The Changing Scene
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Oct 1932, p. 250-261
Charlesworth, Hector, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The speaker's earliest recollections of the City of Toronto. The city today once divided into a large number of small municipalities. Personal anecdotes of the speaker's background, his training as an accountant, and how he became a newspaper man. The amazing change in the national wealth of Canada in its resources of civilization. Some recollections of the earliest use of the telephone, of the first aeroplanes, of the day the Royal York hotel was opened. Contrasting these many changes with the relative stability of newspaper work. Reminiscences of the speaker's experiences in newspaper work. Anecdotes from working at "Saturday Night" and later "Toronto World." The celebrated Hyams case. The speaker's scoop on the fact that the Welland Canal dynamiters were actual Fenians and not grain scoopers, as people generally believed. The speaker's hobbies; a lover of the theatre and music. Some words on Canadian art and culture. The effect of radio on newspapers and periodicals. The speaker's feelings on leaving "Saturday Night." Commendations for his successor, Mr. Sandwell.
Date of Original
20 Oct 1932
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

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Full Text
October 20, 1932

LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, President, introduced the speaker.

MR. CHARLESWORTH: It is with very mingled feelings that I stand before you today. The events of the past three weeks have been such as could not fail to fill any human being with a great deal of pride and with some modesty at the thought of how much is expected of one. I myself had no idea that my appointment would be so favorably received as it has been by newspaper friends and people in all walks of life throughout Canada, but especially among countless people I did not know in the City of Toronto. Tearing up roots in Toronto, which is the bitter part of my new elevation, is a very sad and trying process for me. I had not realized that I had come to be regarded so much a part of Toronto's life, but I suppose that is natural. I have worked almost daily within a very short distance of the comer of King and Yonge Streets ever since July of 1887, when I was a little less than 15 years old, and I suppose people have gotten in the habit of seeing me on that down town beat so frequently that everybody has learned to speak to me and everybody has rushed to grasp my hand.

Very soon I will be leaving Toronto for good, but I shall be frequently back here in the course of business, I trust, renewing old aquaintanceships.

I can remember quite vividly that day in September, 1876, then just turned four years, when I arrived in the City of Toronto, and I think it is my most vivid early recollection--I can quite remember the funny little old Union Station, since superseded on two occasions, and my first ride in a hack up to Bloor Street, which was then the northern boundary of the City of Toronto. As you know, I have written some books of "Chronicles", and even at that early age I commenced to pick up anecdotes suitable for the Chronicles, because I remember our neighbors in those early days. Our special neighbor was the Hon. Sir Frank Smith, and across the street was St. Paul's Church. The old building is still standing beside the enormous newer edifice., but the thing that interested me about Sir Frank Smith was not that he was a capable minister and eminent man in his country, but he had a most fascinating parrot, and I am afraid this parrot was a papist parrot- (laughter) because when, old Canon Givens would be preaching on a summer's day and the church doors and windows would be open, Sir Frank Smith's parrot had a habit of shouting, "Wipe off your chin; pull down your vest." It caused quite a scandal in the neighborhood, so finally Sir Frank Smith graciously consented to cover up the parrot on Sunday mornings. (Laughter).

That is one of my earliest recollections in the City of Toronto. I did not know at that time, being but four years old, or a little over-I did not know that within 15 years I would be scribbling ardently as a very young newspaper man.

The city as I remember it was broken up into a series of villages. There was the Toronto which ended at Bloor Street. You went north and you found the village of Yorkville, where I lived during my school days, and then you found Deer Park and Davisville and Eglinton, where I afterwards lived, and when you went to the east you found Leslieville, and away down to the cast the village of Norway. And then there was Victoria Park where steamers used to run. Going to the west--there were Parkdale and Brockton and Bracondale and Seaton Village, etc. So the city of today as we see it was once divided into a large number of small municipalities, each of which had its individual municipal life when I first entered newspaper work. We have seen all that changed. I do not know whether it is for the better with respect to the social life of the community. What strikes me as I look back on our coming to the City of Toronto, completely strangers-my father had some business friends, but my mother was a total stranger,--is how readily we accumulated friends in that village of Yorkville. We were taken under the wings of Rev. Septimus Jones and his family, and I see right in front of me perhaps my oldest personal acquaintance in the City of Toronto, Magistrate J. Edmund Jones. I should say also, co-equal with him in that honor, is a man named Frank Hesson, who was our next door neighbor. Six years ago I had lunch with Frank Hesson in the City Club, New York City, and he took me up Fifth Avenue to show me a magnificent building he was erecting. He was then Treasurer of the Aeolian Company of America, and he is now, I think, President in London, England--one of the big business men of the United States. The whole Survey in my mind shows how Canadians do get along somewhere.

When I came down town to work, articled with a chartered accountant with a view of being manager of my father's business-I had then no thought at all of being a newspaper man-there were two boys from my own parish who came down town about the same time. One was Harry Jones and the other was Ernest Rolph. We used to see a good deal of each other at the noon hour and, as you know, Mr. Jones of New York later was assistant manager of the Canadian Bank of Commence and did a giant's work in London, England, handling Canadian finances at the outbreak of the war. Ernest Rolph has had a hand in the building of Hart House and other very fine buildings in this country. When I look back on those boyhood associates I am filled with a sense of what Canada means. Here were boys, none of whom had wealthy parents, who just managed to float along with the progress of the times. The change in the national wealth of Canada, in its resources of civilization, has been amazing.

Colonel Drew has alluded to the fact that I can remember the beginnings of the telephone. I do not remember the invention of the telephone, but I do remember quite well about the period of 1880 or '81 my father coming home to dinner and saying, "Well, I put in a telephone today" and describing to his children what this wonderful invention was. I do remember about that time being taken to Barnum's circus, the chief feature attraction of which was Edison's wonderful new invention of electric light, first promulgated through Barnum's circus, and a great curiosity. I was shown the wagon from which it was generated outside the "main top" as they called it. The miraculous things that have changed the whole fabric of civilization since those early events are too numerous to describe.

We can recall in 1910 or 1911 seeing the first aeroplanes flown by Count de Lesseps and Johnston and Brookins, expert bicycle riders, who had taken to the air because they had the ability to stand speed--all of whom died through air accidents--and that is only 22 years ago. That was only four years before the war, which brought forward the aeroplane.

On the day this hotel was opened, I walked up Bay Street with the late Sir Edward Kemp. We were speaking about what this hotel was going to mean to the City of Toronto and the change that had taken place, and he said, "Charlesworth, this seems incredible to myself because I have been using motor cars so long, and I had one of the first motor cars in the City of Toronto, but going through my papers this morning I found that in 1909 1 actually bought a buggy." And he said, "I could not believe it, but there was the date and there was the cheque; I actually invested in a buggy in 1909." When, Sir Edward Kemp said this to me that year was less than 20 years before.

And so things have gone forward at headlong pace and we just accept them as we go along. That is why I am inclined to regard newspaper work as something conservative and permanent. While the size of newspapers has changed a good deal and photogravures, and things like that have developed, the general methods of newspaper work have been more or less unchanged throughout my connection with them, which extends over 40 years. We are, so to speak, I think, the conservative factor in the community. Beyond a few mechanical changes, the personnel, the methods and character of newspaper men, remain the same.

Of course, newspaper work has become a much more highly capitalized business than it was when, I entered it. My first experience was with the paper from which 'I am now so regretfully retiring--Saturday Night. As I told you, I was educated as an accountant, but when the mania for writing came over me I could not resist the impulse. It was necessary for me, if I was not going to be speedily rebuked for neglecting my studies as an accountant, that I should write anonymously, and I sent my anonymous contributions to the young publication, Saturday Night. One Saturday, the very first lines of the first column in that paper contained a little advertisement from Mr. E. Sheppard saying that he wished the anonymous writer who signed Touchstone to his contributions would send him his address. I sent my address. I was asked to call, and 1, a callow youth under 19, was offered the post of assistant editor of Saturday Night. it was not as large a publication as it is now, but I took it on. I had lots of courage, apparently. Mr. Sheppard went away to Germany for three months, but he gave us a very able contributors' aid in my dear friend Joe Clarke, who later got me my first job on a daily paper. (Applause.) That daily paper was the Toronto World. Now, the Toronto World was a curious illustration of the old financial methods, not merely in newspaper work but in business generally. I do not suppose it ever had an audit of its books. It never knew whether it was solvent or insolvent. (Laughter.) It started on a shoe string. My future father-in-law loaned W. F. Maclean $400 and he started the World, and if the World had been conducted with proper accountancy methods, which I had been early trained to respect, it no doubt would have become solvent some time or other, but as a matter of fact it survived for 40 years, and was I think throughout that period in-solvent. (Laughter.) But it was a most interesting office in which to get a training, because it was run in this way: I may illustrate with a little story. One time I was sitting in a theatre with another member of the World staff, a fellow with a very loud voice. A couple of comedians started a dialogue on money matter, and one said to the other: "You see its this way-you get it but you don't," and the other fellow said "Yes, you get it but you don't." The man beside me said, "By God, that is like the Toronto World." (Laughter.) We had certain salaries named on the books, but it was doubtful whether you got it. Nevertheless;, I do not think any publication had more loyal service or more industrious service than the Toronto World. A great many of the most celebrated men in this country worked there from time to time, and Mr. Maclean himself was a very hard worker. He never had a desk of his own, but would come and sit down at the comer of some one else's desk with a piece of paper and stub of lead pencil and write something. Then if he got restless he would get up and move around to another desk, but anything he wrote was pungent and something that everybody wanted to read.

In that old office was another figure who still survivesI hear from him--old Harry Smallpiece. I never knew until Harry Smallpiece got to be an old man whether he was bald or not, because I never in all my early acquaintance saw him without a silk hat on at all hors of the day and night. We used to make bets as to whether Harry Smallpiece was really bald or not, but nobody among the young fellows dared ask him to take off his hat and settle the bet. It was good fun working on the World and our office there was a place where everybody in Toronto used to drop in if he had a good story to tellliked to rub shoulder with genius, or anything of the sort- (laughter) -but, of course,, as one got one's training one looked about for fields where you did get it and get it. (Laughter.) So I passed on to various other papers until I reached my long connection with the Mail and Empire, on which I was for several years a reporter and later for several years City Editor, until finally, in the year 1910, 1 gave up daily newspaper work for good, joining Saturday Night and was sixteen years associate editor and for six years editor-in-chief.

In those early years I never made any money. I was 30 years old before I could seriously count on a thousand dollars as a minimum. But they were full of colour, full of life.

One of the historic cases with which I had connection, because I just happened to get the original tip, was the celebrated Hyams case and in connection with that case I may say that one of the murderers-and I have no hesitation in saying they were murderers--on the night before we were going to spring our big scoop, sent for me through his solicitor and offered me $5,000. to take to the World office and give to Mr. Maclean to prevent the publication of the story. I went back to my news editor, old Walter Wilkinson, and he said, "Is that right, Hector?" "Yes, there is $5,000 down at the St. Charles Hotel." I replied. "For God's sake don't let them know it," he said "We have to have that story in the morning paper." (Laughter.) We were afraid that the necessities of the office would supersede any feeling for the public weal. However, it was our story and it got published.

Another episode in my career which is somewhat frequently alluded to, was when by a little common sense I did scoop all the papers in North America on the fact that the Welland Canal dynamiters were actual Fenians and not grain scoopers, as people generally believed. I may say with regard to that episode that the idea that they were grainscoopers and not Fenians; was not started by the prisoners or their friends themselves, but there was at Buffalo a famous newspaper proprietor named "Fingy" Connors who bad originally been a longshoreman and was interested in the grain, business and was very anxious to fasten something on the union of grain scoopers or whatever they called them. Buffalo, being nearest the scene, sprang the theory-and then every other newspaper in North America-that the dynamiters were just striking grain scoopers at Buffalo who had done this thing to prevent grain traffic being diverted down to the Port of Montreal. As I say, the theory did not appeal to me, and by real good luck--I happened to know the New York frontier very well--I went over to the American side to trace the movements of the prisoners prior to their crime and had no difficulty, in half an afternoon's work, in discovering they were Irishmen and knew nothing about America and that they had recently come from Dublin. The interesting thing about those facts was that the crown authorities knew them all the time but were falling in with the grain scooper theory because they wanted to find out the principals who had brought over those fellows to commit the crime. Perhaps I was not working in the public interest in going out on "my own" and identifying those men as Dubliners, because it probably did prevent the American government, which was equally keen with that of Canada to get at the facts from tying it up to the Clan na Gael in New York.

Those are just little episodes illustrating the colour of a newspaper man's life when he takes up as many lines as I have done. But, of course, the type of writing which brought me some little fame, and which is no doubt responsible for my appointment in some degree, was my devotion to my own hobbies. I had been always a lover of the theatre and even a deeper lover of music, and fortunately I came in contact with a series of editors who were willing to let me exploit my hobbies provided it cost them nothing, and so for a good part of my life I worked pretty hard doing the ordinary routine but at the same time plugging my best for music and the drama. And that, if you take it seriously, is one of the most charming and interesting of pursuits because, if you are a decent fellow, if you are willing to give artists a square deal, so to speak, you gain many delightful friendships. Gradually I have acquired friendships on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout America through people who would say, "Oh, when you go to Toronto you must know Mr. Charlesworth," and I can assure you that what I call the artists of the community, the people who give themselves, are a much finer class of people than anybody has any idea of. They are high strung, their temperment makes life difficult for them outside their own pursuits, but I have never known more loyal people than my numerous friends in the theatrical profession, and there is one thing I would like to advert to-the enormous improvement in the intellectual quality of the theatre which has taken place in my own life time. I know this is a bad time to make any special claims for the theatre, because it has serious rivalry in the radio itself, in the motion picture theatre, but the intellectual quality of the drama that is written today for serious production is very much higher than it was in the period of 1890. You can put almost any intellectual thesis into dramatic form today and if it is handled with sufficient skill and sufficient intelligence, then it gets some sort of audience perhaps not a vast audience from the general public, but from the many community theatres of this continent throughout Canada. Many of the plays that have run their course on Broadway-really intellectual plays-are being played through our Western provinces today, in community theatres created through that public interest in the theatre as a vehicle of thought which did not exist when I was a young man. In the matter of music and the capacity to enjoy musk, our situation in Toronto especially and in Canadian cities generally has immeasurably improved. I can quite well remember Dr. TorTington's early efforts with the orchestra to promote orchestral music in Toronto. They were pretty deplorable. They were trustworthy but they were not for sensitive ears. I will not allude merely to our own Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which has become one of the finest in America, but we have in Vancouver a beautiful symphony orchestra, a very good one in Calgary, a commendable one in Winnipeg, a good start in Hamilton, a fine one in Montreal, and it is my hope that some daynot soon but some day--we will do more for those orchestras, and I have no doubt that the interest that makes them possible has been to some extent stimulated by the improvement in radio.

I am not going to say anything about what I am going to do because I do not just know. I have a theory only, but I am going to say something on just what radio actually has come to mean. In a survey of the changing scene there is nothing quite like it, nothing so widespread.. nothing so intimate. I was talking to you about W. F. Maclean. After W. F. Faclean lost his paper I used to see him very frequently because he had a little office near mine and he used to say, "Hector, the day of the newspaper is done: I won't live to see it, you will, when there will be no such thing as a daily newspaper." I said "Oh, Mr. Maclean, that is nonsense," and he said "Radio will replace it." Well, I do not believe any such nonsense myself, but there is a colourable case for that theory because, when you come to think of it, the radio now enters into the home quite as much as the newspapers and periodicals. There is, of course, no home I think in Canada except of the very ignorant character that has not got some form of daily newspaper or some form of weekly newspaper-even on the farms the daily newspaper exists where it was not to be found 40 years ago, and the periodical as we know from our own particular business has gained a tremendous hold in Canada. Canadian periodicals, the aggregate circulation of which is quite enormous, are a great credit not only to the publishers but to the people who are their readers, because they are written for an intelligent public. Hand in hand with the newspaper and the periodical we have radio. The trouble with radio has been, as with nearly all our epicmaking inventions, it got off on the wrong foot. We know how that marvellous thing motion pictures was maltreated at the start, and it has been very hard to bring it up to a better level since. Radio was treated as a toy and nobody, until very lately, has seemed to take it into his head that radio broadcasts need intelligent guidance just as much as production of a newspaper. I do not for one moment subscribe to the idea that you have to get down to the very lowest intelligences in the community to render satisfactory service either with a newspaper or periodical or a broadcast station. (Applause.)

Before I sit down, I wish to say something about the deep sorrow I feel in giving up the publication which has been my pet. It was the publication I started on and it has always been my joy to try and make it something fine and serviceable to the Canadian public. (Applause.) I have a right to think that in some degree I have succeeded in that, but I do not want anyone to think that Saturday Night has been a one man show. That is an idea I have had to correct among many personal friends. I have had as fine and well trained staff as any periodical--I am not going to say in Canada, but in North American--I could not go into the office of any other periodical in North America where they have a small staff so efficiently trained to carry on their work or as well greased a machine as I have in my own office. (Applause.) I want to commend to you my successor--a man whom you have heard speak to you--one of the ablest men in this country-Mr. Sandwell. Mr. Sandwell is a very happy man to have such a staff to work with and such an institution to work with. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman (Applause.)

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The Changing Scene

The speaker's earliest recollections of the City of Toronto. The city today once divided into a large number of small municipalities. Personal anecdotes of the speaker's background, his training as an accountant, and how he became a newspaper man. The amazing change in the national wealth of Canada in its resources of civilization. Some recollections of the earliest use of the telephone, of the first aeroplanes, of the day the Royal York hotel was opened. Contrasting these many changes with the relative stability of newspaper work. Reminiscences of the speaker's experiences in newspaper work. Anecdotes from working at "Saturday Night" and later "Toronto World." The celebrated Hyams case. The speaker's scoop on the fact that the Welland Canal dynamiters were actual Fenians and not grain scoopers, as people generally believed. The speaker's hobbies; a lover of the theatre and music. Some words on Canadian art and culture. The effect of radio on newspapers and periodicals. The speaker's feelings on leaving "Saturday Night." Commendations for his successor, Mr. Sandwell.