|Owner(s)||John Ross Robertson; John Bassett - part owner|
|Political alignment||Populism, Conservative|
|Headquarters||Toronto 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 provincial level. The paper competed with the liberal The Toronto Star. "The Tely" strongly supported Canada's imperial connection with Britain 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, and published his first edition of 3,800 copies on April 18, 1876. The Telegram's editor from 1876 to 1888 was Alexander Fraser Pirie (1849-1903), a native of Guelph. Pirie had worked for the Guelph Herald which was his father's paper. The newspaper became the voice of working-class, conservative Orange (Protestant) Toronto. In 1881, Robertson erected a building for the paper at the southwest corner of King and Bay Streets. John R. Robinson succeeded Pirie as editor-in-chief in 1888 and held that position until his death 40 years later.
The Telegram focused on local issues and became the largest circulation daily in Toronto, but lost that position in 1932 to The Toronto Star and never regained it. During the early 20th century, The Tely (as it was popularly known) was one of the first Canadian newspapers to introduce a Saturday (and briefly 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 (Robertson had died in 1918), the paper was bought by George McCullagh, the publisher of The Globe and Mail, for $3.6 million. "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 with money borrowed from the Eaton family. In March 1957, the paper introduced a Sunday edition—the first Toronto paper to do so—and was threatened by the Ontario attorney-general with charges under the province's Lord's Day Act. The Sunday edition was unsuccessful and ceased publication after four months. 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 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 by Bassett in October 1971, just as a strike was looming. Many employees moved to the Toronto Sun, which launched at the same time the Telegram shut down. The Telegram's subscriber list was 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), former Telegram writer Jock Carroll describes the decline of the paper, and provides many anecdotes about the Canadian newspaper business from the 1950s until 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 - 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
- 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 Macleans 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
- 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
- Ted Reeve - later at Toronto Sun
- Paul Rimstead - later at Toronto Sun
- 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
- Toronto Standard 1848-49, 2010 to present (online newspaper)
- Toronto Star 1899 to present
- Toronto Sun 1971 to present
- The Globe and Mail 1936 to present
- "The Tely's 95 years: How the Old Lady went mod," John Brehl, Toronto Daily Star, September 18, 1971, p. 6.
- "Founder John Ross Robertson made the Telegram explosive force in life of Toronto," Ralph Hyman, The Globe and Mail, September 20, 1971, p. 8.
- History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson. 1885. p. 328.
- "Prosecutions put Lord's Day Act on spot--Queen's Park," Toronto Daily Star, March 20, 1957, p. 1.
- "Negotiators given mandate for strike in Telegram dispute," Wilfred List, The Globe and Mail, September 17, 1971, p. 5.
- "Toronto reporter and writer Gordon Donaldson dies at 74," Expositor, Brantford, Ontario: June 12, 2001, pg. A.24.
- 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.
- Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University - Archival photographs from the Toronto Telegram fonds.
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Archival and photograph collection of J. Douglas MacFarlane's newspaper career in Toronto.