CAMERON, JOHN, newspaperman and office holder; b. 22 Jan. 1843 in Markham Township, Upper Canada, the third of eight children of William Cameron and Elizabeth Redfern; m. 30 Sept. 1869 Elizabeth Millar in London, Ont., and they had one son and four daughters; d. there 1 Dec. 1908.
John Cameron was educated in Markham and then in London, where his parents settled in the early 1850s. In 1859 he began an apprenticeship as a printer with the London Free Press and during the next four years he learned his trade in London and Sarnia. Returning to London in 1863, he offered his services to Joseph Hiram Robinson*, who wanted someone to produce his weekly Evangelical Witness, organ of the Canadian Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion Church, and to manage his printing establishment in exchange for the use of the newspaper’s office and press. However, illness and an unexpected donation, which enabled him to clear his debts on the Witness, prompted Robinson to offer Cameron the opportunity of purchasing the press in return for a commitment to continue the Witness.
Cameron accepted the offer and published the Witness until the New Connexion Methodists united with the Wesleyan Methodists in 1874. He also immediately began planning his own newspaper and on 27 Oct. 1863 started the daily London Evening Advertiser and Family Newspaper. Perhaps because of financial constraints, Cameron’s newspaper was politically independent and was produced in a small format. More important, it was published in the evening so that it could report the avidly sought-after telegraphic dispatches from the Civil War in the United States ahead of its rival morning newspapers. The Advertiser was an instant success and within a year it was enlarged to full broadsheet size. Cameron added staff and improved its design and editorial content. The Weekly Advertiser was added in 1864, and a morning edition was started in 1878. The newspaper’s growth brought him financial independence and status in the community and in the industry. He joined the Canadian Press Association, serving as president in 1872 and 1875. The Advertiser’s strength was due in part to Cameron’s ability to draw upon other members of his family for support. His brother William contributed as local editor and in the business management of the company, and his father, William Sr, as bookkeeper.
John Cameron’s family had long supported the Reformers and he also held advanced Liberal views. There were, as well, two Liberal-Conservative newspapers in London, and so it was perhaps inevitable that the Advertiser became a Liberal standard-bearer. By the early 1870s it was the second most important Liberal publication in Ontario after the Toronto Globe, published by George Brown*. Under Cameron’s direction, the newspaper favoured reciprocity with the United States, greater autonomy within the British empire, and women’s suffrage, as well as temperance and Sabbatarianism, interests he carried over to private life as president of a temperance organization and a vice-president of the London chapter of the Lord’s Day Alliance. A favourite target for the newspaper was John Carting*, a Conservative and a brewer.
In 1874 Cameron’s political views brought him to join a group of rebellious Liberals, including David Mills, a contributor to the Advertiser, who were drawn together in support of Edward Blake* in challenging the authority of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie*. In January 1875, with financial assistance from Blake and Goldwin Smith, Cameron moved to Toronto to begin the Liberal, a morning daily and a platform for Blake’s views. For Cameron it was also an audacious effort to supplant the Globe. However, the revolt of the Blake wing, which had begun so auspiciously, soon collapsed. The consequences for Cameron of his move to the Liberal were disastrous. Competition from the Globe was fierce and the cost of publishing in Toronto greatly exceeded his expectations. As a result, the Liberal suffered heavy losses and in June Cameron closed the newspaper and returned to London. There he was obliged to fend off an attack on the Advertiser from the Free Press, which had begun an evening edition. In 1876, moreover, George Brown began chartering daily trains in order to sell the Globe in southwestern Ontario in competition with the Advertiser.
Surprisingly, the strains of failure did not result in a rift between Cameron and his colleagues in the Blake wing. In 1877 Mills became chief editorial writer for the Advertiser, and in December 1882 Blake, now leader of the Liberals, was instrumental in having Cameron named managing editor of the Globe when John Gordon Brown, who had succeeded his brother George, was removed from the position. The appointment represented a tremendous honour for Cameron and surely a touch of revenge for the loss of the Liberal. Mills took over as editorial director of the Advertiser.
The Globe had suffered from stagnant circulation and advertising revenues for many years, trends Cameron failed to reverse. Its main competitor, the Conservative Toronto Daily Mail [see Christopher William Bunting*], had developed into a profitable newspaper. By 1887, because of its independent political stance, it had also acquired a reputation for impartiality. The Globe’s loss of readership was exacerbated by the political woes of the Liberals under Blake and later Wilfrid Laurier*. Partisan loyalty dictated a moderation on issues such as the North-West rebellion and the Jesuits’ Estates Act that was completely out of step with the sentiments of the majority in Ontario. Cameron’s desperate efforts to find positions acceptable to both the party and his readers made the Globe appear irresolute and resulted in the alienation of both masters. In 1890 he stepped down and was replaced by John Stephen Willison*, who had joined the Advertiser in 1881.
Cameron returned to the Advertiser, which was itself on the brink of serious financial difficulties. There were repeated attempts to start new dailies in London, and in 1896 the Advertiser faced increased competition in the evening market from the News. An independent penny daily, the News made inroads into the Advertiser’s circulation and advertising and forced the cash-poor Cameron to cut his price from two cents to just a penny. The effect was devastating: by 1899 Cameron had accumulated huge debts with his newsprint supplier, the Canada Paper Company. It seized the Advertiser and began searching for a buyer. Cameron failed to find backing and the paper was purchased by Thomas Hunter Purdom, a London lawyer and a Liberal. Cameron made a desperate effort to maintain an interest in the business and his complaints about his treatment were a great embarrassment to Purdom. They were also likely the reason for his appointment in 1903 as postmaster of London, a position he held until 1 Dec. 1908 when he died from a heart attack suffered at a speaking engagement in London. He was survived by his wife, who in the 1890s had published the weekly Wives and Daughters.
John Cameron was a talented and principled journalist and publisher who rose to the pinnacle of Canada’s newspaper business. He developed the Advertiser into one of the finest dailies in the dominion and gave the Globe able management through the 1880s, an extremely troublesome decade for the Liberal party and its principal newspaper. At his death, he was seen as an example of his industry’s vanishing old guard of editor-publishers who had learned their trade as apprentices and had risen to positions of prominence in the highly partisan journalism of the 19th century.
Univ. of Western Ont. Library, Regional Coll., T. H. Purdom papers. Globe, 2 Dec. 1908. London Advertiser, 29 Oct. 1888, 2 Dec. 1908. London Free Press, 5 Aug. 1905. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins), 1: 418. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Canadian Printer and Publisher (Toronto), October 1895: 8. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.1. “John Cameron and the Globe,” Saturday Night, 12 Dec. 1908: 10. D. J. [A.] McMurchy, “David Mills: nineteenth century Canadian Liberal” (phd thesis, Univ. of Rochester, N.Y., 1968). Joseph Schull, Edward Blake, the man of the other way (1833–1881) (Toronto, 1975). D. C. Thomson, Alexander Mackenzie, Clear Grit (Toronto, 1960). Willison, Reminiscences.