Twelve of the best

A Dozen Best
A Brief Examination of Canadian Journalism and Media History

One of the great regrets in searching for meaningful titles in Canadian journalism and media history is just how few there are.  Even when counting for the obvious differences in population between Canada and her other English speaking partners, the United Kingdom and the United States, the output is rather meager.  So, the question which must be asked is just “Why?”  A lot of it has to do with the development of post secondary education in Canada which is rooted far more in the British model than the American one.  The older established Canadian universities were largely the product of various Christian denominations, for example, the Presbyterians in Queen’s University in Kingston, the Anglican Church in the University of Western Ontario and an eclectic mixture in the founding religious colleges which were eventually brought together to form the University of Toronto in 1871.  Not only were the founders bound by some forms of tradition, the curricula reflected the same modus operandi.  The university was to teach its young philosophy, rhetoric, language and that sort of thing.  The “newer” disciplines such as anthropology, economics, political science were also being included along with the “proper” professional schools such as law, medicine, sciences, engineering and the like.  Media students and especially those rascally journalists had to be contained on the sidelines, and contained they were.  Until the emergence of the technical college system especially in Ontario, journalists in Canada learned on the job for the most part.  There were no equivalents to the American experience with the exception of two universities, one at Western the other at Carleton in Ottawa who adventured into these waters in the late 1940s.  However, they did not trigger an extensive expansion and when the technical college emerged in the mid 60s, it was seen to be an ideal place to teach journalism.  The concept that journalism was a craft and not a discipline would be firmly entrenched well into the 1990s.  It was hardly an atmosphere that encouraged journalism research.  Those academics who did, the ones noted below, came from a variety of disciplines, a factor which led to a lack of coherence in the field, a lack which continues today.  But there has been a growing interest in journalism studies at the university level but for the most part as an adjunct to the larger body of communications or media studies.  So, what you see below is hardly comprehensive, but it does represent a sampling of what exists today.  Hopefully there will be much more to come.

Paul Rutherford, A Victorian Authority, Toronto, Buffalo, London,  The University of Toronto Press, 1982, 292 p.

Some quarter of a century after this work was published by the University of Toronto Press, it remains one of the most important studies of the history of journalism in Canada.  In many ways, Rutherford was responsible for beginning the still rather thin collection of volumes relating to both press history and media history.  The book is filled with a number of illustrations and numerous numerical tables to support Rutherford’s concept that the Victorian Age was the great age of the press in Canada when the daily newspaper broke free of the political system and gained a sense of independence at least by supporting itself with advertising.
Frank W. Peers, The Politics of Canadian Broadcasting, Toronto, Buffalo, London, The University of Toronto Press, 1969, 466 p.

Frank Peers’ early study of the battle between private and public broadcast activists remains one of the most authoritative documents in the history of broadcasting in Canada.  Peers followed this initial work with a study of the entry of television in Canada  in 1952.  Beginning in 1929 with a government commission charged with coming up with an ideal set of rules by which broadcasting could take place, Peers identifies the major battle lines as the power media barons lined up on one side of the issue (the market place philosophy) and those who advocated a purely public system.  Scholars interested in the founding of the public system in 1936 could benefit from this work.
Cyrille Felteau, Histoire de La Presse, Tome 1, Le Livre du Peuple, 1884-1916, Montreal, P.Q., Les Editions La Presse, 1983,  401, p.

If one can accuse English language scholars of neglect when it comes to the study of Canadian media, they could also point to their colleagues in French Canada as well.  The Montreal based daily La Presse is not only the largest French language publication in Quebec, it is also the largest newspaper in Canada, a position it  has not surrendered for any given length of time.  It is also one of the country’s most historical journals having originated in the Victorian period and carrying on until the modern age.  It is a strongly federalist newspaper and that history of involvement in the country’s sociology, politics and history is revealed here.  Regrettably for English language scholars who are unable to read or write in French, the lack of a translation is an obstacle.  The Felteau  work deals with the early history of the journal.
Mary Vipond, Listening In, Montreal and Kingston, The McGill Queen’s University Press, 1992, 380p.

Mary Vipond’s study of the early years of broadcasting in Canada is the only full volume of its kind in the country.  Full time broadcasting arrived in 1920 when Marconi radio station XWA went on the air in Montreal.  For the next decade broadcasting development was un-regulated and chaotic.  Canadian outlets were constantly being monitored for possible expansion by large U.S. based carriers.  Finally in 1929, the federal government established a commission of investigation to look into the state of broadcasting in the country and to draw up recommendations.  The Vipond book examines the decade of the 20’s investigating the status of broadcasting at the time which eventually led to the founding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  Broadcasting scholars should read this book before proceeding to Peers.
Robert Babe (ed.) Canadian Communication Thought, Toronto, Buffalo, London, The University of Toronto Press, 2000, 448p.
It is one of the great ironies of media history in Canada that the country produced two of the leading media theorists and produced no discipline to house them.  Harold Innis, spiritual ancestor to the likes of James Carey for one, was an economist at the University of Toronto who developed a curiosity about antiquity which eventually led to his seminal work The Bias of Communication.  Another of his intellectual offspring was Marshall McLuhan whose Understanding Media brought attention to media scholars in the 1960’s.  Robert Babe’s collection of ten communications scholars covers not only the thought of these two important figures plus the eight others and to Woody Allen in the film Annie Hall. 

Minko Sotiron, From Politics To Profit, Montreal and Kingston, McGill Queens University Press, 1997, 224p.
In many ways, this brief study by Montreal based Sotiron should be regarded as a companion to the Rutherford text listed at the beginning of this summary.  As much as Rutherford based his study on the commercialization of many of the leading newspapers in the country, Sotiron provides the small details many extending beyond the arbitrary end of the Victorian period noted by Rutherford.  The focus of the work is the examination of commercial interests and the role they played in developing a market based philosophy for the daily press.

Jean Guy Rens, The Invisible Empire (L’Empire Invisible), Montreal and Kingston, McGill Queen’s University Press, 2001, p. 383
The second half of the Victorian period was an era of great expansion in communications technologies in Canada, one of which was the development of the telegraphy system.  This study should be regarded as a companion study to the history of the press which in turn cannot do without an understanding of how this early electronic communication invaded every aspect of our lives.  The main beneficiary of the expanded telegraphy structures was the Canadian Press co-operative which was founded in 1859, one year after the first successful transatlantic cable was laid.  This study by Rens was originally written in French but as noted above, translations are available in book form.

Michael Nolan, Walter J. Blackburn, A Man For All Media, Toronto, Ontario, Macmillan of Canada, 1989, 258 p.

Like many communities in the United States,  newspaper production in many Canadian cities was an endeavour under taken by media families.  Today, most of these family operated businesses are now part of large, urban based conglomerates.  The saga of Walter Blackburn is a story of one of the last major media moguls in the country who shied away from large corporations and public stock issues.  His family took over the battered Canadian Free Press in 1851 from a young entrepreneur.  During his life time, the rather conservative Blackburn established an AM and FM station in his home city of London followed by a television station in the early days of the 1950’s.  At one point, the family owned radio and television stations in other close by communities. When his daughter Martha who had taken direction of the company on her father’s passing also died, the company was broken up and is now part of several large media conglomerates in the country.

Wilfrid Kesterton, A History of Journalism In Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Carleton University Press, 1984, 304 p.
Wilfrid Kesterton was a professor in the School of Journalism at Ottawa’s Carleton University when he decided to write a press history of Canadian newspapers.  His work first appeared in 1967 and became the first and most important work in the study of Canadian journalism history.  Kesterton identified four basic press periods beginning in 1752 culminating at the end of his study in 1967.  The book remains an exceptionally valuable tool for those persons interested in the blow by blow accounts of the rise and fall of many of Canada’s newspapers.  To his credit, Kesterton devotes one chapter to the rise of broadcasting but  the majority of the chapter deals almost exclusively with broadcast policy as opposed to the rise and impact of electronic journalism.

Carman Cumming, Sketches of a Young Country, Toronto, Buffalo, London, the University of Toronto Press, 1997, p. 275
If the charge can be made, and I think it can, that the volume of work on Canadian journalism figures and institutions is rather thin, then the work on critical figures is anorexic.  One such figure who was studied was John Wilson Bengough, a political cartoonist who admired both Charles Dickens and Thomas Nast.  The young Bengough got his start in cartooning by sending a drawing to Nast for a critique.  Like Nast, he used his art and satire to bring down the federal government in 1873 after it had been revealed that certain members of the ruling party were accepting hand outs from financiers anxious to invest in the construction of a continental railway.  The biography by Carleton University historian Carman Cumming tells the tale of Bengough with plenty of his drawings.

Ron Poulton, The Paper Tyrant, Toronto, Ontario, Clarke Irwin and Company 1971, 227 p.

There were a number of journalists who were larger than life.  One such person was John Ross Robertson, founder of the Toronto Evening Telegram and The Sporting News.  Robertson was a lifelong member of the Orange Lodge and in Victorian Canada with its large Loyalist and Protestant population, it was a constant source of political power.  The Evening Telegram, although not as strident as pro Protestant newspapers such as the Montreal Witness, kept the spirit of Protestantism and anti-Catholicism alive.  If the Pope were to be questioned, it would be done in the pages of the Evening Telegram.  Robertson provided an excellent contrast to the very liberal owner of the Toronto Daily Star Joseph Atkinson who, while not hating the Catholic church, had a sense of vengeance against distillers and brewers.  Robertson’s love of sports led him to donate a trophy to honour the best amateur hockey team in Ontario annually.  The Robertson trophy is still the cup to be won by the Junior A hockey champions in Ontario.
J M. S. Careless, Brown of The Globe, Vols. 1 and 2, MacMillan Company of Canada, 1959 and 1963

If there is one figure who stands out in the history of Canadian journalism, it is George Brown.  J. M.S. Careless’ two volume study of this giant in Canadian journalism and politics traces his life from his birth in Scotland, to his emigration to the United States followed by his entry into Canada in the early 1840’s where he established two newspapers, first The Banner and the The Globe, ancestor of the modern newspaper The Globe and Mail.  Brown was not only advocate for numerous Presbyterian causes, he was also active in politics.  He was the founder of the Reform Party which is now the Liberal Party of Canada.  He sat in the Canadian Senate and was a founder of the Canadian Confederation.  He was assassinated by a drunken employee in 1880. His home in Toronto is now a Canadian historical site.