by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
William Fisher Luxton’s attacks on the Canadian
Pacific Railway (CPR) have since been termed “quixotic.” Indeed, his battle against the CPR eventually led to his downfall.
When Donald A. Smith provided the $40,000 loan to Luxton, the conditions were that he had five years to repay it at an interest rate of six per cent. As collateral, Smith received 800 Free Press shares — every share in the newspaper that Luxton possessed. The term of the loan ran out on September 6, 1893.
The Winnipeg Daily Tribune, founded three years earlier by Robert Lorne Richardson, who’s political affiliation was Independent Liberal, on September 23
reported that rumours were spreading “like wildfire” across Winnipeg that Luxton’s tenure with the Manitoba Free Press was about to end.
In the account, “the Tribune reporter learned there was no specific instruction of effort to interfere with the policy of the paper until recently.”
But then Frederick Edward Molyneux St. John, who was with the CPR’s advertising department in Montreal, appeared in Winnipeg two weeks earlier and registered at the Manitoba Hotel, which added fuel to the rumours.
“His visit was to look into matters in the west in the
interests of the C.P.R.,” wrote the reporter. “Others thought that while this was quite true yet, Mr. St. John had other strings in his bow.” The suspicion was that St. John, a former resident and newspaperman in Winnipeg, was about to be named the new editor of the Free Press.
According to the reporter, he was stopped in the street by a gentleman, who said: “There’s something in the wind; two prominent members of the Free Press staff and a well known supporter, Mr. Hugh Sutherland, have been seen in very earnest conversation and at a point
outside of the offices of the paper.”
The reporter wrote: “But from other sources came more definite information, and all point to the fact that a radical change had come over the Free Press, and that Mr. Luxton’s connection had been severed. Prominent members of the Free Press company dropped hints to their friends, which in the present state of affairs meant a great deal.
“On Saturday Messers. (John) Mather (a Free Press director), (John) Somerset (treasurer of the Free Press) and St. John were observed in conversation in a corner of the rotunda of the Manitoba (the most elegant hotel in the city, which was owned by the Northern Pacific Railway and stood at the southeast corner of William Stephenson Way and Main Street. It was destroyed by fire in February 1899), and the threshing about and opening and folding of a copy of the Free Press left no doubt as to what was the object of their talk.”
The reporter claimed the men were “well satisfied with the world in general, and it looked as if things were moving not altogether out of harmony with their wishes.”
The reporter approached Mather and asked if
Luxton’s successor had been appointed.
Apparently, Mather was not surprised by the question, but he replied that he was not in a position to answer it.
“In fact,” said Mather, “things are not in a position for me to say anything, and if the matter is now on the street Mr. Luxton must have told it. I cannot tell what he or his friends may have said, and of course I cannot answer for them.”
Mather was then asked if it was “true” that Luxton had severed his connect with the newspaper.
“It is true and it is not true,” replied Mather. “In fact,
it is impossible for me to say any thing about it. There will be a meeting this afternoon when the matter will be
settled, and until that time I really cannot say anything. That is the state of affairs at present.”
When St. John was asked whether or not he was
appointed the new Free Press editor, he was equally as noncommittal in his answer as Mather. It wasn’t that St. John wasn’t qualified for the position, as he had been with the Toronto Globe as well as the Winnipeg Standard (the newspaper existed between 1874 and 1879) before heading the CPR’s advertising department in Montreal.
(Next week: part 3)