HAWKE, JOHN THOMAS, printer, journalist, and newspaper publisher; b. 30 April 1854 in Plymouth, England, son of John Peter Hawke, a cartman, and Mary Ann Harvey; m. October 1875 Della Thornton of Aylmer, Ont., and they had three daughters; d. 17 Feb. 1922 in Moncton, N.B.
Of Cornish descent, John Thomas Hawke claimed kinship with Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, hero of the battle of Quiberon Bay, a decisive British victory in the Seven Years’ War, but this connection has not been substantiated. Little is known about his early life or where he learned the craft of typesetting, though he is said to have become a printer in Torquay. After emigrating to the United States in 1873, Hawke worked briefly as a compositor in the office of the Rome Sentinel in Rome, N.Y., before moving the same year to Ontario. There over the next decade and a half he was employed by various newspapers, rising from compositor to reporter for the St Thomas Times, legislative reporter for the Toronto Leader, reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, and member of the parliamentary staff and political correspondent for the Toronto Globe in Ottawa. From 1882 to 1885 he was managing news editor of the Globe, before moving to the Hamilton Tribune, a prohibitionist daily, as editor and then to editorship of the Ottawa Free Press, a position he held until 1887. In that year, with support from the federal Liberal party, Hawke purchased the Daily Transcript of Moncton, a move made to counter the dominance of the Conservative Daily Times, edited by Henry Thaddeus Stevens. He became editor and publisher of the Liberal paper on 1 June.
The following day in the Transcript, Hawke set out his views, which he was to promote through his newspaper and in other activities for the rest of his life. He would, the editorial stated, “adhere to the traditional lines and policy of liberal journalism . . . [since] the best interests of Canada are identified with advent of the Liberal Party to power.” He argued for commercial union with the United States and against the current high tariffs. He expressed dismay at the “enormous increase in the number of Federal employees,” noting that “a source of patronage is becoming . . . a menace to the existence of constitutional government.” Hawke believed that members of the Senate should be elected. He also argued for the abolition of the New Brunswick Legislative Council, the provincial upper house, and he believed that the British North America Act should be amended to eliminate the office of the lieutenant governor, whose responsibilities should be assumed by the chief justice. He opposed the sale of intoxicating liquor and felt that the prohibition question should be decided by a direct vote of the people, not during an election. In conclusion, Hawke pledged that his newspaper would advance the interests of the Maritime provinces, New Brunswick, and especially the town of Moncton.
He was almost immediately involved in controversy. After the Conservative candidate, Josiah Wood, defeated his Liberal opponent, Henry Robert Emmerson*, in Westmorland County during the federal election of 1887, Emmerson responded with a petition alleging that Conservative agents had been responsible for 500 acts of bribery and corruption in the course of the campaign. Such petitions had to be heard within six months of filing or they would expire. After judge John James Fraser*, apparently misunderstanding the terms of this requirement, three times postponed the date of the hearing, Wood’s counsel, Pierre-Amand Landry*, claimed on 22 October that the petition had expired, and Fraser so ruled. Emmerson appealed, and the full bench of the Supreme Court, which included Fraser, reversed the judge’s earlier decision. In an editorial in the Transcript Hawke referred to “that distinguished judicial acrobat, Mr. Justice Pooh-Bah Fraser,” an allusion to the popular Gilbert and Sullivan musical The Mikado. He went on to claim that the judge had been “manifestly inebriated on the bench” on a previous occasion. Hawke was summoned to Fredericton to show why he should not be charged with contempt of court. Despite a lengthy speech in his own defence, the Supreme Court concluded that he was guilty of contempt for implying that Fraser had taken bribes. He was given an opportunity to apologize, but refused. On 27 April 1888 he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a fine of $200. Hawke’s arrest and sentence sparked lively discussion in many Canadian newspapers and a day-long debate in the House of Commons on 9 May on the issues of press freedom and the limits of judicial power. Having paid his fine and served his time in prison, he returned to Moncton to much acclaim.
Under Hawke’s editorship, the Transcript flourished. In the early 1890s he built a new building for the newspaper, and by 1911 the coverage of the paper, now called the Moncton Transcript, was expanded to include more sports and community news. His financial success and political influence had increased appreciably as a result of the Liberal victory in Westmorland County in the federal election of 1896. Hawke obtained lucrative printing contracts for the Intercolonial Railway, which had its headquarters in Moncton, and he dispensed many of the railway’s jobs from his newspaper office, rewarding Liberals and party donors. For a number of years Hawke also served as president of the local Liberal association.
Always desirous to promote the press and its interests, he was the first president of the New Brunswick Press Association from 1905 to 1907. After this organization merged with its Nova Scotia counterpart to form the Maritime Press Association, he served as secretary of the new group for the first three years of its existence. He also played a significant role in persuading the Maritime Press Association to join the Canadian Press Association in 1913. As well, Hawke was active in the community. In 1900 he became chair of the Moncton school board, a position he held until 1911. He pushed for legislation that would raise the age of school admission to six and argued vigorously for compulsory school attendance, noting in the board’s annual report for 1908–9 the high incidence of petty crimes committed by juveniles in the Moncton area. Under his tenure the board also advocated the medical examination of schoolchildren. Its recommendations were energetically endorsed in Hawke’s newspaper.
A strong supporter of the monarchy, Hawke attended the coronation of George V in 1911 as a delegate from Moncton. During World War I, always an effective speaker, he regularly addressed the fortnightly “patriotic meetings” held in the city. He was also active in the Canadian Patriotic Fund, established to aid families of Canadian servicemen, and in the Board of Trade of the Maritime Provinces. Other issues that he promoted included women’s suffrage and Maritime union. On the question of union he wrote that “we stand at a disadvantage in this Morning Land of Canada because as three provinces we speak with differentiated voices.” Through his many activities, John Thomas Hawke contributed in numerous ways to the city of Moncton and the province of New Brunswick.
John Thomas Hawke is the author of “The meeting was an excellent one,” Busy East of Canada (Sackville, N.B.), 10 (1919–20), no.2: 24–25, “Moncton City and its future,” Busy East of Canada, 8 (1917–18), no.: 26–28, 60, and “The Transcript’s platform,” Daily Transcript (Moncton, N.B.), 2 June 1887: .
GRO, Reg. of births, Plymouth, 30 April 1854. Moncton Transcript, 17–18, 20–21, 28 Feb. 1922. Times & Transcript (Moncton), 15 Aug. 1998; 16 Oct. 1999; 13 May, 15 July 2000. J. E. Belliveau, “Hawke of the Transcript: a forgotten hero of Canadian journalism,” Beaver (Winnipeg), 77 (1997–98), no.4: 35–37; “Hawke of the Transcript . . . in Liberal homes he was a family deity,” Atlantic Advocate (Fredericton), 65 (1974–75), no.7: 36–38; The Monctonians (2v., Hantsport, N.S., 1981–82). Can., House of Commons, Debates, 9 May 1888. J. A. Cooper, “The editors of the leading Canadian dailies,” Canadian Magazine (Toronto), 12 (November 1898–April 1899): 336–52. A history of Canadian journalism . . . (2v., Toronto, 1908–59). H. B. Jefferson, “The great Pooh-Bah case,” Atlantic Advocate, 54 (1963–64), no.1: 45–51. “Liberty of the press,” University Monthly (Fredericton), 7 (1887–88), no.8: –2. N.B., Dept. of Education, Annual report of the schools of New Brunswick (Fredericton), 1900–11. C. A. Pincombe and E. W. Larracey, Resurgo: the history of Moncton (2v., Moncton, 1990–91).