by Bruce Cherney (part 4 of 4)
William Fisher Luxton said the Manitoba Free Press (now Winnipeg Free Press) had shown a healthy $15,990.60 profit in 1892, but that wasn’t enough for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Donald Smith and William Cornelius Van Horne, who wanted the newspaper to be an “instrument to aid, directly and indirectly, CPR schemes, meritorious or the reverse, and approve CPR policy, good, bad, or indifferent ... and simply because I would not accede to such a line of conduct for the Free Press I am where I am today, so far as those who have overpowered me know or care, without as much as a 10 cent piece” (Winnipeg Tribune, September 25, 1893).
Since Smith called in the loan he had given Luxton five years earlier, and the editor was unable to pay back the $40,000, Smith took over all of Luxton’s stock, which had been put up as collateral and was valued at $80,000. In effect, Smith had doubled his money at the expense of Luxton and in the process bought himself a newspaper.
Luxton said he had been “despoiled of his life’s work,” and that the board of directors’ action, though legal, “could not have been less cruel.”
According to Luxton, St. John’s appointment as the editor of the newspaper was merely a transfer of the man from one CPR department to another.
In his May 21, 1907, Tribune obituary, Luxton was labelled as an “impetus editor,” who was the instrument of his own downfall, after he “conceived the idea of wiping out all newspaper competition, and to compass that end he hypothecated a controlling amount of stock in his own paper to provide the necessary money, which was procured from CPR sources. It was Smith and Van Horne, who subsequently used the stock they acquired to oust the editor. The Tribune obituary called his acceptance of CPR money as “his cardinal mistake.”
Not all were sympathetic to Luxton’s plight. A lengthy letter from “Justice”(the stand taken in this letter and another on October 5 showed that Justice was perhaps closely linked to the provincial government — possibly he was “Fighting Joe” Martin, the Manitoba attorney general) to the editor, published in the September 30, 1893, Tribune, was critical of Luxton’s attempt to gain a newspaper monopoly in Winnipeg. By purchasing the Sun, Luxton thought he would have a “monopoly on public comment on the government and, therefore, an unbridled and unlimited facility of gratifying his animosity.” The letter writer accused the former Free Press editor of being “disgraceful” in his hostility to the provincial government and its contract with the Northern Pacific Railway (NPR).
In recent years, Justice said that Luxton had become a “cooing dove” when penning editorials about the CPR rather than the “roaring like a lion,” he claimed to be. As a result, Luxton had become subservient to the CPR without the railway having to intervene in the editorial policy of the Free Press.
A reply to Justice’s accusations came in another letter to the editor in the same newspaper (October 4, 1893) by Alexander “Sandy” Macdonald, who had helped found the Free Press in 1872. Macdonald was sympathetic to Luxton’s plight and had first-hand knowledge of the Free Press operations to add to the debate. Macdonald said he had sold his stock in the newspaper to Luxton for $26,000, which was bought using part of the $40,000 loan from Smith.
“The $40,000 was simply a loan, the interest in which, as well as a large portion of the principal, could have been paid simply by using the F.P. credit at the bank,” wrote Macdonald. “But Mr. (John) Somerset, who is one of the representatives of the CPR, as well as the business manager of the Free Press, stated that his principals did not want the money and that they would save 1 per cent, as the bank charged that much more to the CPR.”
If not for the “financial scare of a few months ago” (actually, a recession in the world financial market), Macdonald wrote that Luxton could have “retired his stock. This fact was made known to Sir Donald A. Smith when asked to extend the time (of his loan), if only for three months, which no doubt would have been granted had not the matter already passed into the hands of W.C. Van Horne.”
Macdonald accused Van Horne of pressuring Smith and thus orchestrating Luxton’s expulsion from the Free Press, and “Mr. Luxton chose to sacrifice his property and go out penniless rather than be the tool of any corporation.”
The purpose of the CPR’s takeover of the newspaper was “to teach us how to submit to their dictates without a murmer or complaint ...,” according to Macdonald.
It didn’t take long for Van Horne to enter the debate in the pages of the Tribune. He wrote the newspaper denying that the CPR had any association with the Free Press, nor himself, other than being saddled with stock from Luxton’s’ purchase of the Call, which he had been trying for a long time to sell at less than their market value.
“The Canadian Pacific Company has not a dollar in the Free Press or any other newspaper,” he wrote on October 3 (published October 10), 1893.
Later in his letter, Van Horne said he had approached Luxton telling him “he had no right to see it (Free Press) as a means of venting his personal feelings as long as other people had money at stake in it; that everyone was tired of his everyday abuse of Mr. (Thomas) Greenway’s Government, and that as such things injured nobody but the Free Press. I urged him to take a broad and independent course, to make the promotion of the Canadian Northwest the chief object of the newspaper, and to support everything favorable to those interested and to condemn everything unfavorable.
“So far as the CPR was concerned, I told him I did not care ‘a straw’ what he said about it. It has no need of an organ or desire for one.”
Van Horne said Luxton was removed for not following the “rules” laid down by the Free Press board of directors. “Neither politics nor the CPR had anything to do with it,” he added.
The Tribune editor didn’t share Van Horne’s statement that the CPR was not involved in the Free Press. According to an October 9 editorial: “It has, unfortunately, been shown beyond doubt that one of the dailies, the Free Press, is the property of the CPR company, and has been placed under the management of that company transferred from the Montreal office. From this time forth, therefore, the every utterance of the paper must be taken as the view of Mr. Van Horne.”
Of course, the Tribune was in direct competition with the Free Press, so the newspaper had a vested interest in playing up the CPR connection, and claiming its own independence from outside interference.
An editorial in the May 21, 1907, Tribune, commented: “Mr. Luxton’s life is a record of great success and great tragedy. No man in any new country ever attained more enviable distinction in his chosen field. No Canadian journalist ever enjoyed the pleasure of seeing his journal grow under his guiding hand to greater relative prestige — and no such ever had the apple of his eye snatched from him with less warning, with less consideration, with less ruin.”
The obituary in the May 21, 1907, Free Press only mentions Luxton’s break with the Greenway government and that he had “retired” from the newspaper. It should also be noted that the same newspaper never made mention of Luxton’s dismissal in 1893, but simply removed his name from the Free Press masthead.
In the centennial issue of the Free Press, published on November 30, 1972, Luxton was still being noted as having “retired” in 1893, with no mention of him being pushed out of his position and the loss of all his stocks to Smith.
If the CPR’s desire was to create a friendly newspaper to promote their cause, the expulsion was seen as high-handed and exploitive, and made the company even more unpopular with Westerners and other newspapers.
A beneficiary of this animosity was the Tribune, having gained readership at the expense of the Free Press, which began to lose money.
Fed up with the financial drain, Van Horne and Smith sold the Free Press in 1898 to Brandon Liberal MP and federal Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton. As the interior minister, Sifton also oversaw immigration policy for Western Canada, which included bringing thousands of settlers to the prairies from Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, Luxton launched the Daily Nor’Wester, which began publishing in December 1893 in Winnipeg. Luxton was helped in raising $40,000 in capital for the newspaper from stock subscriptions by Rodmond Roblin, a former Liberal turned Conservative, who became the premier of Manitoba in 1900.
Luxton sold the newspaper in 1896 and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, ending his journalistic career with that city’s Globe. He returned to Winnipeg in 1901 to become a building inspector with the provincial government. Luxton was appointed to the patronage post by Premier Roblin.
Luxton died of what was termed “apoplexy” on May 20, 1907. He is buried at St. John’s Cemetery.
In his tribute to Luxton, Rev. George Bryce of Manitoba College simply said that Luxton never betrayed the truth and was honest in his convictions. Bryce acknowledged that it was Luxton’s “devotion to his ideal that lost him his position in the Free Press.”