Templin recognized as Canadian dean of weekly newspapermen

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.

Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

(This is the conclusion of a series on Hugh Templin, the legendary Fergus editor).

The years between 1938 and 1942 brought many satisfactions to Hugh Templin. 

He had spent the 1930s campaigning for flood control and conservation in the Grand River watershed. With construction proceeding on the Shand Dam, at the location he championed, he had reason to feel satisfaction.

Templin had no time for reflection. As frequently happened in his life, other events overtook him. In March 1939, his father, John C. Templin, died at 69 after a lengthy and losing battle with heart disease. Though Hugh had been effectively running the paper for years, he now assumed the title of publisher and editor of the Fergus News Record.

Whenever possible, he continued to indulge his passion for photography. He was one of the first in the area to experiment with Kodachrome colour film in the late 1930s, and about the same time he acquired an 8mm movie camera. Some of his work from this period has survived, and is a now a valuable historical resource.

More important, in the larger scheme of things, was the Second World War. At 43, and with a heart condition, Templin was unfit for enlistment, but he contributed to the war effort with his editorials, and with several series of articles.

In August 1940, he toured Camp Borden. Several papers picked up the resulting story. In May 1941, with a group of weekly editors, he toured defence plants in the Hamilton area. The articles he produced ran in papers across the province.

Later that summer, he visited five air force bases, all participating in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association syndicated his resulting series in papers across Canada.

Templin’s most important series came in the fall of 1941. The Canadian Press decided to send a dozen editors and reporters from across the country to England, to view and report on preparations for the invasion of the continent. Templin was the only weekly newspaperman invited, and one of only three from Ontario.

The tour put him in stratified company. Joining him from Ontario were B.K. Sandwell, the legendary editor of Saturday Night, and Gratton O’Leary, the fiery editor of the Ottawa Journal.

After weeks of delays, the group left by plane from New York on Sept. 16. The trip was scheduled for three weeks, but various emergencies and difficulties, including air raids, delayed their return until the end of October 1941.

Templin’s riveting series on the trip, “Britain and Europe at War,” was syndicated in more than 500 papers, reaching an audience estimated at over three million. While in London, Templin broadcast a report transmitted to Canada over the CBC radio network.

Back at home, there were other problems to deal with. The newspaper office had been operating with six employees. One by one, they enlisted, and Templin had to scramble to find replacements and train them. Advertising volumes dropped, with a consequent adverse effect on the bottom line.

Through the 1930s and early 1940s, Templin had written a full page of editorials, totalling some 3,500 words, almost every week. With the pressure of other work, he had to cut this back to a half page, and omit it entirely when he was away in Europe. To fill space, he had to resort to syndicated material. And then he had to contend with paper rationing, resulting in a four-page newspaper.

Despite the struggles publishing a paper in wartime, Templin still took on new projects. In 1944, at the insistence of Arthur Ford, editor of the London Free Press, he agreed to sit on a committee to establish a school of journalism at the University of Western Ontario. The committee worked quickly, and had the courses prepared in time to accept the first students in September 1945.

Hugh Templin crowned his work with the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association by serving as president for the 1945-46 year. The duties involved numerous speaking engagements, as well as administrative work.

The crowning acknowledgment of Templin’s work as a newspaperman and conservationist came in 1946, when the University of Western Ontario awarded him an honorary degree. Dr. Hugh Templin maintained his connections with the university by serving on its board of governors.

Back at the office, Dr. Templin was able to settle down at long last to a regular routine. His full pages of editorials resumed, and he continued to compose them at the linotype machine, setting his words directly into type with neither editing nor corrections.

After the war, the third generation of the family entered the business, when Hugh’s sons, Peter and Bill, joined the staff.

Though still in his early 50s, Canadian journalists regarded Hugh Templin as the dean of weekly newspapermen. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the News Record ranked as the most quoted weekly in Canada. Profiles of him appeared in the Financial Post and the Toronto dailies, but he remained modest, describing himself as the editor “of an average country weekly, with a circulation of 1,600, and devoting itself entirely to news and opinions of the town and district.”

By the late 1950s, Hugh Templin started to slow down. He took on no new special projects or causes, but remained a consistent advocate for conversation. Bill Templin took over part of the editorial page on a regular basis.

Economic conditions became harder for weekly papers by 1960. Some advertisers deserted the papers in favour of flyers. Templin had difficulty in maintaining a network of correspondence that had once showered readers with rural news. Perhaps most important was changing technology. The News Record did printing as a sideline, but by 1960 this business started to move to firms offering offset printing, which was cheaper and could be done easily in colour.

Though his great years as an editor were over, fame and honours continued. Templin received dozens of invitations each year to speak to various groups and societies. A surprise came at the Fergus Fall Fair in 1961. Premier Leslie Frost opened the event, and in his remarks, praised Templin as “the father of conservation in Ontario.”

Peter Templin left the business in 1961 to go to teachers’ college and a new career. He had earned a mathematics degree in 1946, but had spent the next 15 years with the production department of the paper, and taking occasional reporting assignments.

On Jan. 29, 1962, Hugh Templin went to the regular meeting of the Fergus Service Club. Soon after he got home, he collapsed. Fortunately, he lived close to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed a stroke. They did all they could, but the old editor did not regain consciousness for four days.

Miraculously, he was able to recover, regaining most of his functions over the following months. It was a trying time for him. He had difficulty concentrating on reading, and he discovered, to his dismay, that he detested television.

“That Inside Page,” Hugh Templin’s famous editorial offerings, returned to the paper in September 1962, though in a much-reduced size. He struggled on with his duties for another year, during which he realized that it would be necessary to move to offset technology to keep the paper viable.

Concluding that he could not deal with the changeover himself, he decided to sell the paper to Charles Davis, publisher of the Elmira Signet. The new proprietor took over in December 1963, with Hugh Templin maintaining duties until the end of the year.

Moving quickly, Fergus citizens put together a testimonial dinner for him, under the auspices of the Fergus Service Club, the Businessmen’s Association, and the Chamber of Commerce (of which Templin had been founding president). Even with short notice, more than 200 attended. Dr. W.A. Young took the chair, and there were short addresses from a dozen editors. Guests came from as far as Winnipeg. Others sent regrets. By coincidence, the night was the 40th anniversary of Hugh Templin’s editorship of the News Record.

Though the paper had left Templin family ownership after 61 years, Bill Templin remained as editor for six years before leaving Fergus for other opportunities.

Nominally retired, Hugh Templin continued to write, offering “Mostly Gossip” to News Record readers, and “Country Editor” to the K-W Record. These pieces, unfortunately, were not his best work. He had plans to revise and update his 1933 history of Fergus, but was never able to concentrate on the task. By 1969, his health started to fail badly, and he had to abandon writing altogether.

Hugh Templin’s condition deteriorated so badly that he had to be admitted to Groves Hospital in July 1970. The life of Wellington County’s greatest editor ended there on Oct. 14, 1970, at the age of 74.

*This column was originally published in the Advertiser on May 2, 2003.

Thorning Revisited