LAURIE, PATRICK GAMMIE, newspaperman; b. 7 April 1833 in New Pitsligo, Scotland, son of William Laurie, an Anglican minister, and Mary Ann Gammie; m. 4 Dec. 1855 Mary Eliza Carney, daughter of Richard Carney, in Sydenham (Owen Sound), Upper Canada, and they had four daughters and three sons who survived infancy; d. 11 May 1903 in Battleford (Sask.).
The first attempt of Patrick Gammie Laurie’s family to come to Canada ended in failure. William Laurie set out, shortly after his wife’s death, taking with him his young sons Patrick and John, but their ship was driven ashore by a storm and seized by striking dock workers at Greenock. A second attempt brought the family to Toronto in November 1842. They soon went on to Cobourg, where Patrick attended grammar school for about a year. Having completed grade 5 or 6, he became a printer’s apprentice with the Church, an Anglican journal. In 1846 the Church relocated in Toronto, and Laurie moved there. Over the next ten years he lived in Brantford, in Sydenham where he worked on a newspaper owned by Richard Carney, and again in Toronto.
At the age of 22, in 1855, Laurie returned to Sydenham and bought the Owen Sound Times. Four years later he sold it, after John Christian Schultz* persuaded him that he should establish a paper in the Red River settlement (Man.). Having journeyed as far as Windsor, Laurie learned that the Nor’Wester had just been founded by William Buckingham and William Coldwell. For two years he commuted between Windsor and Detroit, working in both places as a printer. In 1861 he bought the Essex Record (Windsor), which he published until 1869. Then, compelled perhaps by the advice he was dispensing to others, he left for Red River.
Laurie reached his destination in September and began work for the Nor’Wester, which was then owned by an associate of Schultz’s, Walter Robert Bown. Two months later he was expelled from the settlement for refusing to print a proclamation by Louis Riel*’s provisional government. He returned east, where his family had remained, but came back with his son William in September 1870, just after the arrival of Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley*’s troops. For the next eight years he worked in various capacities on Winnipeg newspapers that included the Manitoba News-Letter, the Manitoba Liberal, and the Manitoba Free Press.
At the beginning of June 1878 Laurie set out for Battleford, which had recently been named capital of the North-West Territories. Leaving his family behind in Winnipeg, he made the 650-mile journey walking beside an ox-cart that carried his printing-press. On 25 August, two weeks after his arrival, he launched the Saskatchewan Herald, the first newspaper in the territories. It promised to be “the pioneer press of the Great North-West – the light that is destined to dispel the gloom that has long enveloped the Great Lone Land.” Until 1881 he owned the paper in partnership with D. L. Clink; subsequently he was the sole proprietor. For the 25 years from the Herald’s founding until his death, he was its editor.
With boundless optimism the Herald extolled the merits of the west. Laurie published lengthy articles on the climate, soils, and mining potential of the region, and he reported in detail on the Peace River country and scientific explorations such as those of John Macoun*. He himself was an avid gardener, experimenting with a wide variety of plants and discussing his failures and successes with his readership. Local news was accorded front-page priority. Laurie’s faith in the future of Battleford was immense and had been deterred neither by the decision in 1882 to let the Canadian Pacific Railway run its line along a more southerly route nor by the move of the territorial capital to Regina in 1883. The activities of the North-West Mounted Police, whom Laurie supported unflaggingly, received thorough coverage. Articles from eastern and European newspapers were reproduced, as were serialized Victorian stories with their moralistic themes of muscular Christianity, self-help, self-education, and self-denial. Included also were the more important speeches of the governors general and the complete texts of debates from the House of Commons on matters relating to the west. In politics Laurie supported the Conservative party and especially its National Policy [see Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley*].
Laurie’s ideas as expressed in his journalism over the years bear a striking resemblance to those of the Canada First Movement [see William Alexander Foster*]. A nationalist motivated by zeal to see a strong and independent society north of the 49th parallel, he was also an imperialist who believed that Canada needed the guidance of Great Britain. In his view the country’s future lay with the traditions “the Anglo-Saxon race” had brought to the New World. The character of the west, he thought, would be moulded by its ties with Canada and the mother country, not by the environment. Settlement was the means to create an Anglo-Canadian society and he was anxious to see it proceed rapidly. He frequently criticized sensational reports from the east depicting a “wild” west populated by uncontrollable savages, for such stories frightened potential settlers. There was, in fact, no room at all for a large and distinctive native population in Laurie’s vision, and French Canadians who were trying to establish their influence in the west made him uneasy as well.
Although Laurie wanted speedy development, he disagreed with the colonization scheme instituted by the Conservative government in 1881 [see Sir David Lewis Macpherson*]. Under it, companies could purchase large blocks of land at a low price and in return were obliged to introduce settlers within a certain time. Laurie opposed such schemes in principle. He believed that locating people in blocks tended “to prevent the intimate fusion [of] the people of different races into . . . the homogeneous whole so desirable in a new country.” In his opinion, immigrants should be obliged to come west at their own expense, without the aid of colonization companies, so that only the most hardy and enterprising would be attracted. No one should be given special treatment.
Laurie’s definition of an acceptable immigrant was a narrow one. He enthusiastically advocated the recruitment of British settlers. On the possibility of a group of Mennonites coming west he remarked, “The Mennonites are perhaps a very good sort of people in their way, but we would prefer native Canadians, English farmers and Germans direct from the fatherland.” He resented the Mennonites’ request for special status that would exempt them from military service. Mormons and Jews he also viewed as unsuitable because they too were expected to be settled in groups and would resist assimilation.
If peaceful, orderly settlement by whites was to Laurie the glorious future of the prairies then the 1885 resistance was a reversion to a dark past. The “rebels,” as he called them, were “traitors” preventing the material potential of the west from being realized by all. The disruption caused by the Métis and a few Indians angered him. He wanted these aboriginal peoples to cooperate, not to challenge his vision of an Anglo-Canadian west. He made little attempt to understand their perspective and even misrepresented their requests to be accommodated in the new west. It often appeared that Laurie felt threatened by the presence of such a large, distinctive group of people; he viewed them as an obstacle to white settlement and wanted them removed by whatever means possible. The events of 1885 gave him an opportunity to press his views. Late in March, frightened by reports of violence, he and some 500 other Battleford settlers took refuge in the NWMP fort, and their deserted homes were ransacked by the followers of Poundmaker [Pītikwahanapiwīyin*] and local Indians, who were short of food. On 2 May Poundmaker’s camp near Cut Knife Hill was attacked by Canadian militia under Lieutenant-Colonel William Dillon Otter*, which had come to Battleford to lift a siege that was more imagined than real. Laurie demanded that the strictest punishment be meted out to all “rebels.” This action, his editorials maintained, would serve as an example to others and prove to potential immigrants that law and order would be enforced in the west. He drastically overestimated the participation of the Indians, whom he portrayed as “savages set on the warpath.” The local Cree and Assiniboin people already on reserves did not, in fact, share the same grievances as the Métis of Batoche and St Laurent (St-Laurent-Grandin), whose land claims remained unsettled.
In 1896 Clifford Sifton*, minister of the interior in Wilfrid Laurier*’s government, initiated an ambitious promotion to attract settlers from Europe. Among those who answered his call were many whom Laurie found objectionable. His derogatory comments on the inferiority of foreign cultures increased as more and more of these immigrants arrived. He singled out the Galicians as the worst of the new flood. “They are not even fit for Manitoba which takes anything,” he remarked, and he warned that they were bringing diseases with them. The Doukhobors were another target for his more strident attacks; he was outraged that these “aliens” had their passage paid to the west and were fed on the trip. The Finns, on the other hand, he found intelligent, well educated, and industrious. Also, although he did not state it, they were Protestant and from northern Europe.
At the turn of the century the façade of western society was unmistakably Anglo-Canadian. Members of this group held key positions in the emerging community, and their ideology as enunciated by Laurie and others was the prevailing one. For more than two decades he had harangued the residents of the Battleford area with his message, arguing relentlessly against foreign and particular-interest groups and continually presenting what he believed were the aspirations of the whole. Such polemics helped ensure that, of any people, Anglo-Canadians would feel the most comfortable in the late-19th-century west.
This surface was deceiving. Behind it were many who had little time to heed imposed structures, who were perhaps isolated from prevailing public opinion by the vast open spaces of the prairies, and who could not escape the impact of the environment. Indeed, by opposing group settlements Laurie unconsciously contributed to the rise of a political culture quite different from the one he advocated. He aided the triumph of the independent farmers, free from the national and imperial ideas he hoped would guide them. These farmers – immigrants eking out an existence on their 160-acre homesteads – began a tradition of direct action to redress their grievances, a practice which was at odds with Laurie’s concept of organic change and which left little room for his ideals. Instead, the levelling influence of the environment was able to assert itself. Yet in the examples of racial and cultural intolerance that appear periodically it can be seen that vestiges of his viewpoint remain.
A selection of correspondence from Laurie’s letter-books in the DeGear papers at the Saskatchewan Arch. Board (Regina) has been published as “Letters of P. G. Laurie,” ed. A. R. Turner, Sask. Hist., 14 (1961): 41–63.
GA, M314. Saskatchewan Arch. Board (Saskatoon), J. C. DeGear papers; Campbell Innes papers; Effie Laurie Storer papers; Cecelia Wetton papers. Essex Record (Windsor, [Ont.]), 1861–69. Manitoba News-Letter (Winnipeg), 13 Sept. 1870–1 July 1871. Nor’Wester, 1869. Owen Sound Times (Sydenham [Owen Sound, Ont.]), 1858–60. Saskatchewan Herald (Battleford), 1878–1903. E. G. Drake, “Pioneer journalism in Saskatchewan, 1878–1887, part i,” Sask. Hist., 5 (1952): 17–27; “The territorial press in the region of present-day Saskatchewan, 1878–1905” (ma thesis, Univ. of Sask., Saskatoon, 1951). Gerald Friesen, “Studies in the development of western Canadian regional consciousness, 1870–1925” (phd thesis. Univ. of Toronto, 1974); “The western Canadian identity,” CHA Hist. papers, 1973: 13–19. Walter Hildebrandt, “Battleford 1885: the siege mentality,” NeWest Rev. (Saskatoon), 10 (1984–85), no.9: 20–21; “P. G. Laurie: the aspirations of a western enthusiast” (ma thesis, Univ. of Sask., 1978); “P. G. Laurie of Battleford: the aspirations of a western enthusiast,” Prairie Forum (Regina), 8 (1983): 157–78. A.-N. Lalonde, “Colonization companies in the 1880’s,” Sask. Hist., 24 (1971): 101–14. A. E. McPherson, “A history of the Battlefords to 1914” (ma thesis, Univ. of Sask., 1966). Paul Rutherford, “The new nationality, 1864–1897: a study of the national aims and ideas of English Canada in the late nineteenth century” (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1972); “The western press and regionalism, 1870–96,” CHR, 52 (1971): 287–305.