Joseph E. Atkinson

Last updated
Joseph E. Atkinson
Joseph Edward Atkinson.jpg
Born(1865-12-23)December 23, 1865
DiedMay 8, 1948(1948-05-08) (aged 82)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeOakville and St. Mary's Cemetery, Oakville, Ontario
Nationality Canadian
OccupationNewspaper editor
Known for Toronto Star publisher

Joseph E. Atkinson (born Joseph Atkinson, December 23, 1865 May 8, 1948) was a Canadian newspaper editor and activist. Under his leadership the Toronto Star became one of the largest and most influential newspapers in Canada. Atkinson amassed a considerable fortune, eventually holding the controlling interest in the paper he edited. After his death, control of the paper passed to the trustees of the Atkinson Foundation, a major Canadian charity. [1]


Early life

Atkinson was born near Newcastle, Canada West, in 1865. His early life was difficult, creating conditions which would eventually lead to his social activism. His father died when he was six months old, his mother, Hannah, when he was thirteen.

At about the age of 16, while working at the post office, he began to sign his name as "Joseph E. Atkinson" even though he had been given no middle name at birth. [2] Looking for a better job, Atkinson hoped to become a banker, but through his post office work he found out about a job opening at the Port Hope Times, a weekly newspaper in Port Hope, Ontario. He joined the paper at age 18, initially collecting accounts. When the Times started publishing daily, Atkinson became a reporter. [2]

In October 1888, he jumped to The Toronto World and a few months later joined the Globe, one of the newspapers which would become The Globe and Mail . After two years, he became the Globe's Ottawa correspondent, covering the six sessions of Parliament from 1891 to 1896. Atkinson then became managing editor of the Montreal Herald in 1897. [2]


Elmina Elliott Atkinson (Madge Merton) by William Notman Elmina Elliott Atkinson by William Notman.jpg
Elmina Elliott Atkinson (Madge Merton) by William Notman

Joseph E. Atkinson married in Toronto on April 18, 1892, to Elmina Ella Susannah Elliott of Oakville, Ontario. [3] Like her husband, Elliott Akinson was a member of the staff of the Toronto Globe. [4] Under the nom-de-plume of "Madge Merton" she worked as a journalist for the Montreal Herald and the Toronto Daily Star . [4] In Henry James Morgan's Types of Canadian Women, he describes "Mrs. Atkinson contrives without loss of interest to give dignity to woman's work in journalism." [4]

Toronto Star

In 1899, Atkinson was asked to become managing editor of the Montreal Star , then the largest English-language newspaper in Canada. The paper's conservative viewpoint clashed with Atkinson's liberal beliefs. While he was considering the offer, in December 1899, [5] Atkinson was asked by a group of supporters of Wilfrid Laurier, the Liberal prime minister of Canada, if he would become publisher of the Toronto Evening Star . The group included Senator George Cox, William Mulock, Peter Charles Larkin and Timothy Eaton. [6] Mulock and most other members of the group wanted the paper to be the voice of the Liberal Party, but Atkinson refused to take the job on those terms and insisted that he be given full control over newspaper policy and that the Star be run in the best interests of the paper, not the Liberal Party. Atkinson travelled to Ottawa and successfully appealed to Laurier for support. [7] Atkinson also insisted that 40 percent of his salary be paid in stock at par value and that he be given the opportunity to become majority owner. After some initial opposition, the ownership group accepted those terms.

The group took ownership of the paper on December 13, 1899. Shareholders formally approved the hiring of Atkinson five days later, with his employment backdated to start December 13. Atkinson's name first appeared in the masthead of the December 21 edition. His task was to save a failing newspaper, competing in a conservative city with six daily newspapers. Atkinson succeeded in turning the fortunes of the paper around and by 1913 it had the largest circulation of any Toronto newspaper. He continued to run the Star until his death in 1948, at the age of 82.


After Atkinson died in May 1948, a front-page article in the Star announced that both the newspaper and its weekend magazine, The Star Weekly had been "willed in perpetuity" to The Atkinson Charitable Foundation, incorporated in 1942. The article included quotes from Atkinson's will expressing his desire that ownership of the papers "shall not fall into private hands." It stipulated that the seven trustees of the Foundation and their successors would also operate the Star and Star Weekly:

This should accomplish two things: (1) The publication of the papers will be conducted for the benefit of the public in the full and frank dissemination of news and opinions, with the profit motive, while still important, subsidiary to what I consider to be the chief functions of a metropolitan newspaper; (2) The profits from the newspapers will be used for the promotion and maintenance of social, scientific and economic reforms which are charitable in nature...It is my desire that the Trustees shall have the widest possible freedom possible in the decisions which they make in the operation of the newspapers and the charitable causes which they promote and maintain. [8]

Four years after Atkinson's death, his charitable foundation had distributed $336,867 to 42 recipients including research foundations, universities and hospitals. [9]

Atkinson had two children:

Related Research Articles

<i>Toronto Star</i> Canadian daily newspaper in Ontario

The Toronto Star is a Canadian English-language broadsheet daily newspaper. The newspaper is the country's largest daily newspaper by circulation. It is owned by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary of Torstar Corporation and part of Torstar's Daily News Brands division. The newspaper's offices are located at One Yonge Street in the Harbourfront neighbourhood of Toronto.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Mulock</span> Canadian politician

Sir William Mulock was a Canadian lawyer, businessman, educator, farmer, politician, judge, and philanthropist. He served as vice-chancellor of the University of Toronto from 1881 to 1900, negotiating the federation of denominational colleges and professional schools into a modern university.

<i>National Post</i> Canadian national daily newspaper

The National Post is a Canadian English-language broadsheet newspaper available in several cities in central and western Canada. The paper is the flagship publication of Postmedia Network and is published Mondays through Saturdays, with Monday released as a digital e-edition only. The newspaper is distributed in the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. Weekend editions of the newspaper are also distributed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Torstar</span> Canadian mass media company

Torstar Corporation is a Canadian mass media company which primarily publishes daily and community newspapers. In addition to the Toronto Star, its flagship and namesake, Torstar also publishes daily newspapers in Hamilton, Peterborough, Niagara Region, and Waterloo Region. The corporation was initially established in 1958 to take over operations of the Star from the Atkinson Foundation after a provincial law banned charitable organizations from owning for-profit entities. From 1958 to 2020, the class A shares of Torstar were held by the families of the original Atkinson Foundation trustees. The private investment firm NordStar Capital LP, owned by Jordan Bitove and Paul Rivett, officially acquired Torstar on August 5, 2020.

Michael Granville Valpy is a Canadian journalist and author. He wrote for The Globe and Mail newspaper where he covered both political and human interest stories until leaving the newspaper in October, 2010. Through a long career at the Globe, he was a reporter, Toronto- and Ottawa-based national political columnist, member of the editorial board, deputy managing editor, and Africa-based correspondent during the last years of apartheid. He has also been a national political columnist for the Vancouver Sun. Since leaving the Globe he has been published by the newspaper on a freelance basis as well as by CBC News Online, the Toronto Star and the National Post.

Sean Conway, is a former provincial politician in Ontario, Canada and a university professor. He served for 28 years as a Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1975 to 2003, and was a high-profile cabinet minister in the government of David Peterson.

John White Hughes Bassett, was a Canadian media proprietor.

<i>The Sudbury Star</i>

The Sudbury Star is a Canadian daily regional newspaper published in Sudbury, Ontario. It is owned by the media company, Postmedia. It is the largest daily paper in Northeastern Ontario by circulation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walt Lastewka</span> Canadian politician

Walter Thomas Lastewka, PC is a Canadian politician. He was a member of the House of Commons of Canada from 1993 to 2006, representing the Ontario riding of St. Catharines as a member of the Liberal Party.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jimmy Frise</span> Canadian comic strip cartoonist

The Canadian cartoonist James Llewellyn Frise is best known for his work on the comic strip Birdseye Center and his illustrations of humorous prose pieces by Greg Clark.

<i>North Bay Nugget</i>

The North Bay Nugget is a newspaper published in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. The paper is currently owned by Postmedia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philip Ross</span>

Philip Dansken Ross was a Canadian journalist, newspaper publisher, and ice hockey administrator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Pate Mulock</span> Canadian politician

William Pate Mulock, was a Canadian politician.

The Labor-Progressive Party was the legal front of the Communist Party of Canada from 1943 to 1959.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fred Williams (journalist)</span>

Frederick George Hilary Williams was an English–Canadian journalist, writer, and historian.

<i>The Toronto World</i>

The Toronto World was a newspaper based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It existed between 1880 and 1921, and a Sunday edition operated from 1891 to 1924. Founded by William Findlay "Billy" Maclean, it was popular among Toronto's working class and similar in style to The New York Herald. It was said to be the "editorially boldest" of the Toronto press, and was notable for its irreverence, noisy exposés of civic corruption, skilful skirting of the libel laws, and opposition to the religious establishment. Journalists such as Hector Charlesworth, Joseph E. Atkinson and John Bayne Maclean first worked there, before moving on to senior positions at other publications.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sam Hunter (cartoonist)</span> Canadian cartoonist and writer

Sam Hunter (1858–1939) was a Canadian cartoonist and writer who worked for four Toronto newspapers. His work displayed his support for the Conservative Party of Canada and criticized Liberals such as Wilfrid Laurier, as well as French Canadians, Catholics, and Americans. Peter Desbarats and Terry Mosher described Hunter as "a great and gentle caricaturist".

The AtkinsonCharitable Foundation is a major Canadian charity established in 1942 by Joseph E. Atkinson (1865–1948). It is a non-governmental, and non-profit organization.

André Picard is a Canadian journalist and author specializing in health care issues. He works as a reporter and a columnist for the national newspaper The Globe and Mail. As of 2020, he runs the news organization's office in Montreal. He is the recipient of the 1993 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harry C. Hindmarsh</span> Canadian newspaper editor and activist

Harry Comfort Hindmarsh was a reporter, editor and newspaper executive who helped turn the Toronto Star into one of Canada's most financially successful and politically influential daily newspapers. During his 45-year career at the Star, beginning in 1911, HCH, as he was known, rose from cub reporter to managing editor and after the death of owner/editor Joseph E. Atkinson in 1948, he served for nearly nine years as president of the company.


  1. Atkinson, Joseph E. National Historic Person . Directory of Federal Heritage Designations. Parks Canada . Retrieved September 29, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 Harkness, Ross (1963). J. E. Atkinson of the Star. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. p. 5.
  3. "Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927". FamilySearch . Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 Morgan, Henry James, ed. (1903). Types of Canadian Women and of Women who are or have been Connected with Canada. Toronto: Williams Briggs. p.  15.
  5. "Social Justice". The Star. Toronto. November 19, 2008. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012.
  6. Otto, Stephen A. (2005). "Larkin, Peter Charles". In Cook, Ramsay; Bélanger, Réal (eds.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography . Vol. XV (1921–1930) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  7. Harkness 1963, p. 23.
  8. "JOSEPH E. ATKINSON DIES AT 82: Final Gift Climax to Philanthropies: STAR IS LEFT TO CHARITABLE FOUNDATION". Toronto Daily Star. May 10, 1948. p. 1.
  9. Berton, Pierre (April 1, 1952). "Hindmarsh of the Star". Maclean's magazine. Retrieved December 26, 2022.

Further reading