Front-row Seat to History: the Canadian Press Marks 100 Years

Described by some scholars as a cornerstone of Canadian history, CP remains a mystery to many, a low-profile but central part of the news landscape

General manager of The Canadian Press Gillis (Gil) Purcell reads news stories off the wire at the news gathering co-operative offices in Toronto in this 1963 file photo.

General manager of The Canadian Press Gillis (Gil) Purcell reads news stories off the wire at the news gathering co-operative offices in Toronto in this 1963 file photo.

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The Canadian Press, the national news service that was created during the First World War to bring home stories from the European front — and went on to become the country’s go-to, real-time source — turned 100 last Friday.

But even dedicated news junkies might not know where to send a birthday card.

Described by some scholars as a cornerstone of Canadian history, CP remains a mystery to many, a low-profile but central part of the news landscape. Its news stories, photos, videos and radio broadcasts, in both official languages, appear in almost every media outlet in the country, yet readers or listeners are often unaware of their source.

The agency was established in 1917 by an Act of Parliament, as newspaper publishers looked to share stories across a massive, thinly populated country. With the war raging in Europe, Canadians were hungry to hear about their troops. Coverage of the Canadian military has remained a top priority for CP, the only news outlet to have a reporter stationed in Afghanistan throughout the duration of that conflict.

Photo editor Roger Varley, left to right, photo editor George Garlock, photo technician Fred Reynolds and chief of picture Jack Tracy work in the photo department in Toronto in this 1959/60 file photo.

Photo editor Roger Varley, left to right, photo editor George Garlock, photo technician Fred Reynolds and chief of picture Jack Tracy work in the photo department in Toronto in this 1959/60 file photo.

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As it grew into a non-profit co-operative owned collectively by member newspapers across Canada, CP ensured readers received a steady supply of regional, national and international news. In those early days, rewrite desks would transform stories from newspapers into tight wire-service copy. Shorter was better: teletype networks could transmit no more than 66 words a minute, putting a limit on how many stories could move in a day.

“CP was to information what railways were to hard goods in Canada,” said Clark Davey, a former newspaper publisher who served as CP’s president and board chairman from 1981 to 1983.

“If you go back to the days before television, it was an even more vital part of binding the country together in those days, because it allowed you to look in on the rest of the country to start with, in a very, almost intimate way.”

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Published on September 7, 2017 at 9:21 am by Turn Table3

Comments

September 9, 2017 - 3:04 am

Rocker Rich

Full of beans, a cocky Postmedia dumped The Canadian Press, confident it could create a comparable news service in-house. By 2012, they threw in the towel, laid off about two dozen editorial staff and re-upped with CP.

Roger Ward, an old acquaintance from my UBC days at CITR, has long been a mainstay at the Broadcast News arm of CP.

Happy centennial to the agency and its past and present staff.


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