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BELFORD, CHARLES, journalist and publisher; b. Cork, County Cork, Ireland, 25 April 1837 of Irish Protestant parents; m. in Toronto, Jennie Thomas, 11 Nov. 1864; d. Ottawa, 19 Dec. 1880.

Charles Belford came to Toronto with his two younger brothers, Alexander and Robert J., in 1857. Charles had been trained in Ireland as a draftsman but he turned to newspaper work in Toronto and went on the staff of the Leader, published by his great-uncle, James Beaty*. In 1867 he succeeded Charles Lindsey* as editor-in-chief of the newspaper, which ceased publication shortly before the end of 1871. Belford was a vigorous writer and in March 1872 he became editor of a more outspoken Conservative organ, the newly formed Toronto Mail. This was the Toronto mouthpiece of Sir John A. Macdonald*, whose fortunes were soon to be overshadowed by the Pacific scandal in 1873 but whose loyal supporter Belford nevertheless remained. In 1876, while continuing his editorial duties with the Mail, Belford entered into partnership with his two brothers to establish the publishing firm of Belford Brothers. Their stock-in-trade was the publication of cheap, pirated reprints of popular British and American authors, notably Mark Twain.

The first Canadian Copyright Act of 1872 had been disallowed, but the act of 1875 made it legal to reprint in Canada any American book not coming under the imperial copyright act of 1842, which protected editions published first in the British Isles, or not registered in the Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, within 30 days of publication in the United States. The Belfords’ publishing venture was within the law. At the same time, however, it was in part a reprisal against American publishers who pirated British authors and harmed their Canadian counterparts by flooding the market with cheap reprints. Belford Brothers published unauthorized editions of American subscription books which did not conform to the Canadian act of 1875 and sold them to retail outlets by mail order at prices undercutting the American editions. Thus they turned the tables on American publishers who indignantly accused them of sharp practice. Other Canadian publishers soon followed the Belfords’ lead.

Belford Brothers operated from 1876 to 1878, during which time the firm published, in addition to pirated reprints, a journal of literature and art, Belford’s Monthly Magazine, and a few Canadian books. Among the authors published were Twain, W. D. Howells, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anthony Trollope, May Agnes Fleming [Early], Jean Talon Lesperance*, and G. M. Grant*. Children’s books, religious tracts, reference works, books of travel and adventure, biographies, and autobiographies appeared in rapid succession.

Charles Belford withdrew from the firm in 1878 and his brothers reorganized the business with a new partner, G. M. Rose*, as the Rose-Belford Publishing Company. Within a year there was another shake-up: Alexander and Robert Belford withdrew, and with James Clarke formed Belfords, Clarke, and Company with headquarters in Chicago where Alexander married a daughter of Walter McNally of the publishers, Rand McNally Company.

It was a physical breakdown that made it necessary for Charles to dissociate himself from his brothers’ publishing activities and to give up, at the same time, his editorship of the Mail. An able organizer whose counsel was highly regarded by the Conservative party, he had worked to a state of exhaustion during the federal election campaign of 1878, and collapsed on the night of the Conservative victory. By autumn 1879 he was sufficiently recovered to accept an appointment as secretary to the Dominion Board of Appraisers and move with his family to Ottawa. He was still in frail health, however, and died the following year, survived by his wife, two sons, and four daughters.

H. P. Gundy

Globe (Toronto), 22 Dec. 1880. Ottawa Citizen, 20, 22 Dec. 1880. Dom. ann. reg., 1880–81, 392–93. H. P. Gundy, Book publishing and publishers in Canada before 1900 (Toronto, 1965). Gordon Roper, “Mark Twain and his Canadian publishers: a second look,” Bibliographical Society of Canada Papers (Toronto), V (1966), 30–89.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

H. P. Gundy, “BELFORD, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/belford_charles_10E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/belford_charles_10E.html
Author of Article: H. P. Gundy
Title of Article: BELFORD, CHARLES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1972
Year of revision: 1972
Access Date: October 2, 2014