A Journalist Looks Backward

Intimate glimpses of the great and near great as revealed by P. D. Ross, forty years a newspaperman and now one of Canada's leading newspaper publishers

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY September 15 1931

A Journalist Looks Backward

Intimate glimpses of the great and near great as revealed by P. D. Ross, forty years a newspaperman and now one of Canada's leading newspaper publishers

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY September 15 1931

A Journalist Looks Backward

Intimate glimpses of the great and near great as revealed by P. D. Ross, forty years a newspaperman and now one of Canada's leading newspaper publishers


ONE day, just forty-two years ago, a young engineering graduate of McGill University walked into the office of the Montreal Star, gained admittance to Hugh Graham, now Lord Atholstan, said he wanted to be a reporter.

“Are you doing anything now?" Graham asked him. “Working on the Harbor Commission, on the engineering staff," was the reply.

“May I ask what pay you are getting there?” queried Graham.

“Twenty-five dollars a week.”

“That is good pay for a young man,” remarked Graham. “We don’t pay anything like that for a start in the newspaper business. We pay inexperienced new reporters five dollars a week.”

“Thank you very much,” said the young man. "When can I come?”

Thus began the newspaper career of P. D. Ross; a career which in forty years has taken him through the mill of reporter, sporting editor, news editor, parliamentary reporter, up to the summit of publisher-proprietor. Taken him, too, to a position where, refusing almost the highest post in the gift of his province and occupying a unique place as journalist, sportsman and citizen, he has become one of the best known and most beloved figures in his profession.

In a volume just off the press, which he modestly entitles Retrospects of a Newspaper Person, Ross looks back over these forty years, recalls "far-off, forgotten things, and battles long ago,” mingles his philosophy of life with a series of vivid flashlights upon the men he has known and the period through which he has lived.

It has been Ross’s good fortune to have written pages that found and affected their share of readers; to have known and worked on close terms with many men wonderfully well worth knowing; to have held responsible posts in his province and community; to have said things in print and in popular assemblages that made a difference. Yet this volume, packed with “retrospects,” certainly is not open to the reproach of egotism. What he gives, instead, is a series of memories—pictures which, revealing the writer’s own modesty and character, have a more luminous value than the often pontifical pages of the historian.

Blake’s Weakness and the Laurier Touch

THERE are intimate glances, for example, of men like Macdonald and Laurier, and Blake and Thompson. Ross was in the Press Gallery in the early eighties and knew Sir John well. He contrasts his cameraderie and hailfellow-well-met humorwith the sternOlympic-likemanner of Blake. One story he tells of Blake perhaps reveals the secret of that very able man's almost tragic failure in politics.

Arnott J. Magurn was the Ottawa correspondent of the Toronto Globe and a figure in political journalism. One day Ross and Magurn were walking along Sparks Street when, advancing toward them with hands clasped behind his back and his head held high in the air, came Blake. He had but recently returned from England, so Magurn stepped in front of him, held out his hand and said, “How do you do, Mr. Blake! Welcome back !”

Blake looked at him coldly, and, without removing his hands from behind his back, said in his iciest manner, “How do you do. sir,” and, moving to one side, passed on.

Magurn wheeled around, glared after the receding stately figure, and made a remark that was anything but complimentary.

For Wilfrid Laurier, who succeeded Blake and dimmed him, Ross, though a strong Conservative, had nothing but admiration. On the day that Laurier made his unforgettable speech on Louis Riel, Ross sat in the Press Gallery, and of Laurier’s oratory he says:

“His speech in the Riel debate was the finest public utterance I have heard from human lips. Many orators have I listened to in half a century—Blake, Macdonald, Tupper, Chapleau, Flood Davin, Mercier, Foster, Bourassa, Meighen, in this country; Parnell. Rosebery, Balfour, Lloyd George, Asquith, Churchill, in England; W. J. Bryan, Elihu Root, Choate, Roosevelt, Chauncey Depew, Woodrow Wilson, in the LTnited States; but the most beautiful thing I have ever known in the way of speech was that delivered by Laurier in the Riel debate.”

In reporting the speech for his paper, Ross referred to Sir Wilfrid as the “silver-tongued Laurier.” The Star put the phrase in its heading over the article, and thus originated the words which subsequently became famous.

One other story Ross tells, illustrating Laurier’s wonderful courtesy, his chivalry toward opponents:

“In the summer of 1906 I took my mother on a trip to the Saguenay and on our return we stopped at Quebec. The noble hotel there, the Chateau Frontenac, was crowded with tourists. We got seats in the dining room with some difficulty, the evening of our arrival, at one side of the room. Shortly afterward Sir Wilfrid Laurier came in with a party for whom seats had been reserved. He was passing along the centre aisle of the room when he happened to notice my face. He turned off from the centre aisle, came over to our table and shook hands, with the remark, ‘You don’t often come down this way, do you. Mr. Ross?’ Then, T presume it is your mother who is with you. May I have the honor of an introduction?’

“He shook hands with my mother and spoke a few pleasant words.

“Sir Wilfrid owed less than nothing to me. For years I had been in political opposition to him. The Journal had sometimes hit him pretty hard. There was no earthly reason why he should go out of his way to be courteous to me or mine. It was just the innate kindliness of the man.

“My mother was a stout old Conservative. She had never seen Laurier before. I doubt if she had ever wanted to. But I think if she had lived long enough after that to have a voter and a general election had come along, she would have voted for Laurier.

“It made some difference with me, too.”

Ross gives a little picture also of Sir John Thompson illustrative of that almost forgotten statesman’s temperament, and revealing as well the difficulties which beset the path of some of our public men.

“One morning in the autumn of 1894, I was walking up an Ottawa street on the way to the Journal office, when I

caught up with Sir John Thompson who was then Prime Minister. I had been reading a book, Stale Socialism In New Zealand, by J. E. LeRossignol, which described in an interesting way the socialistic tendencies of New Zealand. Mentioning this to Sir John Thompson, he seemed interested, so much so that I suggested sending him the book.

“ ‘No,’ he replied, T would not have time to read it. I haven’t read anything except the newspapers for the past couple of years. I haven’t time for anything except my responsibilities on Parliament Hill. My life just now is merely a matter of wearing a rut between my bedroom and my office. I am looking forward with pleasure to my approaching visit to England.’

“It was a couple of months later that he collapsed and died in Windsor Castle.”

Of a far different type of politician, but one who played a spectacular rôle in an epic period in Canadian history. Ross tells this story:

“Being in Toronto in 1881 as a reporter on the Mail, I joined the Toronto Lacrosse Club. The first day, on turning out for practice, sides being picked, I found myself in the lot with Ross Mackenzie, captain of the club. As the fellows were lining up for practice, Mackenzie asked me if I knew many of them.

“ ‘Know that black lad over there?’ he enquired, pointing to a strongly built chap on the other side.

“ ‘No,’ was the reply.

“ ‘Well, look out for him. He’s some little body checker. Don’t get between him and the fence, or the fence is liable to lose a board.

“Nothing particular happened during the practice.

“Next day came a visit to the Toronto Exhibition in company with a young lady. The two of us took seats on the lowest row of the grandstand to see the races. In front of the row of seats was a board fence with a broad parapet at the top. A couple of rough looking citizens came along, hopped up on the parapet in front of us, and settled themselves to enjoy the races.

“As they were right in front of us, I asked one of them politely to move along a little. He consigned me to a hot place. Naturally this was disturbing when one’s best girl was listening, so I shoved him off the parapet and shoved the other fellow after him.

“The two couldn’t very well get at me just there, nor so publicly. They crossed the tracks, sat down beside the fence on the far side and waited.

“When the races were over, my lady companion and I started for an exit at the end of our row of seats. The two roughs moved along parallel to us on the opposite side of the track. As we neared the exit from the stand they began to cross over. It looked like trouble.

“Just then a voice came from behind me, ‘All right, Ross, I’m with you.’

“It was the ‘black lad’ who had been in the lacrosse game the day before. He had been sitting on the grandstand behind us and had noticed the episode of the parapet. And evidently he was a chap of similar temperament to the Irishman who came across a fight and enquired whether it was a private fight or could anybody get in. When the two roughs saw a burly newcomer ranging up alongside me, they concluded there was nothing worth doing. They turned off and went away.

“The ‘black lad’ in 1881 was Sam Hughes.”

Ross recalls interesting memories of British statesmen like Lord Milner, Lord Curzon and Bonar Law, all of whom he knew; and he gives a particularly interesting illustration of Bonar Law’s memory. He was present, too, at the

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meeting oí the Imperial Press Conference in London in 1910, when Lord Rosebery delivered his famous oration, warning against the danger of a world war. This, Ross thinks, was, next to Laurier’s speech on Riel, the most eloquent deliverance he has ever heard.

Something of a wanderer in his later years, Ross has come into contact with all manner of interesting personalities. One of his most amusing encounters, to which he gives a brief chapter in his book, was with John D. Rockefeller. One day while playing golf at Virginia Hot Springs, he met up with an aged gentleman who, after some conversation, invited him to play golf on the following day. Ross proceeds:

“At ten o’clock next morning, the appointed time, the old chap was at the first tee with quite a little crowd of people standing around, evidently interested in him. We started off. The little crowd followed. Along about the second or third hole they got pretty close up. My opponent looked back and remarked in an amiable way, T wish people wouldn’t follow one so. For that reason I prefer to play on my own links.’

“ ‘You have a private course, sir?’ I remarked.

“ ‘Yes,’ said my companion, ‘yes, I have a good course at Lakewood, New Jersey. Still, I don’t like it as well as a little course I have on the Hudson.’

“ ‘Ah; you have two courses?’

“ ‘Yes, indeed three. I have a course at Cleveland, Ohio.’

“ T beg your pardon,’ I observed, ‘but may I ask your name?’

“ ‘Why, certainly. Sorry I did not mention it. Rockefeller; John D. Rockefeller.’ ”

Booth’s Fortitude

"DOSS tells some good stories of J. R.

Booth, late famous lumber king, whom he knew well. In 1914, when Mr. Booth was eighty-four years of age, a fire broke out in his lumber yards and in the course of it a beam fell on the veteran lumberman, breaking his leg and a couple of ribs, and bruising and cutting him otherwise.

“A stretcher was made of some boards. Mr. Booth was got on it, and some of the mill hands started to carry him to the street. He waved a hand with a ‘Good-by, boys. I don’t think you will see me again.’ Arriving home, an eminent Ottawa surgeon, Dr. J. F. Kidd, was called in. As Mr. Booth lay in bed, Dr. Kidd got his surgical bag open and brought out a bottle. Mr. Booth noted it. ‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ he asked.

“ 'An anaesthetic,’ Dr. Kidd replied. ‘You know that your leg is broken and there are other injuries. You will feel no pain while we are fixing you up.’

“ ‘I won’t have it,’ said the man of. eighty-four years. T want to see what you are doing. Get me a drop of brandy.’

“They brought a wineglass of brandy. Mr. Booth took a mouthful, then to his son, ‘Give me your hand, Jackson.’ He got hold of the hand. ‘Now go ahead,’ he said.

“Dr. Kidd went ahead. Mr. Booth died in 1928, aged ninety-eight years.”

Always a Conservative politically, Ross has had an uncontrollable conscience, has occasionally warred against the powers and principalities of his party, has had friends in both camps. When years ago, he became a candidate for civic honors in Ottawa, the first man to send him a cheque for expenses was that doughty Liberal warrior, the Hon. Charles Murphy. Ross framed the cheque and it still hangs in his library.

A Leader For Forty Years

KOSS’S Toryism, in truth, has always been - mixed with a strain of radicalism. A staunch Imperialist, he was a Home Ruler in Gladstonian days, was an early and uncompromising champion of woman suffrage, has been all his life a stout protagonist of public ownership. It was Ross, indeed, who, twenty-six years ago, fought and won the battle to give Ottawa a municipal hydroelectric plant, an organization with which he has been connected ever since.

But Ross, notwithstanding all his travels and activities, and his companionship with the great and near great, has had two main passions—journalism and sport. He came of a family famous in Dominion athletics. Three of the Ross brothers held three Dominion championships in the same year, back in the eighties, and “P. D.”, as he is known, was a champion Dominion oarsman. In later years he has confined himself to golf, and today, at the age of seventy-four, he can conquer the difficult Royal Ottawa golf course in eighty.

As a journalist he has been for more than forty years one of the leaders of his profession in the Dominion. He took the Ottawa Journal more than forty years ago when it was just a local obscure sheet, and quickly brought it to a position of nation-wide importance. Never has he prostituted his paper to partisan or sectional or financial ends. In this volume of retrospects dealing with the functions of a newspaper, he quotes as his own ideal the stirring words of that great journalist, Joseph Pulitzer:

“Let the newspaper be forever unsatisfied with merely printing news, forever fighting every form of public wrong, forever independent, forever advancing in enlightenment and progress, forever wedded to truly democratic ideas, forever aspiring to be a moral force—a daily schoolhouse and a daily forum, forever rising to a higher place as a public institution.”

With this creed we may leave Mr. Ross. For it is at once a summary of his ideals and of his character. Journalism in Canada may have seen richer minds, more eager minds, more fertile minds; it has seen no mind more vigorous and honest, no mind so indifferent to external impulse. It is the mind of one to whom the world can offer no bribe. There is nothing in its gift that he wants, neither power nor praise nor wealth. That is why, despite many allurements, he has remained throughout his life and will remain a sportsman and a journalist.