Margaret Lally "Ma" Murray

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Margaret Lally "Ma" Murray, OC (1888 - September 25, 1982, age 94) was an American-Canadian newspaper editor, publisher, and columnist, an officer of the Order of Canada, and the wife of publisher and British Columbia MLA George Murray. The Murrays's publications were The Chinook in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the Bridge River-Lillooet News in Lillooet and the Alaska Highway News in Fort St. John.

A Kansas farm girl made good and known for her spicy wit, backcountry wisdoms, and down-to-earth style, "Ma" was co-founder and editor (with her husband George) of the Bridge River-Lillooet News, the Alaska Highway News and other publications. Her editorials were famously signed off with the catchphrase "And that's fer damshur!".

Kansas to Canada[edit]

Born Margaret Theresa Lally in Kansas City, Missouri to Irish immigrants, Margaret was raised on rural Kansas farmland in the United States, largely in poverty. She came to Vancouver, British Columbia en route to Calgary, Alberta, where she hoped to find herself a cowboy to wed (she had worked in a saddle factory in Kansas City, and she and her sister, Bess, had corresponded with cowboys who had written in response to the notes they had tucked into the most expensive saddles being shipped north.

"Ye Ed" and her publisher-husband[edit]

Finding work as a secretary and office manager for and soon after marrying Orange-Canadian establishment scion and junior publisher George Murray in spite of their religious differences (she was an ardent Catholic—and madly in love with George—her entire life). She won continent-wide fame for some of her columns - either because she had a point, or because they were downright funny, and often coarse - or at least matter-of-fact. The Murrays also launched various lesser known publications including Country Life In British Columbia, a popular magazine for rural women, and The Chinook, which was George's first venture upon his coming to BC from Ottawa, where he had worked as junior columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and apprenticed in politics under Sir Wilfrid Laurier.


Both had a high profile in provincial politics. George, already a bright, articulate and somewhat visionary star in the BC Liberal Party, was a popular MLA from his arrival in Lillooet until his electoral demise in 1941. Both Murrays had taken a strong stand in print in favour of the miners striking in the Bridge River, and alienated not only prime advertisers but also some of George's political backers; and by the time of the election most of the striking men had gone away to war; merchants without them as customers were also unwilling to support the Murrays. George was squeezed out of office in 1945 in a narrow race with his old rival Ernest Crawford Carson, of the pioneer-stock Pavilion Carsons of the famous Diamond S. Faced with a disappeared revenue stream for their paper and George without a seat in the House - it was time to leave town, and the Murrays, always indefatigable, knew where they wanted to go, and off they went.

North to the Alaska Highway[edit]

Both she and George were vocal proponents of the Alaska Highway and excitedly moved to the instant city of Fort St. John to chronicle its birth at the launching of construction on the mammoth project and launched their Alaska Highway News upon arrival. The account of this experience in The Newspapering Murrays vividly documents the wild times and of that instant boomtown at its birth, and exposes much of the material waste that went into the U.S. military's building of the highway. The Alaska Highway News was just as spicy as its Lillooet counterpart, and it is from that paper that a much-syndicated (even to The New York Times) advice about "not flushing for no. 1, but save the flushing for no. 2" comes from. She was one of the locals interviewed in the NFB short "People of the Peace" (1958).[1]

Ma's character[edit]

Despite her country background and being uneducated—though widely read—Ma had astute business and management sense, if not exactly political acuity, and her penny-trimming skills dragged both company and family (and husband) through bad times. Her sharp tongue was legendary but her office was known for having an open door to any who dropped by, and she was a relentless self-promoter and Lillooet-booster and a devoted newspaperwoman to the bitter end. Also not likely to back down from a verbal fight.

George in and out of Parliament[edit]

In 1949 George ran successfully for Member of Parliament for the Cariboo riding, which included Lillooet, but lost in 1953 when the candidate for the rising forces of Social Credit in B.C. edged out Murray, in part thanks to the third-party split from the CCF candidate. Complicating the race was that Ma had decided to run for the legislature (in the same election, but for a different party - Social Credit, no less, and without telling him first, then switching to a fringe party, the "Common Herd" or People Party, in the riding of North Peace River). She's already had a high profile political career as an editorialist, and was often a social embarrassment to her husband (who still loved her deeply nonetheless). Ma withdrew from the race, but the damage was done. George was shamed out of politics and, by now an outsider in revolt from the Liberal-Conservative Coalition and unwilling to join league with Bennett's Socreds, he gave up on his political career and retired from the House of Commons, returning to being publisher and grandfather only.

George died in 1961, but Ma survived him by 21 years, and continued to run and publish the paper after his death - and to raise eyebrows with her editorials, and laughter with her speeches and frank opinions. Ma but spent her last days back at the editors' desk in historic Lillooet, British Columbia, churning out her raunchy wit and lusty language until the very last, continuing to write a column now and then even after her retirement as editor.

Ma Murray was survived by her daughter, Georgina. A son, Dan, died of cancer in 1981. Both children were working journalists, literally being fed the business with each meal while they were growing up, given the famously heated flavour of their parents' debates. Dan and Georgina's offspring continue with the Murray's journalistic tradition.

House in Anmore[edit]

In 1988 the village of Anmore, British Columbia was donated George and "Ma" Murray's former home behind the corner of Sunnyside and East Road, by the current owners, saving the historical structure from the wrecking ball, the printing presses used to print The Chinook remain in the converted garage.


Further reading[edit]

  • "The Rebel Queen of the Northwest.", Earle Beattie, Chatelaine Vol. 25, no. 5 (May 1952), P. 16-17, 78+.
  • "Ma Murray: The Salty Scourge of Lillooet.", Jackson House, Maclean's Vol. 79 (March 19, 1966), P. 18, 48, 50.
  • Keddell, Georgina. -- The Newspapering Murrays -- Halifax, N.S.: Goodread Biographies, 1984. -- 302 p.
  • "Ma Murray's Bridge River-Lillooet News.", in A History of Weekly Newspapers of British Columbia, Mission City? B.C.: British Columbia Weekly Newspapers Association, 1972. P. 60-61.
  • "Margaret "Ma" Murray: Spearing for the Truth.", Grant MacEwan, in Mighty Women: Stories of Western Canadian Pioneers, Vancouver: Greystone Books, 1995. -- P. 253-260
  • "The Strength of the Weeklies", J. Louis McKenna, Atlantic Advocate, Vol. 56, no. 12 (August 1966). P. 18-23
  • "Murray, Margaret Teresa.", Jean O'Clery, Canadian Encyclopedia, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988. Vol. 3, p. 1407.
  • "Ma Murray : the story of Canada’s crusty queen of publishing.", Stan Sauerwein, Canmore, AB : Altitude Pub. Canada, c 2003. -- 135p.