. He arranged for 50 police officers to protect the paper while he watched the rally unfold.

Front page, the News, February 18, 1891.

Police were overwhelmed at the Academy, where the crowd cut off carriage traffic. They barely held the throng back when Tories given advance tickets were admitted just after 6 p.m. When the main doors opened at 7 p.m., around 4,000 people squeezed in. “The standing ways and aisles were all blocked, and pyramids of men were piled up in the corners,” the News reported. Several women fainted during the surge. Seats were ripped out to make more room. A gas lamp outside was destroyed, causing a gas rupture which forced organizers to turn on the electricity inside.

Some people tried alternative methods to get in, creating money-making opportunities. One person charged a quarter to lead attendees one by one through a back staircase into the rafters. Another levied a toll (which rose from a nickel to a quarter) to scale a fence with a ladder. Among those who took the latter route was opening speaker Charles Tupper, who couldn’t enter via the front door when the crowd failed to give him space. The heavy-set, heavily dressed politician had a few antsy moments on the ladder and almost fell into a pile of bricks during his descent.

Macdonald arrived via carriage from the Queen’s Hotel (now the site of the Royal York) around 7:35 p.m. It took 10 minutes to enter the building, as the crowd outside demanded a speech. Rally chairman W.R. Brock finally formed a wedge to let the PM in. Inside, Macdonald saw a hall covered in mottos. There were the patriotic (“Canada for the Canadians”), the flattering (“Hail to Our Chieftain”), and a few cheap shots at annexationists.

Brock’s attempt to start the rally at 8 p.m was delayed by the audience’s euphoria. As Tupper was delayed by his ladder journey, future Toronto mayor Emerson Coatsworth warmed up the room with a brief talk. When Tupper finally appeared onstage, the audience hooted and hollered for eons. “I always knew our great leader was a very popular man, but I never appreciated it fully until I attempted to gain entrance to this hall tonight,” Tupper noted. He then joked, “I think the best thing we can adopt on the present occasion is a little unrestricted reciprocity in the way of order.” He sat down until police calmed the overexcited crowd, which included a few hecklers who were ejected.

Tupper roused the crowd with a long speech outlining Tory accomplishments over the previous 13 years and attacking annexationists. He found it difficult to stop talking, but he reached a point where he conceded, “I must not take up more of your time.”

Then the headliner took the stage. The Empire described the scene:

The old man stood up, and as, in the fullness of his years, he leaned slightly forward there was a sudden outburst from the audience that fairly shook the building from its vaulted roof to its foundations. The entire gathering arose and yelled. Handkerchiefs, hats, umbrellas, walking sticks, programmes, and in fact everything within reach, were waved by the audience. The enthusiastic uproar was deafening. The grand old man stood there motionless as his heart throbbed within his honoured breast. This was one of the rewards that fall to the lot of a man who has spent his whole life labouring for the benefit of his race. It was a proud minute for Sir John.

When the cheering finally stopped, someone yelled, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” prompting the audience to erupt into song. It took the pinning of a bouquet to Macdonald’s jacket to bring silence to the hall.

Left: cartoon, the News, March 6, 1891. Right: cartoon, the World, March 5, 1891.

Macdonald appeared frail and couldn’t be heard beyond the first few rows. He joked about his condition, referring to himself as “the aged leader—perhaps the weak and inefficient leader.” When the crowd shouted, “No! No!” Macdonald replied, “But the honest and well-intentioned leader.” He discussed the years he spent in Toronto while out of office during the mid-1870s, and how the National Policy benefitted the city’s manufacturing sector. He gradually slipped into attacked the treasonous annexationists among the Liberals, a threat he probably knew he was overplaying.

Then he pulled out what everyone had waited for: a pamphlet written for an American client by Edward Farrer that showed how Canada could be brought to heel economically. Proofs of the pamphlet were stolen by a printer loyal to the Tories. The work was intended to discuss Canadian-American relations from the viewpoint of an imaginary American, was not authorized by the Liberals, and was not intended for public consumption. When Macdonald got hold of it, he showed it to the governor general, Lord Stanley (of hockey cup fame), who felt it was slight.

Still, its mere existence provided attack material for Macdonald. He suggested Farrer might be in the crowd—which he was, standing next to Willison. “I am very glad that he is, because he will hear what I have to say,” Macdonald gloated. He portrayed the pamphlet as a sign of sinister intent. He also depicted Sir Richard Cartwright, not Laurier, as the true architect of Liberal policy. “I do not think he can,” he told the supportive audience, “in any decency, keep the title he got from the Queen when he becomes Senator for Ontario.” He ended his speech by promising to show the Americans that Canadians valued their nation. “I would say,” he concluded, “the sooner the grass was growing over my grave the better, rather than that I should see the degradation of the country which I have loved so much and which I have served so long.”

Several men sitting on the platform then erupted into an impromptu ditty called “We Will Hang Ed Farrar on a Sour Apple Tree.” More cheers and songs followed until the crowd finally dispersed around 11 p.m. Macdonald held an informal reception on the platform before returning to his hotel.

The city’s Tory papers were ecstatic. The official organ, the Empire, hyperbolically called the rally “the greatest political meeting ever held in Canada….One that will exist without a peer in the political history of the Dominion.” The World felt that “the interior of that building presented a sight the inspiration of which cannot be conveyed into print.” The Telegram advised caution, feeling that calling leading Liberals traitors wasn’t justified: “Tin sounds loudest in Sir John’s thunder. Its roar is largely artificial, but the shrill small note of truth is in it.”

At the Globe, Willison spent the night figuring out how to address Macdonald’s charges. Front-page coverage was given to a Laurier speech in Montreal. On the editorial page, Willison dismissed the credibility of the treason charges. Farrer was given an editorial page column to defend himself. He admitted writing the pamphlet, discussed its origins, and felt no shame about it. He was free to write whatever he wanted in his off-hours.

Macdonald embarked on a grueling tour of Ontario over the next week, using Toronto as his base. After a speech in Kingston on February 24, personal secretary Joseph Pope was alarmed by his leader’s appearance. As historian Donald Creighton put it, Macdonald’s face was “grey, grey with fatigue, grey with another kind of fatigue which was the final exhaustion of a life.” Suffering from bronchitis and other ailments, he rested in both Kingston and Ottawa.

Macdonald was at his Ottawa home, Earnscliffe, when the results began rolling in on March 5. He went to sleep around 10 p.m., having heard only a fraction of the returns. Fears that the public was tired of the Conservatives proved unjustified—while they lost a few seats, the party maintained a healthy majority and increased its percentage of the popular vote. Macdonald’s platform had carried off one last victory.

Sir John A. Macdonald statue, Queen’s Park, 1910. Toronto Public Library.

When Parliament resumed on April 29, 1891, Macdonald brought his son Hugh, who was elected as MP for Winnipeg, into the House of Commons. A series of strokes beginning on May 12 gradually deteriorated the prime minister’s condition. At 10:25 p.m on June 6, 1891, Joseph Pope met with reporters hovering outside Earnscliffe: “Gentlemen, Sir John Macdonald is dead. He died at a quarter past 10, without pain and in peace.”

Four men filled out Macdonald’s term. The first, Sir John Abbott, reluctantly accepted the job for the next year and a half. His replacement, Sir John Thompson, may be best known for dying of a heart attack after sitting down for lunch at Windsor Castle in December 1894. Charles Tupper was Thompson’s logical successor but Governor General Lord Aberdeen (and Lady Aberdeen) despised him. When Mackenzie Bowell flopped as PM, Tupper took over for the 1896 election campaign, becoming Canada’s shortest-serving leader.

The Liberals quickly dumped unrestricted reciprocity as a party policy. Edward Blake’s letter was printed following the election, and was as unflattering as party brass feared. Blake took a seat in the British House of Commons representing an Irish riding in 1892. That same year, Edward Farrer left the Globe, thanks to Ontario premier Oliver Mowat’s irritation over his annexationist views. Farrer remained associated with the party and became one of Laurier’s trouble shooters.

The Academy of Music survived extensive damage caused during the rally. It was soon renamed the Princess Theatre. Destroyed by fire in 1915, it was rebuilt only to be demolished in 1930 to make way for the southern extension of University Avenue.

On the issue of treason during the campaign, Christopher Pennington offered this summary:

The truth is that both the Conservatives and Liberals acted patriotically during the campaign. They simply had contrasting ideas for the future of the country, ideas rooted in different but equally legitimate conceptions of the meaning of Canadian nationalism. The clash of these ideas was the real “great issue” of the election of 1891.

Sources: John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain by Donald Creighton (Toronto: Macmillan, 1955); Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times Volume Two 1867-1891 by Richard Gwyn (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2011); The Destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the Election of 1891 by Christopher Pennington (Toronto: Allen Lane Canada, 2011); the February 14, 1891 and February 18, 1891 editions of the Empire; the February 18, 1891 edition of the Globe; the February 18, 1891 edition of the Mail; the February 18, 1891 edition of the News; the February 19, 1891 edition of the Telegram; and the February 18, 1891 edition of the World.


I’m guessing this cartoon, published on the front page of the February 20, 1891 of the News, is intended to be Edward Farrer.

Edward Farrer was included in “Canada’s Hall of Infamy,” a list of “the most contemptible Canadians” chosen by historians for the August/September 2007 edition of The Beaver (now Canada’s History). Beyond his role in the 1891 campaign, the piece noted that while Farrer was an excellent journalist, he stirred up anti-French and anti-Catholic feelings during his editorship of the Mail, especially in the aftermath of the Northwest Rebellion. Macdonald also made the list, for his policies towards First Nations during this era.

A February 26, 1891 Mail editorial addressed its take on the scandal involving its former editor. Here’s how it opened:

Nothing could mark the malignant madness of faction more signally, or more shamefully than the means which in this contest has been taken, when arguments failed to blacken the character of opponents. Are the confidential concerns of our printing house, the sanctity of the desks containing our private correspondence, and the common laws of honesty which forbid to steal or wittingly to receive stolen goods, to be given to the winds in order that a party leader may gain a political victory over his opponent? Practices like these are becoming more common in our elections, and it is time for social morality and its independent organs to protest.

Protest maybe, but this has never stopped such leaks and stories into the present.

The Empire, February 21, 1891.

Few topics were left untouched in the Empire‘s pro-Conservative propaganda. Among the items found on a page of “Facts for Electors”: how reciprocity might impact the cheese industry.

Grip, February 28, 1891.

A satirical look at how the campaign was covered by the Globe and the Empire.

The Empire, February 28, 1891.

As of yet, I have not found similar ads allowing loyal Liberals to display a life size portrait of Wilfrid Laurier.

The Empire, March 5, 1891.

The Empire‘s front page message to voters on election day. Notes on the candidates:

Frederick Charles Denison, who had led Canadian troops in Sudan in the mid-1880s, won his seat by the largest majority of any candidate in Ontario. He would not finish his term, dying of stomach cancer in 1896.

George Cockburn‘s resume included a stint as principal of Upper Canada College. He represented Toronto Centre from 1887 to 1896.

Emerson Coatsworth would represent Toronto East for one term, before being defeated by Telegram publisher John Ross Robertson in 1896. He later served as the city’s mayor in 1906-1907.

Nathaniel Clarke Wallace served as MP for York West from 1878 until his death in 1901. He was also a high-ranking member of the Orange Lodge.

William Findlay Maclean was the only unsuccessful candidate of this quartet…for the moment. Losing to former Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, Maclean won a by-election the following year after Mackenzie died and stayed in office through 1926. Party ties would explain the Empire’s endorsement, as Maclean published the rival Toronto World.

The Empire, March 6, 1891.

Unsurprisingly, the Empire’s victory coverage was overflowing with ecstasy. By contrast, the Globe‘s front page ran the tiny one-column headline “A Black Eye.” Though happy that the Tories won, the Telegram extended condolences to local losing Liberal candidates, “Liberalism chose blameless men for its standard bearers in the city,” an editorial observed. “In Centre Toronto their candidate [lawyer James Kerr] was especially strong, but the party’s policy was heavy a load for its unfortunate victims.”

Bonus Features: “Just Have a Ball” (Debut of the Toronto Raptors, 1995)

Before reading this piece, check out my TVO article on the Raptors’ first game.

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

As is usually the case on such momentous occasions, Toronto’s newspapers printed special sections welcoming the Raptors. Among the items the Star included was guide for basketball newbies. Among the tidbits of information: an NBA court is made from maple and is 94 feet x 54 feet; “a team that scores fewer than 100 points in a game often loses”; and “a player is ejected from the game if he fights, leaves the bench during an altercation, commits a flagrant foul or accumulates six fouls in a game.”

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

Canadian Tire had plenty of merch items to keep fans happy.

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

Perhaps Cito Gaston also hoped the Raptors had a better season than the Jays did. Only two seasons removed from their second World Series title, and in a year which lost 18 games due to the 1994/95 players strike, the ’95 Jays had their worst winning percentage (.389) during Gaston’s tenure as manager.

Toronto Star, November 2, 1995.

Tickets from the large block Shoppers bought to help the team reach its season ticket target.

Globe and Mail, November 3, 1995.

The Globe and Mail ran a smaller preview section the next day.

Globe and Mail, November 3, 1995.

Besides a glossary of basketball terms, this diagram of the court floor was provided as a public service.

Some footage from the first game, including the emergence of The Raptor and the introduction of the home team.

The Rosie DiManno Star column I quoted from to describe the egg-hatching was bizarre right from its intro:


Pass out the cigars. (Just don’t try to light ’em. You will be shot.)

A fine, bouncing baby basketball team was whelped here last night, squawking and squealing in its first few hours of infancy, whilst thousands ooh-ed and coo-ed over the event.

Even DiManno realized she might have gotten carried away. “Oy, this prose is TOO precious,” she wrote. “But we will not spoil the party. We will be merry.” DiManno goes on to declare that discussing the Toronto Huskies at this time was “of significance primarily to dusty historians and geriatric newspaper columnists.”


She also declared that basketball felt too awkward for Torontonians, that it was “too flashy, too racy, too hyperbolic.”


If you want to groove to the music The Raptor hatched to, here’s Eumir Deodato’s version of “Also Spoke Zarathustra (2001).”

Sports Illustrated, November 13, 1995.

Sports Illustrated‘s preview. It turned out that the Milwaukee Bucks would finish seventh in the Central Division that season, with only four more wins than the Raptors (they were predicted to come in fifth). The Cleveland Cavaliers finished third in the division, but exited the playoffs quickly.

Photo credited to the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, November 4, 1995.

While researching the piece, I found the Financial Post a useful substitute for the Sun, given they shared writers at the time. There were also some great pictures, such as this one of two excited fans.

Monsters of the Movies: Dracula

Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Mummy. The Invisible Man. The Wolf Man. For nearly 90 years, the classic lineup of Universal monsters has provided a set of iconic characters that have thrilled and inspired generations of film lovers. This Halloween, let’s discover how Toronto’s press introduced these classic films.

Los Angeles Evening Express, March 26, 1931. Sadly, no ad this good promoted Dracula during its initial Toronto run.

First tip when researching movies in Toronto newspapers published prior to the Second World War: don’t expect anything resembling insightful, thoughtful, deeply considered film criticism. Expect rehashed PR releases, the occasional piece of advice from whatever theatre the film opened at, and no more than a sentence or two of opinion from whoever was on the film beat.

Dracula is a prime example of this. Take this sample preview from the April 11, 1931 edition of the Globe:


Count Dracula is a vampire who apparently died 500 years ago but who retains the power, since he is buried in his own home soil, to rise from the grave each night and to assume several forms. He is one of the terrifying “undead”…Emerging at night, his terrible advances drive the entire crew to insane suicide. You’ll get the thrill of your life at the Tivoli Theatre when this amazing production is shown. Watch for it.

Toronto Star, April 18, 1931.

The Star ran its rehashed PR copy in its “What Press Agents Say About Coming Events” column. Here’s what the flacks had to say about good ol’ Drac in the April 9, 1931 edition:

If you have read Dracula, Bram Stoker’s fantastic and weirdly thrilling novel of vampires, you will be interested to know that this strange take has been dramatized on the talking screen by Universal. As you know, Dracula tells the story of a deathless vampire, a man dead more than five hundred years, who between the hours of sunset and sunrise, comes to life, wreaking vengeance on all who cross his path. So, if you have been looking for thrills, your chance has come.

Later PR releases compared the story to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and praise the makeup job on Bela Lugosi.

The Globe, April 22, 1931.

Dracula debuted at the Tivoli theatre, which Famous Players operated under that name at Richmond and Victoria from 1923 to 1964. Those going to the fright-fest were assured by the Globe that Tivoli management would provide “all the assurance necessary to those who might be inclined to take Dracula seriously—or rather, too seriously” by providing “attentive attendants, restful rest rooms, open doors.”

There are no reports in either paper of whether the sweet music made by the children of the night sent patrons screaming out of the theatre.

The Globe, September 8, 1931.

Later that year, a touring version of the stage play which the film adapted opened the Royal Alex’s 1931/32 season. Unlike films, live theatre received more critical attention, as this review shows. The Star‘s review noted that Dracula was “not a family play” thanks to a spooky mystery where “one woman back at the door screamed higher than a wildcat at the human vampire.”

Next: Frankenstein.

Sources: the April 11, 1931 and April 13, 1931 editions of the Globe; and the April 9, 1931, April 16, 1931, and September 8, 1931 editions of the Toronto Star.

Bonus Features: Riots, Dances, and Parades (VJ Day)

This post features bonus material for a piece I recently wrote for TVO.

star 1945-08-14 front page

Headline, Toronto Star, August 14, 1945.

“If the expected announcement of the Japanese surrender comes between now and 7 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday will be VJ Day for Toronto,” controller David Balfour, filling in for mayor Robert Hood Saunders, told the press on August 14, 1945. “Like everyone else, we’re waiting for the official word. Nothing will be done until we have official word.”

gm 1945-08-15 page 2

Globe and Mail, August 15, 1945.

Balfour only had to wait a few hours to act. At 7 p.m., official announcements of the Japanese surrender were made by American president Harry Truman and British prime minister Clement Atlee, followed shortly thereafter by Mackenzie King.

gm 1945-08-15 celebrations in chinatown

Globe and Mail, August 15, 1945.

At the Christie Street Hospital for military veterans, a bingo game was about to begin when the news broke. As downtown streets filled with revelers, the TTC quickly put into place streetcar diversions it had planned for the celebrations. Ticker tape showered the streets. Flags were erected.

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Editorial, Globe and Mail, August 15, 1945.

georgetown herald 1945-08-15 front page vj day

Georgetown Herald, August 15, 1945.

As I mentioned in the piece, celebrations in smaller communities followed similar patterns. In Georgetown, people filled Main Street as the word got out. That evening a street dance broke out, with music provided by a group called the Rhythm Rubes. VJ Day started with a parade consisting of veterans, several pipe bands, the Royal Canadian Legion, and the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. After a prayer, “The Last Post” was played. Baseball followed in the afternoon, with fireworks and dancing to Harvey Fisher’s Orchestra in the evening. Apparently a giant bingo game was considered, but, according to the Georgetown Herald, “arrangements could not be made in time for this and it had to be cancelled.”

oc 1945-08-15 repats zellers vj day ad

Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 1945.

Advertisers joined in the celebrations, with many quoting biblical passages or famous authors. Zellers went for a touch of Tennyson…

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

…while Simpsons chose American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes for inspiration.

star 1945-08-16 burroughes ad

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

The recently-established United Nations inspired a hopeful future to retailers like Burroughes Furniture.

oc 1945-08-15 canadian department stores vj day ad

Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 1945.

Eaton’s Canadian Department Stores division depicted the sun breaking through clouds.

star 1945-08-16 editorial and surrender cartoon

Editorial cartoon, Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

Effigies of Japanese Emperor Hirohito were set ablaze everywhere, including the examples in the next few images…

star 1945-08-16 north york hirohito effigy

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

We’ll stay in Oakville for two more photos…

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

star 1945-08-16 oakville 2

Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

Wartime Canada has a period pamphlet outlining what a “farm commando” could do to help the war effort. The provincial farm service drew more women than men.

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Toronto Star, August 16, 1945.

Two pictures from Sudbury. The top one feels like it was taken before the situation soured, while the bottom was after the liquor store was looted.

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Windsor Star, August 16, 1945.

What other ways were old gasoline rationing coupons used?

World Events: The Atomic Bombings of 1945

This series looks at how Toronto’s press has covered major world events.

star 1945-08-07 front page atom bomb hiroshima Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

In the midst of a federal-provincial conference session in the House of Commons on August 7, 1945, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King made a statement. “I believe this is the most important announcement that has ever been made,” he told his audience before relaying the role that Canada had played in developing the atomic bomb that had just been dropped on Hiroshima. He was optimistic that the terrible new weapon would finally bring the Second World War to an end.

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Globe and Mail, August 7, 1945.

Much of the initial coverage of the bombing in the Globe and Mail and the Star focused on what the atomic bomb was, how Canadian research and uranium supplies had aided its development, and the federal government’s plans to expand its research and production lab in Chalk River.

There were also numerous comparisons to the most comparable wartime Canadian event that readers could relate to: the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Initial estimates compared the destructive force of the bomb to seven Halifaxes.

Headlines throughout the papers suggested the Japanese should surrender…or else. For example, one Star headline read “the atomic bomb offers the Japanese annihilation if they don’t surrender unconditionally–and quickly.”

star 1945-08-07 p7 atom bomb hiroshima

Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

Both papers used this diagram, which appeared across North America. The descriptions below it varied, from giving a basic description of what an atom is to providing tons of statistics.

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St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 7, 1945.

Here’s an example of how the diagram was used on an American front page.

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Editorial, Globe and Mail, August 7, 1945.

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Editorial, Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

While there were concerns about the future destruction atomic weaponry could unleash, there were also many stories dedicated to depicting the potential future benefits of atomic power. “Uranium can end the war quickly by destroying Japan,” a Star headline observed, “but in peace it offers unheard of power for good.” Visions were presented of uranium-fueled cars, ocean liners, and trains providing speedier travel options. Future generations might look back to the bombing as the moment that hydroelectric generators like Hoover Dam and Niagara Falls would become obsolete in the face of Old Man Atom.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

Local experts were asked for their opinions on the development and potential of atomic power.

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Toronto Star, August 7, 1945.

A Star editorial provided thoughts on the situation of Japanese Canadians and attempts to “repatriate” them back to Japan. In the following years, the nature of their internment would gain greater public knowledge, leading to the federal government’s official apology in 1988.

star 1945-08-08 front page

Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

The front pages on August 8 highlighted the extent of the damage to Hiroshima. In the Star‘s case, page one also included more fantasies about the positive potential of atomic energy in reshaping the environment of the Great Lakes.

star 1945-08-08 front page great lakes

Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

An excerpt from a vision of warmer winters in the Great Lakes. Note the potential effects that sound frightening with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 75 years regarding melting ice caps and climate change. Other British scientists suggested that Canada should become “the centre of the atom-smashing industry.”

star 1945-08-08 children lugging beer

Toronto Star, August 8, 1945.

In case you were curious glancing at that day’s front page, here’s the story about Mayor Robert Hood Saunders’ ire at provincial liquor officials for allowing children to deliver beer for pocket change.

I wonder if people were stocking up on as much beer as possible (and giving potential juvies plenty of booze-running gigs) in anticipation that the end of the war was inching closer to reality.

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Cartoon by Jack Boothe, Globe and Mail, August 9, 1945.

While the front pages mentioned the Nagasaki bombing on August 9, the main headlines were devoted to the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan.

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  • Cartoon by Jack Boothe, Globe and Mail, August 10, 1945.

By August 10, both papers expressed hopes in their headlines that, amid the destruction left by the bombs and the entry of the Soviet Union, that the Japanese were preparing to surrender. The city announced that there would be an official public holiday the day after the war officially ended.

Those celebrations were less than a week away…

A sampling of front pages from elsewhere:

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New York Post, August 6, 1945.

Buffalo NY Evening News 1945-08-06 front page

Buffalo Evening News, August 6, 1945.

brooklyn eagle 1945-08-07 front page

Brooklyn Eagle, August 7, 1945.

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New York Daily News, August 7, 1945.

pm 1945-08-07 front page]

PM (New York), August 7, 1945.

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Front page cartoon, Washington Star, August 7, 1945.

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Windsor Star, August 7, 1945.

Note: Due to COVID-19 related closures, issues of the Telegram were unavailable for the post.