Canada 150: Irish immigrant became Canada's first woman publisher of city daily
Monday, April 17, 2017

To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, we are counting down to Canada Day with profiles of 150 noteworthy British Columbians.

The first woman to serve as publisher of a major Canadian daily newspaper didn’t come to her position with a silver spoon. She had working-class callouses on her fingers, starting as pre-teen telegrapher tapping out messages in Morse Code.

Born in Ireland in 1856, Sara Ann (Maclure) McLagan came to British Columbia with her mother, Martha McIntyre, in 1859. Her father, John Cunningham Maclure, was a sergeant and surveyor with the Royal Engineers in New Westminster during the Fraser River gold rush. After his wife arrived, children quickly followed. Sara’s younger brother Samuel later became one of B.C.’s most eminent early architects.

Maclure elected to homestead on Matsqui prairie. He had worked for a company planning a telegraph line to Russia. When it failed, he shrewdly located where two Western Union lines intersected. Martha’s parlour became a repeater station. Then he taught Sara telegraphy. At 12, when the region was threatened by a forest fire, she alerted New Westminster. At 14, she had a full-time job at New Westminster’s Western Union telegraph depot. She was an operator at Matsqui by 15, handling all the press dispatches from the United States. By 16, she was a line tester and manager of repairs from New Westminster to Yale. At 19, she was in the Victoria office and became its manager.

Then she met John Campbell McLagan. He was a printer. In 1884, he had helped establish the Victoria Daily Times. They married the same year and she became a stepmother and soon added four more children to the family. Four years later, using capital his wife had borrowed from James Dunsmuir, wealthy son of coal tycoon Robert Dunsmuir, he founded the Vancouver Daily World.

He died in 1901 and she took control as publisher and managing editor, writing editorials, reporting and even proofreading. She helped found the Canadian Women’s Press Club. She added a weekend women’s section dealing with health, diet, childcare and women’s social activities. The paper became the largest west of Winnipeg. In 1905, she sold and became involved in Vancouver’s social and intellectual culture. The First World War tore her family apart. Her son joined the army and was killed in 1917, her daughter married a German officer in 1914 and he was killed, too. She worked with the Red Cross in France, returned to Vancouver, and died in 1924.

read more

Source: The Vancouver Sun / Stephen Hume

Photo: Sara Ann (Maclure) McLagan, the first woman to serve as publisher of a major Canadian daily newspaper. George T. Wadds / PNG