Hugh Templin turned hobbies into editorial features

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.

Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

(This is the second part of the story of the Templin family of Fergus).

When the 28-year-old Hugh Templin settled into the editor50ȻƵs chair at the beginning of 1924, he had found his life50ȻƵs work. He would guide the News Record for the next 40 years, but the main themes of his career became evident within months.

Hugh Templin immediately put his stamp on the newspaper. The masthead listed him as assistant editor, but no one believed it; the pages had a livelier tone and more attractive appearance than they ever had before.

Personally, he grew a tooth-brush mustache that made him look older and sterner than he was.

One of Hugh50ȻƵs first improvements was a set of column headings, using his pen-and-ink sketches. Many people do not realize that Hugh Templin had significant artistic talent.

He preferred pen-and-ink sketches and vignettes for column headings. Those provided visual impact in a newspaper that had no capacity to print in colour.

Professionally, Hugh Templin became active in the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association, and quickly developed dozens of friendships with editors across the country. In 1926, the News Record won an award as 50ȻƵThe most interesting Weekly in Canada.50ȻƵ

Templin had authored editorials since 1918, when he lived in Toronto. Back in Fergus, he expanded the editorial column to include scattered news items and sundry observations, written in a chatty style. The length swelled beyond the customary editorial column, and normally occupied a half page of space. He labelled it 50ȻƵThat Inside Page.50ȻƵ

In addition to the editorial pieces, Templin covered meetings of Fergus council and Wellington County council, plus various other political meetings in town. He turned his hobbies into editorial features. First was 50ȻƵOf Interest to Radio Listeners,50ȻƵ beginning in 1924. As a sideline, he and his father, John C., sold De Forest-Crosley radios at the News Record office.

Other hobby-type columns followed; a photography series in 1925, an automotive column in 1929, and a rose and horticulture column in 1932.

In the 1920s, Hugh Templin displayed a feistiness that, in later years, diminished considerably. Though the Beatty family totally dominated Fergus in the 1920s, Hugh was not intimidated by them and, on more than one occasion, opposed the Beatty brothers editorially. Over time, the two sides developed a mature respect for one another.

The same could not be said of county council meetings. Templin was appalled at the way the body operated, and at the way they dealt with public finances. He went so far in 1928 as to run a series describing the worst examples he encountered, and concluded by calling for the abolition of county councils altogether.

County councillors were livid. They were unaccustomed to being covered at all, and several of them considered themselves above criticism. The Toronto dailies and weekly newspapers all over Ontario covered Templin50ȻƵs proposals, and his difficulties with the county. The affair added to his reputation as an important newsman and editor.

Hugh Templin had studied modern history at university. Early in 1924, he began a series on local history, initially titled 50ȻƵHistorical Notes About Fergus and Vicinity.50ȻƵ

The mid-1920s saw a flowering of local history in Wellington, and Templin was a central figure. Arthur Wright, editor of the Confederate, had just published 50ȻƵPioneer Days in Nichol,50ȻƵ and was at work on his history of Mount Forest.

American-born Dr. A.E. Byerly had opened his medical practice in Fergus in 1921, and immediately became a collector and compiler of Wellington County history.

Templin studied old documents and minute books in detail, something most local historians had not previously done. His first historical series ended early in 1925, but he renewed it in 1926. Subsequently, he penned occasional historical pieces as long as he controlled the newspaper. The News Record published Dr. Byerly50ȻƵs first Wellington County articles before the doctor moved to Guelph in 1924.

Equally significant was an article by John Connon, which Templin published in two parts in March 1925. It was a biography of John McLean, the Labrador explorer, who had spent his last years in Elora. Connon had commenced his history of Elora before 1900, and a portion had been serialized in the Elora Express.

Connon stopped work in 1909 after the death of his mother. He had written a few pieces since then, for several magazines and newspapers, but mostly for the London Free Press, which he then circulated widely in Wellington. Connon was a local correspondent.

Though Connon was more than 30 years older than Templin, the two became close friends. To the surprise of everyone, Hugh Templin persuaded Connon to resume work on his book in 1926. Portions appeared in the News Record, set in double-column type that Templin reused to print the pages of the book. The Elora Express had done the same 20 years earlier, and Connon had the printed pages for 400 copies in storage.

The final section ran in the newspaper in December 1930. Templin sent all the pages, including a selection of Connon50ȻƵs photographs, to a binder at his own expense. The first 100 copies of the History of Elora arrived just before Christmas and the balance just two days before Connon died. It was a risky investment for Templin, and several years passed before he was able to sell all the books.

With Connon50ȻƵs work out of the way, Templin began printing a local history series by Dr. Byerly in 1931. With interest growing at this point in the coming centennial of Fergus in 1933, he resumed intensive historical work on his own.

The result, after a final marathon of work was Fergus; The story of a Little Town. Stylistically, it is the finest local Wellington County history of that period.

As well, Templin treated his subject in the form a continuous biography, rather than a collection of topical chapters or brief biographies of settlers, which was the fashion of his contemporaries.

Unfortunately, that would be Hugh Templin50ȻƵs only major work in local history. It wasn50ȻƵt that he lost interest, but that other events overtook him.

In the late 1920s, Templin developed a close friendship with Robert Kerr, the pipe-smoking tinsmith, who was the first in the Fergus area to study the Grand River system closely. Kerr had no training whatever in science, but his observations and reading made him an environmentalist, and a true eccentric in the eyes of most people.

Together, Kerr and Templin tramped for miles along the river, noting everything, and observing changes from year to year. In October 1930, he published an editorial calling for the expropriation of all the privately owned land along the Elora Gorge, and the establishment of a provincial park. His comments were widely quoted, but he had to wait more than 20 years to see the first steps taken to create Elora Gorge Park.

In 1931, Templin moved into high gear, with several columns on flooding problems and environmental deterioration on the Grand. During the summer of that year, he and Bob Kerr accompanied a provincial engineer on a walking survey of the Grand. The resulting report called for a flood control dam near Belwood.

For the next decade, barely an issue of the News Record came off the press without a Templin piece on the Grand River. Cycles of drought and flooding in the mid-1930s pushed flood control to the top of the agenda. A significant event was the formation of the Grand River Conservation Commission in 1936. Hugh Templin sat as the Fergus representative.

Flood control on the Grand River moved forward, but at an agonizing pace. Engineers initially proposed dams near West Montrose and Waldemar in East Garafraxa.

In late 1938 Hugh Templin convinced them that a much better site could be found at Concession 3 of West Garafraxa. The decision to proceed came in 1939. The official opening of the Shand Dam came on Aug. 7, 1942.

It was the culmination of a phase in Templin50ȻƵs career, and one of the proudest moments in his life.

Next week: the final years.

*This column was originally published in the 50ȻƵ on April 25, 2003.

Thorning Revisited