The Tillsonburg Liberal

Early newspapers in Ontario were platforms for the political views of their owners and editors, in Tillsonburg, W.S. Law’s Observer provided news for town residents with a conservative bent between 1863 and 1876. As the only newspaper in town, there was no showcase for views from across the political aisle. In 1877, this void was filled by William McGuire and Norman B. Dresser who founded the Tillsonburg Liberal, a paper that would be liberal in both name and politics.

There are no known copies of the early editions of the Liberal, the first microfilmed editions of the paper start in 1887. McGuire and Dresser were the editors and publishers until 1882 when Dresser, who was the son of E. D. Tillson’s niece, left the paper. William McGuire continued at the paper until 1902 when F. E. Aldrich took over operations.


F. E. Aldrich had worked in the newspaper business for many years before coming to Tillsonburg. Aldrich learned the trade from his uncle, M. L. Aldrich, who was the publisher of the Alymer Enterprise. F. E. Aldrich worked all over Ontario in: Blythe, St. Mary’s, Ingersoll, Listowel, and St. Thomas. He came to Tillsonburg and acquired control of the Liberal and stayed with it until it merged with the Tillsonburg Observer in 1919. Aldrich was joined by H. F. (Harvey) Johnston at the paper in 1910.


The Liberal’s press office was above one of the stores on the west side of Broadway. The columns supported causes and movements that had the best interest of the Liberal Party and the community in mind. The Liberal Party of Canada formed its first Government in 1873 under leader Alexander McKenzie and held power until Sir John A. MacDonald was re-elected in 1878. What was playing out in Canadian politics made for an interesting dynamic in the small, recently incorporated, Town of Tillsonburg. Now, Tillsonburg had two newspapers on opposite sides of the political divide giving a voice to all its citizens.


The Liberal had steady growth and subscriptions went up quickly in its early years. The goal of McGuire, its publisher, was to provide all local news that they were able to find within its area. Many news correspondents were added to the staff in these days.


The following quote comes from McGuire’s obituary, “Under Mr. McGuire’s supervision the Liberal soon became an outstanding factor in this community as an ardent and able exponent of liberal principle in politics, a strong and uncompromising supporter of all legislation calculated to lessen the evils of the liquor traffic, and a consistent friend to all movements for moral reform and betterment of his fellows.”


The major downfall of the Tillsonburg Liberal can be traced to World War One. The federal Liberal Party’s leader, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, watched his party decline in popularity through the 1910s.  The loss of the election in 1917 was caused by the party’s views on conscription. This loss left the Tillsonburg paper without a strong party and cause to support. Declining subscriptions and rising costs would lead to financial problems, problems also experienced by the town’s other newspaper, the Observer. In an effort to survive, the two papers would cross the political aisle and in December of 1919 would merge into the Tillsonburg News, publishing their first edition on January 1, 1920.

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