Beth Knazook, Special Project Coordinator for Huron’s digitized newspaper project reviews the bitter rivalry between Huron’s first newspaper editors. You can search the newspapers yourself for free at https://www.huroncountymuseum.ca/digitized-newspapers/
The Signal was the first newspaper printed in Huron County, beginning on February 4, 1848. Published in Goderich by Charles Dolsen, and edited by Thomas Macqueen (or “McQueen”), it promised to deliver “as many Essays and as much knowledge on all subjects of practical importance, as our space and time will reasonably allow,” Huron Signal (February 4, 1848), 2.
Macqueen was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, where he gained some fame as a poet and an accomplished lecturer. He immigrated to Canada and lived with his sister in Renfrew, Ontario, where he worked briefly as editor of The Bathurst Courier (Perth) before moving to Goderich to take up the position of editor for the Huron Signal. Instead of focusing only on local news, Macqueen brought literature, political, and cultural news from afar to the Western frontier of Canada. In its first issue, he ran articles detailing the history of Cortez’s conquest of Mexico, a travel account of Smyrna, and tales of “The Bushman” living in the Australian outback. He covered scientific news as well, re-printing snippets from other papers containing new information about exciting discoveries like electricity. He also included his own poetry, and encouraged others to contribute poems and songs.
The Huron Gazette began publishing a few weeks later, on February 25, 1848, offering a conservative counterpoint to the Huron Signal’s liberal voice. There are fewer surviving copies of the Gazette from which to piece together the history and contents of the paper, but it seems to have been more practical in its aims. Local advertisements appeared alongside snippets of home and foreign news, dispatches from British Parliament, and editorials – with some entertaining fictional stories thrown in the mix. By late May, the paper had become so popular that editor John Beverley Giles considered either using larger paper sheets or going to a semi-weekly delivery to fit in more content. “We thank our kind supports for the patronage that has demanded from us this alteration, and we think it will evidence to the Province in general the enterprise and intelligence of the Huron Tract,” Huron Gazette (May 26, 1848), 2.
Perhaps a rivalry between the editors of these two papers was inevitable given their political leanings, but Mr. Giles appears to have had a particular talent for provoking the Signal’s Thomas Macqueen. His commentary in the Gazette frequently took the form of very personal attacks, which in turn provoked exasperated and increasingly angry responses in the Signal. Accusations made about the conduct of Mr. Macqueen on the occasion of the annual Agricultural Society’s Show in 1848 prompted several surprised and supportive letters to the editor condemning the malicious gossip in the Gazette.
Thomas Macqueen’s frustration with the Gazette seems to have reached its limit when he declared “We think Mr. Giles is unfortunate in every thing he takes in hand, and still more unfortunate when he tries the pen. His paper will soon be unable to contain his answers to the remonstrances of those he has offended by his impudence. We think he should give it up, —or if not, he should cease to be guided or counselled by those reckless inexperienced characters who are driving him to misery and disgrace for their own vain and selfish purposes, and who lately forced him to insult the respectable community of Goderich under the designation of ‘bare-footed boys and slip-shod girls,’” Huron Signal (May 12, 1849), 2.
Not many issues of the Huron Gazette have survived to explain Mr. Giles’ side of the story, but we do know that in June of 1849, Mr. Macqueen’s predictions about the Gazette’s impending doom were proven right. Mr. Giles abandoned the editorship of the Gazette, although the paper survived a little while longer under editor(s) who seem to have wanted to keep their names hidden. The Huron Signal reported at one point that “nobody is the Editor of it, and nobody will take the responsibility of it. It is not read by 50 men in the District of Huron, and of that fifty, there are not five who attach the slightest credit to any of its statements,” Huron Signal (June 22, 1849), 2. When the Gazette ceased publication in 1849, Mr. Giles left town – but not the newspaper business. He would take up the editorship of the St. Catharines Constitutional, hopefully with better results.
Macqueen edited the Signal until his death in 1861 at the age of 57, at which point J.W. Miller took over as editor while the publishing side was managed by Macqueen’s son-in-law, T. J. Moorhouse. The paper was then sold to William T. Cox, who ran it until 1870, and from there it changed hands many more times over the years. The Huron Signal survives today in the form of the Goderich Signal Star. Over the course of the paper’s long history, there has been a lot more (friendly) competition in the Huron County weekly news business.