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DYAS, THOMAS WINNING, surveyor, engineer, publisher, farmers’ organizer, and businessman; b. 2 Sept. 1845 at Clonturken, County Cavan (Republic of Ireland), the fifth of seven children of John Dyas and Ellen Warren; m. 22 June 1871 Emma Wilder Ball in London, Ont., and they had three sons and three daughters; d. 22 June 1899 on Toronto Island.

In 1850 Thomas Winning Dyas’s family emigrated to New Orleans; eight years later they moved again, settling in London, Upper Canada, in 1859. Over the next three decades Thomas’s father, a teacher, editor, and evangelical Anglican, worked tirelessly for his church in London, helping to organize its Sunday school system and acting as city missionary. His devotion and celebrity made the family a prominent one and had a lasting effect on his children. All became devout Anglicans.

In 1860 Thomas graduated from London’s Union School, taking prizes in Latin, French composition, and grammar. Despite his literary aptitude, he sought a career in engineering. After a three-year apprenticeship, likely with Charles Lennox Davies and William Robinson, he achieved professional status: in January 1865 he qualified as a provincial land surveyor. He then opened his own office and practised for a short time in London and in the oil-boom town of Bothwell, where he also operated as a commission merchant and general agent. In the autumn of 1865, however, he closed his practice and began work as an apprentice printer with the Toronto printing and publishing firm of Bell and Company.

In 1868 Dyas returned to London and reopened his office, adding architecture to his surveying and engineering activities. But he had not abandoned publishing. The following year he embarked on his first venture in that field, the Canadian Builder and MechanicsMagazine, one of Canada’s earliest trade magazines. The monthly failed to find an audience and in 1870 Dyas sold it to his former employer, now Bell, Barker and Company. Although he returned again to engineering, his interest in publishing did not wane. Between 1872 and 1874 he wrote regularly for a London-based magazine, the Farmers Advocate and Home Magazine, and published maps of London and Strathroy.

Dyas used his talent for organizing people, likely learned from his father, to promote various business concerns and professional bodies in southwestern Ontario. He was an organizer, for example, of both the London, Huron and Bruce Railway and the Surveyors’ Association of Western Ontario. Because of this combination of interests, abilities, and experience, he became leader of the movement to found the Dominion Grange, the executive body in Canada of the North American farmers’ organization, the Patrons of Husbandry. There had been concerted opposition from the officials of the American Grange to an “independent, but affiliated” Dominion Grange, but its creation was announced at an assembly in London in June 1874 and Dyas was elected secretary. It seems likely that he was particularly interested in the prospect of publishing an official organ for the new association. He soon left the Grange, however, when George Brown* offered him a managerial position at the Globe. In December Dyas and his young family left London for Toronto.

Dyas was a Conservative, and it was possibly because of his political beliefs that in 1877, after being promoted superintendent of printing at the Globe, he accepted the offer of a similar position with Toronto’s leading tory daily, the Mail. In 1881 he was made business manager in charge of advertising and circulation. His growing influence in the publishing industry is reflected by the move of his brother John Joseph Dyas two years earlier from a furniture business in London to the advertising field in Toronto, as agent for the Canadian Illustrated News [see George-Édouard Desbarats]. In 1884 J. J. Dyas organized and was elected first secretary of the Booksellers’ Association of Ontario and so became publisher of its magazine, Books and Notions.

The next year the Mail, under the direction of Christopher William Bunting, cut its ties with the Conservative party, and T. W. Dyas was forced to replace lost advertising contracts that had come from the federal government. To draw business, he founded as part of the Mail the Mail Newspaper Advertising Agency, which offered to write and place advertisements in Canadian and foreign newspapers. This pioneering effort was Canada’s first national advertising agency and only the second in North America. Its Montreal representative was Anson McKim*, who later started his own agency. It is a tribute to Dyas’s efforts that the Mail survived its period of political independence and, after 1887, managed to fend off and in 1895 to absorb a party-sanctioned competitor, the Empire. Dyas became advertising manager of the new Daily Mail and Empire and held that position until his death.

During the late 1880s and early 1890s, when he was helping to build up the Mail, he participated in several other publishing ventures. In 1887 with the Mails former financial editor John Bayne Maclean*, influential Toronto publisher Christopher Blackett Robinson, and accountant William Ross, Dyas founded the Grocer Publishing Company. Dyas, Robinson, and Ross provided small investments and offered expertise and printing facilities while Maclean managed and largely financed the project. Together they produced the Canadian Grocer and General Storekeeper, a highly successful trade magazine and the first publication of what would become the Maclean Hunter media empire.

This undertaking set off a flurry of activity involving the partners over the next few years. In 1888 Maclean bought Books and Notions from J. J. Dyas, whose failing health forced him from the publishing business. The following summer a third brother, William Jacob Dyas, a successful druggist and businessman from Strathroy, founded another trade journal, the Canadian Druggist (printed by Maclean), which also flourished. In 1890 Maclean’s brother, Hugh Cameron MacLean*, bought T. W. Dyas’s share of the Canadian Grocer. The ties between the two families remained strong and they worked together on further publishing projects. In 1893, for example, T. W. Dyas, the Maclean brothers, and William James Douglas* of the Mail began publication in New York of the Art Weekly, to be distributed with newspapers to promote circulation. H. C. MacLean married Dyas’s daughter Bessie Emma Mathilda in May 1894.

Thomas Winning Dyas was creative, intelligent, and well respected in the industry. Though never wealthy, he had a hand in founding many of the most innovative and successful media concerns of the era. In 1899, at the age of 53, he died of tuberculosis at his summer cottage on Toronto Island.

R. Neil Matheson

A portrait of the subject as a young man illustrates W. J. Dyas, “Thomas Winning Dyas,” Assoc. of Ontario Land Surveyors, Annual report (Toronto), 1924: 157–58. A likeness of the mature Dyas appears in The first hundred years (Toronto, n.d.), 3, and in Canadian Printer and Publisher (Toronto), June 1899: 3 (the latter photograph also appears in Bookseller and Stationer (Toronto), 21 (1905): 303, erroneously identified as his brother John Joseph).

AO, Maclean-Hunter records. NA, RG 31, C1, 1861, London Township, Middlesex County; 1871, 1881, London, Ont.; 1891, Toronto. Canadian Printer and Publisher, October 1893: 8–9; November 1895: 4–6. Farmers Advocate and Home Magazine (London), 1872, 1874. Granger (London), November 1875. Patrons of Husbandry, Dominion Grange, History of the Grange in Canada . . . (Toronto, 1876). PrintersMiscellany (Saint John, N.B.), 2 (1877), no. 5: 108. Canadian Home Journal (St Thomas, Ont.), 30 June 1871. Daily Mail and Empire, 19 July 1892, 23 June 1899. Dominion Churchman (Toronto), 31 May 1888. Evangelical Churchman (Toronto), 31 May 1888. London Advertiser, 1864–65, 1868–70, 1873–74, 21 May 1888. London Free Press, 1860–61, 1865, 1869–74, 7 June 1883, 19 May 1888, 26 June 1890. Commemorative biog. record, county York. Dict. of Toronto printers (Hulse). Gazetteer and directory of the counties of Kent, Lambton and Essex, 1866–67 (Toronto, 1866). London directory, 1856–97. Ont. directory, 1869, 1871. Toronto directory, 1855–1900. G. L. Parker, The beginnings of the book trade in Canada (Toronto, 1985). Rutherford, Victorian authority. H. A. Seegmiller, “The Colonial and Continental Church Society in eastern Canada” (dd thesis, prepared Windsor, N.S., 1966, for ACC, General Synod, Huron College, London, 1968), 503–4. H. E. Stephenson and Carlton McNaught, The story of advertising in Canada; a chronicle of fifty years (Toronto, [1940]). L. A. Wood, A history of farmersmovements in Canada (Toronto, [1924]; repr. with intro. by F. J. K. Griezec, Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., [1975]). G. M. Innes, “The history of the parish of St. Pauls, London, Ontario,” Western Ontario Hist. Notes (London), 19 (1963): 44–50.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

R. Neil Matheson, “DYAS, THOMAS WINNING,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dyas_thomas_winning_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dyas_thomas_winning_12E.html
Author of Article: R. Neil Matheson
Title of Article: DYAS, THOMAS WINNING
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: December 22, 2014