BERTRAM, ALEXANDER CHARLES, newspaperman, civil servant, and businessman; b. 1852 in Charlottetown, son of John A. Bertram, a farmer, and Mary Ann —; m. 25 Dec. 1875 Agnes Isabella Moffatt in North Sydney, N.S., and they had four children, three of whom lived to maturity; d. there 30 Aug. 1908.
Alexander Charles Bertram decided early to enter the newspaper business, and in 1866 he went to work for the Summerside Journal and Western Pioneer in Summerside, P.E.I. After five years he moved to Halifax to take a position in the book and jobbing department of the Halifax Evening Reporter and Daily and Tri-Weekly Times, one of the city’s leading newspapers. According to an obituary, Bertram’s “recognized ability” at the Reporter brought him to the attention of the owners of the North Sydney Herald, a weekly founded in 1872, and in 1873 they asked him to become its editor. Bertram took up his new position on 9 July. In spite of his youth, he soon proved capable of directing the paper. In 1875 he became its sole proprietor and purchased the building in which it was published. The Herald, “devoted to commercial and maritime interests, agriculture, literature, and general news,” had begun with a circulation of slightly more than 800. By 1892 it had three new presses, claimed a circulation of 4,000, and advertised itself as “the best and cheapest paper in the Maritime Provinces.” Bertram attended every session of the House of Commons for 15 years, and his detailed reports of its debates provide eloquent testimony to his skill as a reporter and to his knowledge of parliamentary procedure. He eventually became president of the Nova Scotia Press Association and the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa. Bertram sold the Herald in 1906.
As was typical of 19th-century Canadian newspapers, the Herald was partisan, consistently supporting the Conservatives. Bertram had little difficulty defending his paper’s allegiance. “Party spirit is a very useful and a very legitimate thing when kept within proper bounds,” he noted in 1881. “It is closely allied to patriotism. When a body of men unite in contending for principles which they believe to be true, solid, and beneficial, they are right in so doing. Genuine party spirit is not allied to selfishness, it is antagonistic to it.” Party allegiance certainly could be beneficial, especially for a man of Bertram’s stature. In return for the backing of the Herald he was appointed a federal inspector of fisheries in 1883, and remained one until his death. As a respected local organizer for the Conservative party, he had considerable influence over patronage in Cape Breton. For ten years from 1882 he wrote to John Sparrow David Thompson* offering detailed advice on proposed appointments.
Bertram was a man of keen intellect and wide-ranging interests who played a major role in the development of North Sydney. He had been a founding member of the board that constructed the first Methodist church in 1877. In 1882 he was an officer of the company which built the first indoor rink, and he was a founder as well of the North Sydney Trotting Park, which opened on 1 July 1898. From 1898 to 1901 he served as the town’s second mayor. One of those who had helped establish the North Sydney Water and Electric Company in 1888, he also participated in industrial development, both as an originator of the North Sydney Land Improvement Company Limited and as vice-president of the Cape Breton Silicate Brick Company Limited. In 1902 Bertram moved the Herald offices to a new building known as the Bertram Block, which had been constructed with bricks from his company. The block later became the North Sydney town hall and remained so until 1992.
At his death in 1908, Bertram was survived by his wife, Agnes Isabella, daughter of the prominent North Sydney shipbuilder George Brough Moffatt, and three children. A self-made man, he had risen from a young newspaper editor to become one of North Sydney’s most prominent citizens.
Cape Breton County Registry of Deeds (Sydney, N.S.), Deeds, book 2: 608. NA, MG 26, D: 2718, 13893, 14085, 17506, 20462 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 32, 95, no. 134. Halifax Herald, 1 Sept. 1908. North Sydney Herald (North Sydney, N.S.), 9 July, 9 Dec. 1873; 8 Feb. 1881; 17 Jan., 10 May, 28 Nov. 1883. Sydney Daily Post, 4 Jan. 1904, 1 Sept. 1908. Directories, Halifax, 1872–74; N.S., 1868–69. Kenneth Donovan, intro. to Debra McNabb and Lewis Parker, Old Sydney Town: historic buildings of the north end, 1785 to 1928 (Sydney, 1986), 8–10; “‘May learning flourish’: the beginnings of a cultural awakening in Cape Breton during the 1840’s,” The island: new perspectives on Cape Breton, ed. Kenneth Donovan (Fredericton and Sydney, 1990), 89–112. E. E. Jackson, Windows on the past: North Sydney, Nova Scotia (Windsor, N.S., 1974); repr. as North Sydney, Nova Scotia: windows on the past (Belleville, Ont., 1982). Rosemarie Langhout, “Alternative opportunities: the development of shipping at Sydney Harbour, 1842–1889,” Cape Breton at 200: historical essays in honour of the island’s bicentennial, 1785–1985, ed. Kenneth Donovan (Sydney, 1985), 53–69. G. F. MacDonald, “North Sydney past and present” (mimeograph, North Sydney, 1963; copy in Beaton Institute, Univ. College of Cape Breton, Sydney), 15.