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Toronto Telegram

The Toronto Telegram
Owner(s)John Ross Robertson; John Bassett - part owner
Political alignmentPopulism, Conservative
Ceased publication1971
HeadquartersToronto Telegram Building (now part of Commerce Court) and later 444 Front Street West, Toronto, Ontario

The Toronto Evening Telegram was a conservative, broadsheet afternoon newspaper published in Toronto from 1876 to 1971. It had a reputation for supporting the Conservative Party at the federal and the provincial levels. The paper competed with a newspaper supporting the Liberal Party of Ontario: The Toronto Star. The Telegram strongly supported Canada's connection with the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Empire[1] as late as the 1960s.


The Toronto Evening Telegram was founded in 1876 by publisher John Ross Robertson. He had borrowed $10,000 to buy the assets of The Liberal, a defunct newspaper,[2] and published his first edition of 3,800 copies on April 18, 1876.[1] The editor of Telegram from 1876 to 1888 was Alexander Fraser Pirie (1849–1903), a native of Guelph. Pirie had worked for the Guelph Herald, his father's paper.

The newspaper became the voice of working-class, conservative Protestant Orange Toronto. In 1881, Robertson erected a building for the paper at the southeast corner of King and Bay Streets, on Melinda Street.[3] John R. Robinson succeeded Pirie as editor-in-chief in 1888 and held that position until he died in 1928.

The Telegram focused on local issues[1] and became the largest circulation daily in Toronto, but it lost that position in 1932 to the Toronto Daily Star and never regained it.[2] During the early 20th century, The Tely, as it was popularly known was one of the first Canadian newspapers to introduce Saturday (and in 1957 Sunday) colour comics section (which by its later years spanned two sections), and a radio (and after 1952 television) magazine with listings for the entire week. Following the death of Robertson's widow in 1947, the paper was bought by George McCullagh, the publisher of The Globe and Mail, for $3.6 million.[2] Evening was dropped from the paper's name in 1949.

McCullagh died in 1952, and the paper was then purchased by John Bassett for $4.25 million[2] with money borrowed from the Eaton family.[1] In March 1957, the paper introduced a Sunday edition, the first Toronto paper to do so, and was threatened by the Attorney-General of Ontario with charges under the province's Lord's Day Act.[4] The Sunday edition was unsuccessful and ceased publication after four months.[1]

In December 1959, Bassett bought a 3.6-acre (15,000 m2) property on Front Street West and in 1963 moved the Telegram to a new building at that location from the site at Bay and Melinda Street where the paper had been produced since 1899. At the same time, Telegram Corporation acquired a majority interest in Toronto TV station CFTO-TV.

In July 1964, the International Typographical Union called a strike at the Telegram, the Star, and The Globe and Mail. All three papers continued to publish despite the strike.

The Telegram lost $635,000 in 1969 and $921,000 in 1970 and was on pace to lose another $900,000 in 1971 when it was shut down that year by Bassett on October 30,[5] just as a strike was looming.[6] Many employees moved to the Toronto Sun, which launched at the same time the Telegram shut down. The Telegram had its subscriber list sold to the Toronto Star for $10 million. The Star also leased the Telegram's Front Street facility, which was sold to The Globe and Mail.

In the book The Death of the Toronto Telegram (1971), the former Telegram writer Jock Carroll described the decline of the paper and provided many anecdotes about the Canadian newspaper business from the 1950s to 1970.

York University's library holds about 500,000 prints and 830,000 negatives of pictures taken by the Telegram's photographers. Over 13,000 images are currently searchable on line, with more appearing on a regular basis.

Notable staff members

Well-known reporters, editors, columnists and cartoonists included:

  • George Bain - later joined the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star
  • Isabel Bassett - also a reporter at CFTO and wife of publisher John Bassett, later a provincial cabinet minister under Mike Harris
  • Jock Carroll - later an author and book editor
  • Greg Clark - previously a war correspondent and reporter with the Toronto Daily Star, was a humour columnist at the Telegram
  • Gordon Donaldson[7] - reporter, later an author, television journalist and producer at CBC and CTV
  • Andy Donato - art director and cartoonist who was a key player in founding the Toronto Sun
  • John Downing - later editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun
  • Frank Drea award-winning labour reporter, later a provincial cabinet minister under Bill Davis
  • Aaron Einfrank - award-winning journalist, United Nations Bureau Chief; Moscow Bureau Chief; Washington D.C. News Bureau Chief
  • Lillian Foster - fashion editor and columnist
  • Doug Fisher - freelance columnist while initially an NDP Member of Parliament, later joined the Toronto Sun
  • John Fraser - later a columnist for the Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post, editor of Saturday Night, Master of Massey College
  • Trent Frayne - later a sports columnist for the Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail and Maclean's Magazine
  • Clyde Gilmour - CBC Radio broadcaster and later Toronto Star movie reviewer
  • Dale Goldhawk - later a broadcaster at CBC, CTV and Rogers
  • George Gross - later Toronto Sun sports editor
  • Ron Haggart - crime correspondent who played a key in ending the 1971 Kingston Penitentiary riot.
  • Fraser Kelly - political editor, later news anchor at CFTO and CBLT
  • Robert Kirkland Kernighan - columnist and poet
  • Bob MacDonald - later a Toronto Sun columnist
  • J. Douglas MacFarlane - vice-president and editor-in-chief, 50 years in the newspaper business, 1949 to 1969 at the Telegram, from city editor, advancing to top editorial position
  • C.A. (Arnie) Patterson Later founder of CFDR and CFRQ radio, Dartmouth NS and Press Secretary to Pierre Elliott Trudeau
  • H.W. Patterson - North American politics editor
  • Earl Pomerantz - later a U.S. television sitcom writer-producer
  • Ted Reeve - later at Toronto Sun
  • Paul Rimstead - later at Toronto Sun
  • Judith Robinson - contributed a daily column from 1953 to 1961.
  • Margaret Scrivener - later a provincial cabinet minister under Bill Davis
  • Merle Shain - feature writer, later associate editor of the Chatelaine, and as a columnist for Toronto Sun
  • Walter Stewart - later at Toronto Sun
  • Bert Wemp - reporter who became mayor of Toronto (1930)
  • Ben Wicks - cartoonist, later joined the Toronto Star
  • Peter Worthington - played a major role in starting the Toronto Sun and served, initially, as its editor
  • Ritchie Yorke - later music writer for The Globe and Mail, Canadian editor of Billboard magazine and Rolling Stone
  • Scott Young - sports reporter and father of singer Neil Young, later Globe and Mail'
  • Lubor J. Zink - later a Toronto Sun columnist
  • Jessie M. Read - Food Economist (Joined 1934) Three Meals A Day and First Cooking School Film in Canada Kitchen Talks and Radio Cooking School CKCL Toronto
  • Gary Ralph - covered many front-page stories including The October Crisis and Woodstock in the five years leading to the Tely's last edition. Award winner for his police reporting.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Tely's 95 years: How the Old Lady went mod," John Brehl, Toronto Daily Star, September 18, 1971, p. 6.
  2. ^ a b c d "Founder John Ross Robertson made the Telegram explosive force in life of Toronto," Ralph Hyman, The Globe and Mail, September 20, 1971, p. 8.
  3. ^ "Goad's Fire Insurance Maps". Toronto: Chas. E. Goad. 1903.
  4. ^ "Prosecutions put Lord's Day Act on spot--Queen's Park," Toronto Daily Star, March 20, 1957, p. 1.
  5. ^ "Toronto Telegram 1876-1971", Ottawa Citizen, October 30, 1971, p. 1
  6. ^ "Negotiators given mandate for strike in Telegram dispute," Wilfred List, The Globe and Mail, September 17, 1971, p. 5.
  7. ^ "Toronto reporter and writer Gordon Donaldson dies at 74," Expositor, Brantford, Ontario: June 12, 2001, pg. A.24.

Further reading

  • Carroll, Jock (1971). The death of the Toronto Telegram & other newspaper stories. Richmond Hill, Ont.: Simon & Schuster of Canada. ISBN 0-671-78184-7.
  • Poulton, Ron (1971). The paper tyrant: John Ross Robertson of the Toronto Telegram. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company. ISBN 0-7720-0492-7.
  • Toronto: Past and Present / A Handbook of the city. C. Pelham Mulvany (Toronto: W. E. Caiger Publisher, 1884). Toronto Evening Telegram history: pp. 193–194.
  • Canada's Newspaper Legend: The Story of J. Douglas MacFarlane by Richard MacFarlane (Toronto: ECW Press Ltd., 2000) Newspaper History in Canada, Biography, 300 pp.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Archival and photograph collection of J. Douglas MacFarlane's newspaper career in Toronto.

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Toronto Telegram
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