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FAHEY, JAMES A., journalist and politician; b. in 1849 or 1850 in Smithville, Canada West, the son of F. Fahey, an Irish Catholic cooper; m. and had seven children; d. 2 June 1888 in Toronto, Ont.

James A. Fahey grew up in the towns of York (Haldimand County), Grimsby, and Dundas, Canada West, before apprenticing as a printer on James Somerville’s Reform newspaper, the Dundas True Banner. Fahey made his first contributions as a reporter to the True Banner; he left it some time before 1870 when he appeared briefly in Toronto as a “city news reporter.” By this time he had become a steadfast Conservative, which he remained for the rest of his life, and had also acquired a reputation as an effective platform speaker in Irish national circles in Hamilton. In early 1872 he founded the Hamilton Standard. It shortly afterward became the organ of the Nine Hour movement in Hamilton because of what the movement’s corresponding secretary, James Ryan*, termed the journal’s “protective spirit and conservative proclivities.” The Standard soon perished, along with the movement for shorter hours which Fahey had supported although some members of the Hamilton Typographical Union had accused the Standard of not paying its printers union scale.

Fahey then moved to the Guelph Daily Herald, where he probably worked with Alexander Fraser Pirie, and he became editor of the newspaper in 1874 when Pirie moved on to Toronto. While spending the winter of 1874–75 in California in an attempt to combat the consumption from which he had suffered since youth, Fahey came to doubt the salubrity of the climate and returned to Ontario claiming that those who remained in California for their health were the “dupes of emigration agents.” He joined the staff of the Hamilton Spectator in mid 1875, where he was probably engaged in general news gathering; in August 1876 he began to send regular letters to the Toronto Mail, using the pseudonym Rupert, in which all manner of affairs were discussed in a light, humorous vein. By 1877 he had moved from Hamilton to Stratford where he became editor of the Stratford Weekly Herald. He was a vigorous supporter of the Conservative party in the 1878 federal election and acquired a reputation as a willing stump orator. In his only attempt to gain elective office he was an unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 1879 provincial election in Grey South.

Fahey reached the highest point in his brief career when he left the Herald in December 1880 to join the editorial staff of the Toronto Mail. He was chosen to conduct the editorial page of the Mail’s new evening daily, the Evening News, which began publication in May 1881. Although its opponents referred to it as a “sewer” journal, it made an attempt to offer a livelier, more accessible sort of journalism. Fahey was accomplished in most of the forms of this new journalism for an expanding reading public, including such genres as humorous letters, police court reporting, satirical and topical verse, and stories in dialect. His writing was always characterized by an appreciation of the textures of urban life and a detached, ironic style. Fahey’s outspoken anti-temperance stance confirmed him as a member of the journalistic bohemia of central Canada in the 1870s and 1880s; he counted among his friends and associates Robert Kirkland Kernighan (“The Khan”), Alexander Whyte Wright* (who began as a journalist under Fahey at the Guelph Herald), and Edward Farrer*, as well as Pirie. His colleagues recalled him as “always coughing, thin to a skeleton, little of appetite,” “grey-haired,” and “aged in appearance.” Yet even the poor health that gave rise to this condition served him as material for ironic humour; he confessed to his readers that he took amusement in his cough which could “scare a hyena out of a graveyard.”

Fahey stayed at the News for less than a year, because of uncertain health or friction with management. He spent the winter of 1881–82 in Winnipeg as editor of the Sun but, upon discovering that the Sun was in poorer health than he was, returned to Toronto later that year to take up an editorial position on Patrick Boyle*’s Evening Canadian. He stayed with this paper until 1886 when he became an editorial writer at William Findlay Maclean*’s Toronto World, the least prestigious and lowest-paying of the Toronto dailies. He spent his last years in declining health, beset by worries about money and the fate of his seven children whose mother had died in 1885. He unsuccessfully sought political favours for his “unpurchased loyalty” to the Conservative party and complained to his friends that Conservative politicians, including Sir John A. Macdonald*, stood by “with averted eyes” in his hour of need. After catching a cold, he died of complications on 2 June 1888. His friends in the Toronto press organized a fund for his orphaned children.

One of the pioneers of the new journalism aimed at the expanding newspaper readership in late 19th-century Canada, Fahey became expert in breaking up editorial matter into shorter, more pointed paragraphs, thus introducing new techniques of persuasion that would transform publicity in the early 20th century. The columns, or “paragraphs” as they were called by contemporaries, in which Fahey and others specialized proved a lighter, more digestible fare than the more formal editorial pages of established political organs. Humour, poetry, and anecdote were important components of Fahey’s journalism and his appeal as a writer stemmed in part from his willingness to share his ironic views on life. As one of the many colourful figures whose personalities became familiar to readers of the English Canadian press of the 1870s and 1880s, Fahey played a small but important role in making the Canadian newspaper more generally accessible to a mass readership.

Russell G. Hann

AO, MU 2307, James Fahey to T. C. Patteson, 1 Sept. 1876. PAC, MG 26, A; MG 30, C97. Evening News (Toronto), 2 May, 8 July 1881; 6 June 1888. Globe, 4, 5 June 1888. Grip (Toronto), 11 Dec. 1880. Hamilton Spectator, 29 Jan. 1872. Irish Canadian (Toronto), 16 Feb. 1882. National (Toronto), 26 Aug., 23 Sept. 1875. Stratford Weekly Herald (Stratford, Ont.), 4, 25 Aug. 1880. Toronto Daily Mail, August 1876–January 1877; 4–6 June 1888. Toronto World, 16 March; 2, 13, 21, 26 April; 14 May; 4–6 June 1888. P. D. Ross, Retrospects of a newspaper person (Toronto, 1931). P. F. W. Rutherford, “The people’s press: the emergence of the new journalism in Canada, 1869–99,” CHR, 56 (1975): 169–91.

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Cite This Article

Russell G. Hann, “FAHEY, JAMES A,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fahey_james_a_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fahey_james_a_11E.html
Author of Article:   Russell G. Hann
Title of Article:   FAHEY, JAMES A
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   June 4, 2023