A pioneer of the Canadian Press: 1881-1955

George MacDonald: half a century of news

(George was my maternal grandfather. I followed in his footsteps as a journalist, and
these pages are devoted to his memory -- Hugh Doherty)

George in 1931 George in 1946

George in 1931, left, and at his desk at the Canadian Press in Montreal in 1946

The Titanic, Halifax Explosion some of his major stories

George was born in England in 1881, and while he was a teenager, landed his first job on a newspaper as a printer's helper on the London Times.

He came to Canada in 1903 when he was 22 and was a reporter for the old Montreal Witness. In 1905 he went to the Toronto Star, and then to the Stratford, Ont. Herald, where he was city editor. He then worked for a while on the Hamilton Spectator.

He returned to Montreal in 1910 as resident correspondent for the Canadian Press, Canada's co-operative news agency. CP, as it came to be known, was then just a year old. It was to be George's professional home for the next 37 years.

Empress of Ireland headlineGeorge was the main CP staff reporter for Quebec and the rest of eastern Canada, and sometimes the eastern United States, so he travelled quite a bit. His material was used in most of the Canadian daily newspapers of the time. Among the major stories he covered in those early years were the Titanic disaster of 1912 off Newfoundland, about which he gathered information in New York City, the sinking of the passenger liner Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River in 1914 and the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Titanic newspaper billboardHalifax headline

George later went into the executive ranks of the Canadian Press, and by at least 1924, was Quebec superintendent.

He has been credited with setting up a system of rapid reporting of national election results which was still in use in the late 1950s and early 1960s when television and computers were in their infancy. On election nights, crowds would gather in front of newspaper buildings all over Canada to watch progressive returns from George's system. The numbers were posted on big cards outside the building, or in front windows.

George was still Quebec superintendent when he retired from the Canadian Press in 1947. He didn't stay retired for long. He returned later the same year to newspaper work with the Montreal Gazette. He became day editor and was still working there when he died of a heart attack in 1955. He was 73.

George at The GazetteGeorge leaves CP

George at the Montreal Gazette, left, about 1953, after he went out the door at CP in 1947

George's press pass

George's press pass when he was at The Gazette


The early years | Letters to his grandson | Memories of private life

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

With thanks to my sister Catherine Doherty of Kelowna, B.C., who has done considerable research into George and the MacDonald family and shared it with me. And to my mother, George's daughter, the late Margaret Doherty of Almonte, Ont. who passed on to me some of her MacDonald memorabilia and reminiscences.

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These pages were started January 20, 2000. This page last updated November 21, 2012