Do You Remember The Family Herald?

An era in Canadian journalism ended on Sept. 26, 1968, when The Family Herald ceased publication. Founded almost a century earlier, the magazine held a special place in the hearts and minds of many generations of readers. Last summer I was given two cartons containing copies dating from the 1930s through to the 1960s.

It took several rainy days at the cottage before I finished browsing through these issues.

More recently, I fell heir to some scrapbooks, in response to a plea to check such items before they were burned or recycled. The majority of articles were about local events; however, I was not surprised to find others clipped from the Family Herald. Although the magazines focus was rural Canada, many subscribers were drawn from towns and cities. When I mentioned todays topic to one of my neighbours, she immediately responded My son used to deliver the Family Herald every Wednesday in Sackville.

The fact that many articles, and in some instances complete issues of the Family Herald were carefully saved, bears testimony to its importance among readers on the Tantramar and elsewhere. Why did the Family Herald appeal to such a wide audience for so many years? My browse provided the answer.

There was something in each issue for every member of the family. The last general editor H. Gordon Green underlined this point. With tongue in cheek he wrote: We have settled quarrels; counselled the lovelorn; found lost relatives; identified exotic rocks, bugs, plants, stamps and coins; resurrected lost songs, doctored sick animals and helped kids with their homework.

Yet this lengthy list did not convey all that was to be found in this remarkable periodical. Beyond two major sections on agriculture and world news the following were typical features: A Home and Fireside department that covered every subject from needlework to cookery; a Maple Leaf Club designed for young people seeking pen pals across Canada and overseas and a weekly column of home spun philosophy by the Observer. Then there was Along the Sports Highway a summary of the week in sport and a comic strip called Juniper Junction. These were rounded out by a well written editorial page and cartoon on some major event in the news of the week.

As if this were not enough, each issue contained a serial chapter from a novel and usually a short story. It is worth noting that some of the best writers within Canada and elsewhere received their start in the Family Herald. Heres a few examples: Gregory Clark; Harry I. Boyle; H. Gordon Green; Grace Livingston Hill; Nellie J. McClung and W. O. Mitchell.

Nor were Maritime writers neglected. Will R. Bird’s short stories were published regularly along with the work of Evelyn Richardson, Thomas Raddall and T. Goodridge Roberts. Among those serialized were the internationally famous Nevil Shute and Sir Wilfred Grenfell.

In the multi-media world of today, its hard to realize that during the heyday of the Family Herald in the 1930s and 40s, newspapers and magazines were the major source of news and information. By the time the magazine ceased publication it was already being nudged aside by radio and especially television. The internet and other present day forms of mass communication were still in the realm of science fiction.

A major reason for the Family Heralds popularity was the calibre of its reporters and journalists. The heart of each issue was News of the Week a summary of Canadian and international events of the previous seven days. For most of the period under review, this section was written and edited by journalist Frank Woodley Page and later Dr. James Eayrs. The latter, a distinguished Canadian political scientist, served on the faculties of the University of Toronto and Dalhousie University. These commentaries, particularly during the dark days of the Second World War, set a high standard for the rest of the magazine.

The largest section of the magazine dealt with agricultural topics. Many columns and features were of a practical nature and stressed the improvement of farming practices. News and reports concerning farmers organizations and major exhibitions were carried. Each year such events as the Maritime Winter Fair and the Royal Winter Fair received full coverage. A section for Young Farmers kept readers up to date on what later became known as the 4-H movement. One popular feature was the Consulting Service, which enabled readers to seek advice from experts on every conceivable topic from veterinary medicine to horticulture to the feeding of cattle.

One explanation for saving back issues of the Family Herald was their later use as program material for various farm groups and organizations such as the Womens Institute. In preparation for an earlier Flashback column, I investigated an important nineteenth century farm organization known as The Grange. During the 1880s and 90s it had lodges in Sackville, Point de Bute, Fort Lawrence and Amherst. The minute book of the Point de Bute Grange noted the frequent use of articles from the Family Herald. In a continuation of this trend, during the mid-twentieth century the National Farm Radio Forum often drew on material from the same source.

Many of the feature articles would be described today as on the cutting edge of journalism. A few examples from the 1960s will illustrate the point: The Hidden Hazards Of Sending Our Water South; Here Come The Agricultural Robots and The Place Of Computers In Agriculture. Such articles also illustrate the futuristic approach of the magazine.

One final impression from my informal survey. The Family Herald always lived up to its billing as Canadas national farm magazine. No section of the country was neglected and this held true for the Tantramar. Topics such as dykeland agriculture and marshland reclamation were often featured.

For part of the period under review the editor was Lyman T. Chapman, a native of East Amherst. In keeping with his Yorkshire agricultural heritage, Chapmans move from the principalship of the Nova Scotia Agriculture College to the editorial chair was an easy one. For several years he wrote an engaging column entitled Chapmans Corner inspired by his family name and that of a community near Port Elgin.

A key question remains. Why did such a venerable institution collapse in 1968? Briefly stated, it was a victim of the times. The magazines demise coincided with the approaching end of the family farm and the trend toward urbanization. Rural readers will be very aware of this trend, as they have witnessed firsthand, the consolidation of land holdings and the rise of the corporate farm. There was also a sudden shift in advertising revenue; always the major source of income for the magazine. Large daily and weekly newspapers were now a better forum for advertisers wishing to reach what remained of the farming population.

New print media, such as glossy theme-oriented magazines helped push the traditional Family Herald to the sideline. The instant popularity of television, played a role in the changes taking place. It is also evident that the magazine had grown tired by the 1960s. Internally, many features were dropped and never replaced. Although the reputation for good journalism remained, readership was slowly slipping away. During the same time period, two other not dissimilar Canadian magazines, The Star Weekly and The Montreal Standard also fell by the wayside.

On taking a final look at my two cartons of samples, I recalled the parting words of editor H. Gordon Green: The Family Herald was undoubtedly the friendliest magazine in Canada Surely no magazine anywhere was ever so close to its readers Not a bad epitaph for any publication!