Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Journalism in Canada and in Quebec


[This article was published in 1948. For the exact citation, see the end of the text.]

The history of journalism is of peculiar importance in Canada, not only because of the profound influence newspapers have exerted on political and social life, but also because, in Canada, literature has been an offshoot of journalism. In England the pamphlet gave birth to the newsletter or newspaper; but in Canada the process was reversed, and the newspaper gave birth to the pamphlet and the book. For many years after the beginning of printing in Canada, there was hardly a book or a pamphlet printed that did not emanate from a newspaper printing-press; and in many cases the book or pamphlet was an offprint of something that had appeared originally in a newspaper. To this day many local publications in Canada are of this character.


The Beginnings of Journalism.

The first Canadian journalists were in most cases printers; and it is said that there were journalists who, like Francis Collins in York ( Toronto ), composed their editorials in type. Many of the earliest journalists were of American origin - a fact which has from the beginning linked the traditions of the Canadian newspaper press with those of the newspaper press in the United States. The first newspapers, it is true, were almost invariably established under government auspices, and relied for their support mainly on government advertisements; and their printing-presses depended on the printing of the statutes, the journals of the legislature, and other government documents for keeping them busy. Gradually, however, there appeared independent journals which relied upon private advertising and subscriptions, and which often took up an attitude of hostility to the government. These journals had, as a rule, a thorny road to travel; the editors not only printed them, but solicited advertisements and subscriptions, and sometimes also acted as their own delivery boys. Not only the editors of the independent journals, but also those of the official journals, frequently ran foul of the government; and not a few of the early Canadian journalists did their time in jail. The contents of most of the early newspapers seem to-day on the whole innocuous, since they contained little local news (except the notices of births, deaths, and marriages), and were devoted mainly to the reporting of foreign news, the debates in the legislature, and criminal trials. But occasionally in their editorials they broke loose from restraint; and when. they did so, the result was something that casts into the shade the tamer journalism of today. Even the editor of the official Upper Canada Gazette replied in 1801 to the editor of a rival newspaper in these delicate terms: "As one of the retainers of criticism; I give you the rank of scavenger and from the perverseness of a swinish disposition, I anticipate nothing but to see you constantly grovelling amongst filth, your natural element."


The first newspaper in what is now Canada was the Halifax Gazette, founded in January, 1752, by Bartholomew Green, the scion of a famous family of Boston printers. Green died shortly after be reached Halifax ; but his newspaper was carried on by John Bushell (d. 1761), and later by Anthony Henry (d. 1801), under whom its name was changed to that of the Nova Scotia Gazette. The paper is still published in Halifax under the title, the Royal Gazette, as the organ of the government of Nova Scotia. The second newspaper to appear in what is now Canada was the Quebec Gazette, or Gazette de Québec, founded in 1764 in Quebec by William Brown and Thomas Gilmore, two Scottish printers from Philadelphia. This pioneer Canadian newspaper, which appeared at first both in French and in English, did not cease publication until 1874. The first newspaper in Montreal was the Gazette littéraire, first published by Fleury Mesplet in 1778, suppressed in 1779, but revived in 1785 under the name Gazette de Montréal - a journal which, after being produced first in French, then in French and English, and finally in English, still appears daily under the name of the Montreal Gazette, and is, in many respects, the closest approximation in Canada to the Times of London, England, and to the New York Times of to-day. The first newspaper in what is now Ontario was the Upper Canada Gazette, founded in Newark (Niagara) by Louis Roy under government auspices in 1793. This paper transferred to York (Toronto) in 1798, continued (for a time as the York Gazette) to be the official organ of the government of Upper Canada until the union of 1841, and as an independent paper until 1845. The first newspaper in the prairie provinces was produced by William Buckingham and William Coldwell on December 29, 1859, at Fort Garry (now Winnipeg ) under the name of the Nor'Wester. In British Columbia, the first newspaper would appear to have been Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Calédonie, published on Vancouver island in 1858 by the Roman Catholic bishop of Vancouver island, and edited by the Comte de Garro; but this journal enjoyed only a short life, and it was closely followed by the Victoria Gazette (1858), the Vancouver Island's Gazette (1858), and the British Colonist (1858) - the last of which is still published in Victoria under the name of the Colonist.


The Growth of the Party Press.

The first official or semi-official newspapers were soon followed by independent newspapers, dependent on popular support, and espousing a partisan point of view. Those which supported the government obtained from the public exchequer a certain amount of support in the form of advertisements and government contracts; but those which were opposed to the government had to rely on advertisements and subscriptions obtained from the general public. Among the latter, in Nova Scotia, may be mentioned particularly the Weekly Chronicle, founded by William Minns in Halifax in 1813, purchased by Joseph Howe in 1829, re-named by him the Acadian, and continued by various publishers until 1930, when it ceased publication under the name of the Acadian Recorder. Another notable Nova Scotian party newspaper was the Nova Scotian, which was purchased by Joseph Howe in 1828, and was for many years his political organ. In Quebec, mention should be made of the Quebec Mercury, which was founded by Thomas Cary in 1805, and which ceased publication only in 1903; of the Canadien, which was founded in Quebec in 1806, and continued to appear (except in the years 1810-20 and 1825-31) until 1893; of the Montreal Herald, founded in 1811 by William Gray, and still in existence; of the Vindicator, published in Montreal from 1828 to 1837; of the Transcript, published in Montreal from 1834 to 1872; of the Pilot, founded in Montreal in 1844 by Francis Hincks; and of the Witness, founded in Montreal in 1846. In Ontario, early newspapers of particular note are the Upper Canada Guardian, published in Niagara from 1807 to 1812 by Joseph Willcocks; the Kingston Gazette, published from 1810 to 1819 in Kingston by Stephen Miles; the Gleaner, published at Niagara from 1817 to 1837; the Upper Canada Herald, founded by Hugh C. Thomson in Kingston, in 1819; the Colonial Advocate, published first in Queenston, and then in York (Toronto) from 1824 to 1834 by William Lyon Mackenzie; the Courier of Upper Canada, published at York (Toronto) by George Gurnett from 1828 to 1837; the Patriot, published first in Kingston, and then in York (Toronto), from 1828 to 1864, and founded by Thomas Dalton; the Christian Guardian, founded in 1829 in York (Toronto) as the organ of the Wesleyan Methodists, and still in existence as the organ of the United Church of Canada, under the name of the New Outlook; the Cobourg Star, founded in 1831, and still in existence; the Grenville Gazette, published in Prescott, by Daniel McLeod from 1833 to 1837; the Bathurst Courier, founded in Perth in 1834; and still published as the Perth Courier; the Belleville Intelligencer, founded in Belleville in 1834, and still published; the British Whig, founded in Kingston in 1834, and still published as the Whig-Standard; the Traveller, founded in Picton in 1836, and still published as the Picton Gazette; the British Colonist, published in Toronto from 1838. to 1858; and the Examiner, founded in Toronto in 1838, and published until 1855. The Rebellion of 1837 resulted in the extinction of nearly all the Reform or antigovernment newspapers in Upper Canada, and thus paved the way for the success of the Globe, founded in Toronto in 1844 by George Brown. In Winnipeg the Manitoba Free Press was established in 1872; the Calgary Herald, in 1883; the Edmonton Bulletin, in 1880; the Vancouver Sun, in 1888; the Vancouver Province, in 1898; and the Victoria Times, in 1881.


Technical Advances.

Until 1830 all newspapers in Canada were printed on wooden hand-presses, and were published weekly. It was not until about 1832 that the first iron printing-presses were introduced into Canada ; and it was not until 1836 that the first daily newspaper in Canada, the Royal Standard, was published in Toronto. It was a premature experiment, for it lived only three months. A number of newspapers, about this time and later, embarked on the experiment of publishing a bi-weekly or tri-weekly edition; but it was not until after 1850 that the daily newspaper became in Canada a fait accompli. This was rendered possible by the increase of population and by technological advances. About 1850 the steam-press came into general use, and revolutionized Canadian journalism. It made possible much larger editions of newspapers and larger circulation. Another revolution was wrought in journalism by the invention in 1884 by a young German in New York named Mergenthaler of the linotype (line-o-'type) machine, which cast type in solid lines; and by the introduction a few years earlier of the Hoe cylinder press, which printed from curved stereotype plates, and was self­feeding. The machine age of journalism meant the transformation of an industry in which a journalist with little or no capital could embark on the publication of a newspaper into one in which no one could publish a newspaper without the expenditure of a large sum of money for equipment. Between 1880 and 1890 in Canada journalism became "big business", and newspapers often companies with common and preferred stock and a bonded debt.                                                  

The Dawn of Yellow Journalism.

With the technological advances in the printing of newspapers there took place in Canada an increase in education, or rather (to be exact) in literacy. This made it possible for the newspapers to appeal, not to the educated few, as formerly, but to the masses. At the same time, there dawned on the world the possibilities of widespread commercial advertising; and since advertising depended on circulation, this accentuated the tendency of the newspapers to appeal to the masses. The result was a decline in journalistic standards. Newspapers, in their desire for circulation, became attuned to the minds of the less educated rather than the better educated elements in the population. Sensational headlines and melodramatic news-stories took the place of the soberer journalism of an earlier day; the decencies observed by an earlier generation of journalists were cast into the discard; and what is known as "yellow journalism" came into being. Canadian newspapers have not yet gone as far in this direction as newspapers in the United States, though Canadian journalism has in the main followed American models; nor have they gone as far as the baser sort of newspapers in Great Britain. But they have in some ways travelled far from the ethical standards of earlier days.



At the same time, it must be confessed that Canadian newspapers to-day have facilities for newsgathering which their predecessors lacked. The earliest Canadian newspapers had to rely on clippings from British and American journals for their foreign news. With larger resources, they were able to employ correspondents in other places; and even to send correspondents to other countries, to report on events of special interest, such as foreign wars and imperial conferences and coronations. Gradually, moreover, they achieved a measure of co-operative effort in news-gathering. As early as 1859 the Canadian Press Association was formed at Kingston; and out of this professional association there developed in the fullness of time the Canadian Associated Press (now the Canadian Press, Limited), which began operations in 1909. To-day Canadian newspapers can rely on the news service supplied, not only by the Associated Press, by Reuters, and other world-wide news-gathering agencies, but on a news-gathering agency which has the requirements of the Canadian public especially in view.


The Influence of Journalism on Public Life.

To assess the influence of journalism on Canadian public life is not easy. The early newspapers had very limited circulations, and it is no doubt possible to exaggerate their influence in the formation of public opinion. Yet there is no doubt that Egerton Ryerson in the Christian Guardian, William Lyon Mackenzie in the Colonial Advocate, and Joseph Howe in the Nova Scotian exerted a powerful influence on the course of events. Later the Toronto Globe, under George Brown, and even under Gordon Brown, obtained such a sway over the Liberals of Ontario that it came to be known as "the Scotchman's Bible''. Its sway was such that Goldwin Smith, who suffered from its attentions, referred to its "long reign of literary terror". The Toronto Evening Telegram, founded by John Ross Robertson in 1876, and the Toronto Star, under Joseph E. Atkinson, have long exercised a powerful local influence; and the same is true of the Montreal Star, founded in 1869 by Hugh Graham (now Lord Atholstane). In the West, the Winnipeg Free Press, established in 1872, has, under the editorship of J. W: Dafoe, done much to guide public opinion; and the same may be said about the Edmonton Bulletin, founded in 1886 by the Hon. Frank Oliver, and the Calgary Herald. In French-speaking Canada, Le Devoir, founded in 1910, and edited, by Henri Bourassa, was an outstanding example of the leverage which a newspaper can exert on public opinion. But in nearly every case the power enjoyed by these newspapers was the result of the personality of the editor or director, and this power seems to be on the decline. The editorial page no longer commands the somewhat slavish respect which it once enjoyed, and in some cases no longer dominates the paper. An interesting illustration of this fact is to be found in the Toronto Mail and Empire, which was formed in 1895 by the union of the Mail, founded in 1872 by T. C. Patteson and the Empire, founded in 1887 - the two morning newspapers which catered to the Conservative element in Toronto. The editorial columns of the Mail and Empire carry on the Conservative tradition of the newspaper; but the news columns are by no means an echo of the editorial page, and in the celebrated "Fourth Column" of the editorial page the dean of Canadian "columnists" freely expresses views at variance with those of his editorial confreres. There have been a number of attempts to establish independent newspapers in Canada ; but these have generally resulted in these papers gravitating toward one political party or another. Perhaps the independent newspaper of the future will be one in which all views find free expression.


Bibliography. See A history of Canadian journalism, edited by a committee of the Canadian Press Association (Toronto, 1908). There are also brief sketches in McKim's Canadian Newspaper Directory for 1892, by E. B. Biggar, and in J. Castell Hopkins, Canada: An Encyclopaedia, vol. v (Toronto, 1899), by A. F. Wallis. Reference should be made also to Aegidius Fauteux, The introduction of printing into Canada (Montreal, 1929), J. E. Middleton, "Journalism in Ontario", in J. E. Middleton and F. Landon (eds.), The province of Ontario, vol. ii (Toronto, 1927), and W. S. Wallace, The periodical literature of Upper Canada (Can. hist. rev., 1931).

Source : W. Stewart WALLACE. Ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. III, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 396p., pp. 310.



© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College