George MacDonald

Letter envelope

George's letters to his grandson: 1948-1954

I didn't call my grandfather George; to me he was always Grandpa Mac and he wrote me many letters. Here are some of them. They started when I was a teenager in high school in Sherbrooke, Que., and continued until just before his death in 1955, when I was in my final year at nearby Bishop's University. The letters were filled with encouragement in my studies and other activities, occasional humour, historical observations, and, even before I began summer and holiday work as a cub reporter at the Sherbrooke Daily Record, professional advice and newspaper gossip. 1948 letter

The earliest letter I still have, first page on the right, was written on June 27, 1948 when I was thirteen and in Grade Nine at Sherbrooke High School. In it, George congratulated me on a history prize I had won, and went on to say:

"I hope they make it (history) more interesting for you than when I was a boy. We had to memorize a lot of dates. It was like learning four or five pages from the telephone directory.

Here are some more stamps. The most interesting is the one with the picture of James Buchanan. He was the 15th president of the United States. He was in office at a very troubled time in the war of the States. Had Buchanan been an abler man the war might have been avoided. He died in obscurity....

The picture on the Czechoslovakian stamp is of Benes, who recently resigned as president and after his country moved from the orbit of the Western Powers to that of nearby Soviet Russia. It is in a ticklish position and must watch its step. Russia would wipe out its independence on the slightest provocation...."

I had a stamp collection going in those days, and he thought this a very good way for a young person (particularly a potential journalist) to develop an interest in history and current affairs. He sent me many stamps in the years that followed, along with books and even a set of opera libretti.

This is the only handwritten letter from George that I have. All the others are typewritten, badly, in the best newspaper tradition of the time, on what must have been the usual tired newsroom typewriters. Many are on half-sheets of newsprint copy paper (the "takes" that reporters used to write their stories on), apparently typed at his desk at The Gazette, and signed with the thick pencil he used for editing copy. There was a clipping about something, lost long ago, with this letter:

 May 23, 1951 letter

George had a pretty old-fashioned sense of etiquette, and sometimes was determined I should follow it. In this letter from 1951, he sent me some more stamps which, he said, had been given to him by a young police reporter at The Gazette named Jean Pouliot. He asked me to write to Mr. Pouliot, IN FRENCH (the capital letters were his) and thank him. George also enclosed a dollar bill in the letter, with which he said, I was to to buy cigarettes and send them along with my thank-you note. And George had even more instructions:

Pouliot letter

In the spring of 1953, I was in my second year of university, and had done some writing for the college literary magazine, The Mitre. I had also landed my first job in a newsroom, as a summer reporter at the Record. George undoubtedly had a hand in this, though he never admitted it to me; the editor of the Record then was DOUG AMARON, a former Canadian Press war correspondent, with whom George had once worked. In a page and a half, George laid out for me his most cherished basics of journalism, a 71-year-old writing to an 18-year-old:

Journalistic advice
More advice

When I wasn't doing full-time reporting for the Record and was back at university classes, I covered college news and sports for the paper. This helped with expenses and added to my experience. George was quick to let me know of additional opportunities to do both:

Oct. 5, 1953 letter

George often sent small amounts money with his letters, always appreciated by an impoverished university student. He also sent other things:

June 4, 1954 letter

The shoes, as I remember, didn't fit. But some other pieces of clothing, like his unwanted sports jackets and ties, did. And I wore some of them throughout my university years in an era when jackets, shirts and ties were the required male dress in newspaper offices and college classes.

Newspaper production technology hadn't changed a great deal in the early 1950s for decades, but by July, 1954, major improvements were well on the way. George felt it important that a young journalist know about them:

July 4, 1954 letter

So far, George has been right about robots and reporters. But like most of us then, he had no inkling of the amazing computer and television technologies that would soon revolutionize news gathering and production, and which he would never see. George died six months after writing this letter.

George's home page | The early years | Memories of private life

Millie | George and the R-100 airship | George's father | Final tribute

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Page created January 2000. Last updated Apr. 8, 2006