The first Red Deer Advocate publisher, Francis Galbraith, was also the first mayor of the newly incorporated City of Red Deer in 1913.
Galbraith figured he could wear both hats — as long as he was scrupulously honest whenever he rushed back after council meetings to report on what motions had just passed.
Local historian Michael Dawe believes the teetotaling Methodist and a supporter of women’s and minority rights did his best to be fair in his coverage of his own activities on council. But was Galbraith’s straddling the line between government and the media seen as a conflict by others?
“Absolutely! All the time,” said Dawe, with a chuckle.
In fact, one Red Deer councillor was so ticked he went to court to get him thrown out of municipal government, arguing Galbraith’s house wasn’t technically within Red Deer limits.
A judge ruled Galbraith could stay on since his out-buildings fell inside Red Deer’s boundary.
Stories in the then-weekly Advocate routinely rallied for the underdog, perhaps because Galbraith had known his own troubles, said Dawe.
Born in 1862 in Guelph, Ont., he was just eight when his father died, leaving his mother to raise five children on her own. Although he was bright, Galbraith dropped out of school at 16 because of money woes. He soon landed a job at the Guelph Mercury, where he became an editor and later, owner.
In 1906 the newspaperman moved his family to Central Alberta’s drier climate after his wife, Jessie, developed tuberculosis. Galbraith became editor and owner of the Alberta Advocate. In 1907, he changed its name to the Red Deer Advocate.
Dawe believes Galbraith’s generally fair-minded views had a big effect on the city’s earliest days.
When Red Deer was incorporated as a city — at Galbraith’s insistence — he proposed that all residents aged 21 or older be given the right to vote in municipal elections — not just property-owning men.
Council initially balked, but eventually conceded to allow property-owning women to vote — although renters were excluded for several more years.
In 1911, Galbraith and another former Red Deer mayor, Raymond Gaetz, travelled to Edmonton to oppose a campaign to pressure Ottawa to staunch the flow of black U.S. immigrants to Alberta. The two local men argued, “You don’t keep people out because of the colour of their skin. You judge people on the basis of whether they’ll be good immigrants,” said Dawe —however the petition was sent anyway and Ottawa was influenced.
Galbraith, who’s honoured with a bronze Ghosts statue near City Hall, was the rare politician who tried to reduce his own salary (but was told it was against the rules until after the next election).
He was so idealistic he became a farmer during the First World War when the region needed more soil tillers, but his Green Acres-like experiment was a dismal failure. Dawe said. “He knew absolutely nothing at all about farming…”
Galbraith passed his strong principles onto his son, Phil, who took over as Advocate publisher in the early 1930s.
As president of the Alberta Rural Newspapers Association, Phil helped successfully fight a law by Alberta’s Social Credit premier “Bible” Bill Aberhart that forced the media to pass all stories through a board of political cronies before publishing.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled Aberhart’s law went against the rights of a free press.