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EDMUNDSON, WILLIAM GRAHAM, farmer, businessman, and publisher; b. c. 1815, son of James Edmundson and Margaret Graham; d. 19 Oct. 1852 near Nauvoo, Ill.

In 1841 William Graham Edmundson, a young farmer in the Home District of Upper Canada, considered launching an agricultural publication in Toronto. The appearance that year of the Canadian Farmer and Mechanic in Kingston, however, caused him to defer his plan and he gave his support to the new journal. The paper soon encountered financial difficulties and its editor, A. B. E. F. Garfield, left Kingston in the fall of 1841 and began another newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y. His partner, a Mr Good, transferred the subscription list, exchange papers, correspondence, and unpaid bills (£100) to Edmundson and John Eastwood who began publishing the British American Cultivator in Toronto in January 1842. Its first editor, William Evans, worked out of Montreal until April 1843 when financial constraints and the expense and inconvenience of sending material from Montreal forced Edmundson to take on the editorial work. His monthly paper dominated agricultural journalism in the province until December 1847, providing a model which later, more stable journals used successfully.

The British American Cultivator was decorated with an ornate mast-head and displayed a lofty motto: “Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.” Some issues carried detailed woodcut illustrations by Frederick C. Lowe of livestock and implements. The articles, many of which were reprinted from American papers, tended to be theoretical and esoteric. Topics included better livestock management through cross-breeding with imported pure-bred stock, improved methods of soil cultivation, and hardier strains of seed. The journal encouraged the advancement of agricultural education through farmers’ clubs, libraries, model farms, classes in agriculture in the common schools, and a chair of agriculture at King’s College (University of Toronto). It also gave its full support to the work of local agricultural societies and published reports from their meetings and from local agricultural fairs. Edmundson repeatedly pressed for the formation of a province-wide association to coordinate the activities of scattered local societies and to organize a provincial exhibition. His efforts bore fruit in August 1846 when the Provincial Agricultural Association (renamed the Agricultural Association of Upper Canada in 1847) was formed. Edmundson received an appointment to the executive committee and the Cultivator was made its official journal. Letters to the editor from such men as Adam Fergusson* show that circulation was restricted mainly to the “older” parts of the province and that the majority of the subscribers were well-established, often well-to-do farmers. The Cultivator reflected the development of agriculture and agricultural journalism in the 1840s, but it also showed the hazards involved in such ventures.

By the latter half of the decade Edmundson’s problems were becoming more numerous and serious. He had always had financial difficulties, in his opinion because of the reluctance of many readers to pay for their subscriptions and because of a disappointing circulation which was about 5,000 copies at best. In November 1845 he complained that in four years he had not received any money for his work and, to make matters worse, had sustained a loss of £500 cash. In an attempt to make ends meet, by May 1843 he had moved with his wife and son to a farm in Whitchurch Township, 27 miles from Toronto. Owing to the distance involved, this enterprise not only failed to augment his resources satisfactorily but also interfered with his writing. Therefore, in 1846 he opened the Provincial Agricultural Warehouse in Toronto, where he sold farm implements and operated a land and patent agency office. The rural population evidently was not yet ready to use the advanced equipment which he offered for sale. By late 1847 he found himself in another losing venture and closed the business. That same year Edmundson and George Buckland*, his co-editor, also published the Provincial Advertiser, “a monthly newspaper dealing with Domestic Manufacturers, Emigration, Internal Improvements, Trade and Commerce.” It was intended to provide information on topics other than agriculture, perhaps in response to requests from readers of the Cultivator for a greater variety of news.

Edmundson’s temperament may well have played a large role in the difficulties he encountered during his career. His inability to form lasting associations is evident in the fact that no fewer than four printers produced the British American Cultivator during its existence from 1842 to 1847. His stormy relationship with William McDougall*, who had acted as a travelling agent for the Cultivator in 1842 but went on to publish a competing journal, the Canada Farmer, in partnership with Charles Lindsey*, provides further evidence of this characteristic. Throughout 1847, when the two papers coexisted, Edmundson and McDougall sniped at one another through their editorials, each accusing the other of provoking the attacks. In April McDougall accused Edmundson of using funds from the agricultural society to buy advertising space in the Provincial Advertiser. On 22 May McDougall stated, most unfairly, that Edmundson could not “write a single sentence of English correctly” and that his journal, “save a few extracts, would be a disgrace to the literature of any country.” Despite this condemnation, the two publishers amalgamated their papers to form the Agriculturist & Canadian Journal, which appeared in January 1848. This partnership lasted only until the following August and ended bitterly with McDougall accusing Edmundson of not doing his share of the work and also of receiving money which he failed to record in the books or use for payment of expenses. The sheriff seized and sold Edmundson’s interest in the paper to pay his personal debts, whereupon Edmundson left with the subscription lists which he kept until an injunction from the Court of Chancery compelled him to return them.

Edmundson’s service from 1846 to 1848 as secretary treasurer of the agricultural society he had helped to establish turned out to be yet another unfortunate undertaking. He handled the society’s funds unwisely, purchasing books and charging them to the association’s account, presumably without authorization since the other officers took action against him for settlement. According to its financial report, the Agricultural Association of Upper Canada eventually received £120 marked “Edmundson’s Securities” in March 1850.

In the fall of 1848, after Edmundson’s break with McDougall, a paper named the Farmer and Mechanic, with the characteristics of Edmundson’s work, had appeared in Toronto for a short period; its last issue was dated April 1849. No further articles written by Edmundson can be found in any Canadian papers. He appears to have left Canada in disgrace some time that year and gone to the United States. In January 1852 the Cultivator, published in Albany, N.Y., contained a piece signed “W.G.E.” discussing the cultivation of wheat on the upper Mississippi. This may well have been the last contribution he made to agricultural journalism before his death.

Edmundson’s downfall is evident in the treatment Canadian papers gave the news of his death. The Canadian Agriculturist, the official publication of the Agricultural Association of Upper Canada at the time, customarily carried obituaries of leading agriculturists but it ignored Edmundson’s passing. A brief notice appeared in the Globe on 25 Nov. 1852 which stated that Edmundson had died of inflammation of the brain after only nine days’ illness. There was no reference to his family, only to a “large circle of friends and acquaintances.”

Ann MacKenzie

[Mention of William Graham Edmundson seems to be found almost exclusively in the agricultural journals of Upper Canada in the 1840s. The most extensive collection of these exists in UWOL. The collection was the work of the late Professor Fred Landon, whose early study, “Agricultural journals of Upper Canada,” Agricultural Hist. (Chicago), 9 (1935): 167–75, brought Edmundson to light. In addition to many American journals, the collection contains the following Canadian publications which pertain directly to Edmundson: Canadian Farmer and Mechanic, published in Kingston (Ont.), 1841; and British American Cultivator, 1842–47, Canada Farmer, 29 Jan.–4 Dec. 1847, Agriculturist & Canadian Journal, January–November 1848, Farmer and Mechanic, 1848–49, and Canadian Agriculturist, 1 (1849)–15 (1863), all of which were published in Toronto. The prospectus of the Canadian Farmer and Mechanic, dated 16 Nov. 1841, with a letter written by Edmundson on the back, is in the David Barker Stevenson papers, AO, MU 2884.  a.MacK.]

AO, MU 2128, 1906, no.13 (V. M. Roberts, “The Canadian National Exhibition, 1768–1906,” typescript); MU 2884, W. G. Edmundson to D. B. Stevenson, 4 Sept. 1841; MU 2885, Edmundson to Stevenson, 8 June 1842; John Eastwood to Stevenson, 31 Jan. 1846. MTL, Robert Baldwin papers, A43, nos.71–79 (Baldwin corr., February 1843–March 1849). PAC, RG 31, A1, 1842, Toronto, St Andrew’s ward. York North Land Registry Office (Newmarket, Ont.), Deeds, Whitchurch Township, 3, no.37646 (mfm. at AO, GS 6424). Cultivator (Albany, N.Y.), new ser., 9 (1852). Provincial Advertiser (Toronto), 1847. U.C., Board of Agriculture, Journal and Trans. (Toronto), 1 (1851–56). Globe, 25 Nov. 1852. Toronto directory, 1843–47. R. L. Jones, History of agriculture in Ontario, 1613–1880 (Toronto, 1946; repr. Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1977). Ann MacKenzie, “Animal husbandry in the 1840s as reflected in the agricultural journals of Canada West,” OH, 66 (1974): 11428. J. J. Talman, “Agricultural societies of Upper Canada,” OH, 27 (1931): 54552.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Ann MacKenzie, “EDMUNDSON, WILLIAM GRAHAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/edmundson_william_graham_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/edmundson_william_graham_8E.html
Author of Article: Ann MacKenzie
Title of Article: EDMUNDSON, WILLIAM GRAHAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: December 17, 2014