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Margaret "Ma" Murray

Photograph of Margaret Ma Murray

1888-1982

Newspaper publisher

Source


Margaret "Ma" Murray née Lally, was born in 1888 in rural Kansas, the seventh of nine children of Irish immigrants. After leaving school at 13, she worked as a maid before training in office procedures. This led to a job in a Kansas saddlery where she slipped notes in the saddles being sent to Canada. Determined to meet some of the Canadian cowboys who responded, she and her sister Bess worked their way west to Seattle and from there, to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1912. There, a series of temporary positions eventually led to work as a bookkeeper at a Vancouver weekly, the Chinook, published and edited by George Matheson Murray. Despite their contrasting backgrounds, they were married on February 5, 1913.

In 1916, George started a daily, the Evening Journal. He produced this journal in addition to the Chinook, which he sold in 1919. Once their two children, Georgina and Daniel, were a bit older, Margaret Murray returned to newspaper work, first as bookkeeper for the Chinook, then later becoming involved with the Howe Sound News and the Cariboo News. When the children were school age, Margaret started publishing a magazine, Country Life in British Columbia. George published the Western Lumberman after his work at the Province and Morning ended. After they lost Country Life in 1928 and the Lumberman was sold, George went to the Orient to write a series of articles on trade with British Columbia. Margaret placed the children in boarding school and, using connections made through the magazine, travelled about demonstrating how to hook rugs and make comforters.

Returning four months later, George went to the Peace River district and wrote articles that promoted trade from that area before beginning work at the Province. He won the Lillooet riding for the Liberals in the 1933 provincial election and repeated that success in 1937. The wins were due in part to Margaret, who had the necessary common touch. Their campaign taught them much about the area and they felt they knew enough to launch a newspaper there. The first issue of the Bridge River-Lillooet News was published March 1, 1934. Some time after losing the 1941 election, George went to Fort St. John to begin another newspaper, the Alaska Highway News. He had championed for the development of this area long before the needs of World War II led to the Highway's construction. Margaret joined him after putting aside the Lillooet paper, which they later sold. Later, George switched his sights to the federal level where he won the Cariboo riding for the Liberals in the 1949 federal election. At that time, it was the largest riding in the country.

While Margaret Murray's forthrightness and salty language may not have been regarded as political assets, they were qualities her readers welcomed, despite her disregard for grammar and other niceties of language. Unafraid to speak her mind, she chastised the Premier of British Columbia for continuing a coalition with the provincial Tories. To her family's dismay, she ran as a Social Credit candidate in Peace River in the 1945 provincial election. In fact, her son Dan, then running the Lillooet paper, used the front page to warn readers that Margaret Murray was related to the family only by blood! She lost, but won the majority of Fort St. John polls. This was her last foray into politics until winning a seat on the Fort St. John town council in 1958.

Her husband's political career led to increased responsibilities at the papers for Margaret Murray. Never short of an opinion for editorials, she also didn't hesitate to actively solicit advertising, going so far as to dress chickens for the local butcher to free him time to take out space in the paper. Her editorials were reprinted in other papers, letting readers across the country share in the laughter or outraged responses they evoked. Articles about her in national magazines, appearances on CBC television, and her own half-hour, twice a month television program followed. Honours came her way in 1971, with membership in the Order of Canada and an honourary Doctor of Laws. The increased public attention eased her sense of loss after George's death in 1961, and she remained active in publishing. After all, she still had something to say, "that's fur damshur".

Resources

Beattie, Earle. — "The Rebel Queen of the Northwest." — Chatelaine. — Vol. 25, no. 5 (May 1952). — P. 16-17, 78+.

House, Jackson. — "Ma Murray: The Salty Scourge of Lillooet." — Maclean's. — Vol. 79 (March 19, 1966). — P. 18, 48, 50.

Keddell, Georgina. — The Newspapering Murrays. — Halifax, N.S.: Goodread Biographies, 1984. — 302 p.

"Ma Murray's Bridge River-Lillooet News." — A History of Weekly Newspapers of British Columbia. — Mission City? B.C.: British Columbia Weekly Newspapers Association, 1972. — P. 60-61.

MacEwan, Grant. — "Margaret "Ma" Murray: Spearing for the Truth." — Mighty Women: Stories of Western Canadian Pioneers. — Vancouver: Greystone Books, 1995. — P. 253-260

McKenna, J. Louis. — "The Strength of the Weeklies." — Atlantic Advocate. — Vol. 56, no. 12 (August 1966). — P. 18-23

O'Clery, Jean. — "Murray, Margaret Teresa."  — Canadian Encyclopedia. — Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988. Vol. 3, p. 1407.

Sauerwein, Stan. — "Ma Murray : the story of Canada’s crusty queen of publishing." — Canmore, AB : Altitude Pub. Canada, c 2003. — 135p.

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