Toronto Newspapers History

Toronto newspapers of the past (and present)

The future of the Canadian newspaper may not be as bright as it once was, but there was a time when papers were as common as blogs are today. Well, not quite. Actually not at all. But there were more than there are today!

With a focus on foreign news shooting in through the telegraphs across the Atlantic and a sense of irreverence borrowed from American tabloids, Toronto eventually fashioned its own style of reporting that stood in contrast to sister publications in other Canadian cities. By the turn of the century in Toronto modern print journalism was thriving. Although a number of early papers were known for their conservative outlook and the crime coverage used to be even more sensational than Toronto Sun headlines are today, our papers were also alternately known their factual accuracy, foreign coverage, and fervent support for the separation of church and state.

The ongoing history of newspapers in Toronto is as rich as it is diverse, so here are a few snippets from our publishing past.

The Upper Canada Gazette 1798-1849
This is first newspaper that was published in Upper Canada, though its purpose was a bit different than how we understand papers today. Published at the behest of John Graves Simcoe, the region's first Lieutenant-Governor, its primary mandate was to print the decisions and activities of the government, thus giving it "semi-official status." Although it was a weekly publication, it was known for publishing gaps, which one point extended as long as a year. Why? The year-long gap took place in 1813-1814 during the American occupation of Toronto.

Upper Canada Gazzette

Colonial Advocate 1824-1834
In its early years, William Lyon Mackenzie's newspaper was printed in Queenston/Lewiston and distributed in Toronto before it moved its offices here in late 1824. Taking advantage of Mackenzie's frequent trips to New York, in 1826 a group young Tories broke into the empty newspaper office one night and destroyed the printing press. This didn't, however, stop Mackenzie, who started The Advocate with the money he received in damages.

Toronto Royal Standard 1836-1837
This was the first daily paper in "Upper Canada." Published by Sir Francis Bond Head, it was fiercely conservative publication, which was nothing new at the time. Its reign came to a premature end when the House of Assembly refused to provide funding to the tune of £25 "for preparing accurate daily parliamentary reports."

The Globe 1853

The Globe/Mail and Empire/Globe and Mail 1844-present
The Globe and Mail we know today is the product of a number of mergers, most notably the one between The Globe and The Mail and Empire in 1936. The Mail and Empire — itself the product of a merger between the Toronto Mail and the Toronto Empire in 1895 — wasn't as significant a publication as The Globe, which some have argued ushered in the modern era of journalism in this city and country.

The Globe was started in 1844 by George Brown after he received funding from a group of reformers. Brown was a savvy entrepeneur and used the budding printing technology to the best of his advantage. He owned the first modern printing press in Ontario and by 1860 was printing 3,000 copies of his paper every day. He made use of the Telegraphs coming across the Atlantic to break international stories and giving his paper a sophistication. His politics stressed the separation of church and state and his politics were a precursor to the modern liberal party. But despite his left leanings and international coverage, he managed to appeal to a mass market and bridged the gap between the rural and urban individual.

Toronto Standard

Toronto Standard and General Advertiser 1848-1849
A weekly published by James Northey, the Standard supported conservative values and advocated for Protestant Ascendancy. Perhaps most significant about this publication is that it's back! Published by Lee Polydor, the Standard made its return as a "daily digital briefing" in April 2011. Needless to say, the editorial values have changed just a little. Here's a longer look at the original publication's history.

Toronto Telegram

Toronto Evening Telegraph/Telegram 1866-1971
The Toronto Evening Telegraph was established in 1866 by Globe reporter John Ross Robertson, as a rival to his former publication. His plan of attack — to bring down The Globe with his own mix of conservatism and sensationalism. His plan wasn't exactly successful, though the Telegram had good readership until the paper folded suddenly when the conservative party pulled funding in 1872. But JRR was determined and in 1876 he started the Evening Telegram, which became affectionately know as the "Tely."

The conceit of this one-cent daily was that it was for the average Joe. JRR was heavily influenced by the American editorial style and adopted it for his own publication and swiftly introducing Canada to news as entertainment. The paper was filled with off-colour words and colourful ads. Much of the early writing focused on protecting the Toronto treasury from "crackpot schemers" If you haven't already clued in by the use of the word "crackpot," yes it is true, the Telegram unofficially became the Toronto Sun in 1971.

Toronto Daily Star

Toronto Daily Star/Toronto Star 1892-present
The legend goes that The Evening Star (which later became the Toronto Daily Star, which later became The Toronto Star) was created almost overnight by 21 printers and four teenage apprentices locked out during a labour dispute at the Afteronoon News. What started as a four-page sheet of "serious news" — made in order to teach The Afternoon News a lesson, grew to be Canada's largest daily newspaper. At first it was a struggle to get a decent readership, and it wasn't really until 1899 that the paper took off. That was the year Joseph Atkinson became editor. Atkinson reigned until 1948 and to this day is still revered by many old-school print journalists.

He introduced a focus on strong social values such as the welfare state, healthcare and pensions. These values were so pronounced at and in the paper that Atkinson is credited with helping to develop Canada's modern welfare system in 1916 after publishing countless articles about the successes of Britain's welfare system. In 1971 the Toronto Daily Star was renamed the Toronto Star around the same time that the publication moved into that monstrosity of a building at 1 Yonge Street.

For more on the history of our newspapers, check out Early Toronto Newspapers.

Photos from the Toronto Archives, Upper Canada Gazette, and Toronto Standard (screencap)

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