Front page of the first edition of the Toronto Standard, December 6, 1848.
When the Toronto Standard launched its website earlier this month, the newest addition to the city’s media landscape linked itself with a newspaper that ceased publication 162 years ago. The earlier, original Standard certainly had a snazzy logo, but what else did it have to inspire the creators of its contemporary counterpart?
What little is known about the Standard is summed up by Edith Firth in Early Toronto Newspapers 1793-1867: “Founded on December 6, 1848, this weekly was published by James Northey. It supported Conservative principles and Protestant Ascendancy; it carried more news and thought more highly of William III than of Lord Elgin.”
We found a quartet of issues from the Standard’s first month of publication bound in a volume at the Toronto Reference Library. After reading these fragile relics, we’d say the Standard’s descendant isn’t the modern namesake website so much as the Sun News Network.
The front page of the premiere edition was laid out innocuously enough: a handful of ads, followed by two pieces of literature (one a tale of the July Revolution, the other an attempt at humour written in a near-impenetrable Scottish brogue), and a reprinted story regarding the suspension of the warden at Kingston Penitentiary.
Things start to get a bit more strident on page two, when newspaper’s intended audience was captured in the opening editorial: “It is our wish and our object to present to the readers of the ‘STANDARD‘ a sound Conservative Protestant Journal, in which we shall endeavour to advocate the principles of the Revolution of 1688, firmly and fearlessly; and we promise that neither sectarian zeal, popular love of innovation, nor a desire to court honour in high places, shall be able to drive us from our purpose.” The editors repeatedly touted their allegiance to the British crown and vow to defend it against dastardly criminals who would wreck the glorious British methods of governing—including political reformers (“restless men”) and Catholics (who looked for the opportunity for “popish usurpation” that would destroy religious tolerance of the type only extreme Protestants could maintain). The paper promised to “always be ready to listen to the voice of the oppressed,” with no unjust acts going “unnoticed or unpunished if we can overtake the offender.”
The editorial was followed by a reprint of a prospectus distributed in late October, which started by echoing the eternal complaint of the right. To the Standard, it “was a matter of general regret among the Conservatives of Canada…that they have hitherto had no proper exclusive organ through which they might express their sentiments, or in which they might find their opinion responded to.” The editor then denied any connection to previous short-lived papers that bore the name “Standard.”
Had the Standard been around 70 years later, they might have sponsored this float. Parade float of Juvenile Orange Lodge Branch 31, circa 1919. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 668.
And if it wasn’t clear already, the paper’s political stance was defined in a shouty sentence:
The Politics of the STANDARD will be, in the strict and proper sense of the term, CONSERVATIVE, BRITISH CONNEXION will be its leading principle, and PROTESTANT ASCENDANCY the object of all of its exertion. It will be LOYAL TO THE THRONE, because the THRONE is the palladium of Civil Liberty, and it will be TRUE TO THE PEOPLE, because their happiness and the amelioration of their condition ought to be the object of all who love their country or wish the greatest good to the greatest number.
Nervous readers were assured that the Standard was a family-friendly paper, full of “useful and entertaining” articles on new books and the fine arts. The editor would write historical pieces based on his obsession with the Revolution of 1688 and the reign of King William III. (Given the editor’s desire to replay the battles of a century-and-a-half earlier, it’s a reasonable guess that he belonged to the Orange Order and hoped to indoctrinate future members through thrilling tales of King Billy kicking Jacobite butt.)
The Standard also believed negative option billing was a good method of building a subscription base: “The first two Numbers of this paper will be sent to some who have not given us permission to do so,” surprised readers were told. “If they wish not to become subscribers they will please notify us as thereof by returning one of the numbers immediately, otherwise they will be considered as subscribers and charged accordingly.”
Left: Lord Elgin (seated centre), surround clockwise from left by Lady Alice Lambton, Lord Mark Kerr, and the Countess of Elgin, 1848. National Archives of Canada, C-088507. Right: Robert Baldwin, c. 1850. Wikimedia Commons.
In terms of local content, the editor apologized for providing little of it due to the effort put into launching the paper. While there were references to angry gas company customers and trouble brewing at the Lunatic Asylum, most of the section was devoted to attacking Governor General Lord Elgin for “abetting misrule, corruption and incapacity in every shape—leaving the faithful office-bearers of the Government to be kicked out of their places to make room for beardless ignorant boys, or for men steeped in disloyalty to the very lips.”
What had happened was that the Tories had lost the most recent election to “beardless ignorant” Reformers led by Robert Baldwin in Canada West (Ontario) and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine in Canada East (Quebec), who were allowed by Lord Elgin to run a responsible government (one beholden to the electorate, not just the crown). A lengthy rant about the definition of the term “chisel” in relation to the Reformers followed, which the editor hoped would form part of “a fund of descriptive words” to discuss local politics, He also expressed no surprise if the current “chisellers” in government were eventually hung for their radical disregard for traditional order.
The editorial section of edition number two (December 13, 1848) began with a reprint of the first edition’s editorial, provided for readers who missed that paper. This was followed by feedback concerning the paper’s name: “No sooner was our Prospectus published than certain faint murmurs of disapprobation reached our ears, as to the title of our paper—’The Standard!—Standard again!! Why, there have already been three Standards in Toronto, not one of which was ever fit to prop up a cabbage.'”
Additional info about the Standard and services they provided. The Toronto Standard, December 20, 1848.
Attacks against the Reformers and Lord Elgin carried on in the December 20, 1848 edition. The editor felt that the Governor General betrayed his prestige and regal lineage by casting his lot with “a rebel conclave of Canadian political jobbers” who would inevitably lead the colony down the road to armed anarchy along the lines of the rebellions of 1837–1838. When the editor complains “Cannot the British Government, Whig as it is, send us a Governor General with, at least, the shadow of independence in his character?” We suspect that the only independent thought that was fine was one that aligned with the Standard.
Government members who had bounties on their heads following the rebellions a decade earlier were pilloried for placing a premium on tarnishing the honour of the colony. In his hysterical fervour, the editor believed they would take Canada down the road to republicanism. Until such radicals were flushed out, he hoped that “the fairest, and most valuable portion of Britain’s Colonial possessions” would remain loyal and provide “a rich and grateful refuge to the redundant population of the Mother Country” until Canada was “united to the British Monarchy as an integral part of the Crown.” Last time we checked, Toronto wasn’t one of the United Kingdom’s leading cities.
Though the next session of Parliament wouldn’t begin until January 19, 1849, the Standard predicted that in the interim, “we may expect a corresponding amount of humbug and leaning towards the perversion of every principle, upon which a wise authority is established and just Councils directed.” But we weren’t able to determine how the paper would have covered the new session, other than the frothing at the mouth outrage we imagine the Rebellion Losses Bill would have provoked. The library’s collection skips the fourth edition, while the fifth is undistinguished apart from joy upon hearing George Gurnett would be acclaimed as Toronto’s mayor and a lengthy look at the first performance of the local philharmonic society.
We don’t know if the paper ceased publication after the fifth edition and loyal Tories had to look elsewhere to vent their spleens—which wouldn’t have been a shock during a time when papers regularly folded in a hurry—or if future issues went uncollected (perhaps the person who preserved these copies realized they were being negative billed). Based on several apologies for delays in production of the paper, which were blamed on sick employees or the late arrival of dispatches from Europe, we suspect the production end was a little disorganized.