I began my review of Ted Byfield’s 1999 collection of columns, The Book of Ted: Epistles from an Unrepentant Redneck: “The American columnist George Will once said that before there was Ronald Reagan there was Barry Goldwater, before there was Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was William F. Buckley … The Canadian equivalent may go like this: before there was the Reform Party there was Alberta Report, before there was Alberta Report there was Ted Byfield.”
Ted Byfield was born in Toronto in 1928. His father was a reporter for the Toronto Telegram and Toronto Star. As a teenager, he moved to Washington with his family and became a copy boy at the Washington Post. Byfield returned to Canada at the age of 20 and worked at newspapers in Ottawa and Timmins, and married Virginia. A few years later, the family moved to Winnipeg, where Byfield worked at the Winnipeg Free Press. As Brian Bergman would many years later report in Maclean’s, Byfield once hid in an air conditioning duct “in order to eavesdrop on a secret city council meeting” to get a scoop for his paper. Journalism was in his bones.
Byfield, born into a Unitarian family, had a religious conversion after reading G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers. Byfield became an Anglican, joined the cathedral choir, started a men’s group there, and founded what would become the Company of the Cross, an Anglican private boarding school for boys. He would open several St. John’s boarding schools, which offered both traditional Anglicanism and traditional schooling. Ted taught history and his wife, known as Ginny, taught French.
The Byfields moved to Edmonton to open another St. John’s School. Beginning in 1973, the school produced a weekly St. John’s Edmonton Report and four years later they started the St. John’s Calgary Report. The two would merge to become the Alberta Report and they would later start the B.C. Report and Western Report.
Those early newsletters and then the regional magazines wrote scathing exposes of the abortion industry, homosexual activists, human rights commissions, and public schooling. And they would foment animus against Ottawa, which thy believed was acting in the interests of the Laurentian elites — the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor — while ignoring or actively harming the West.
At its height, Alberta Report would reach nearly 55,000 subscribers. The Byfield’s’ son, Link, would eventually succeed Ted as editor. (Full disclosure: I wrote freelance news articles for the magazine when Link Byfield turned the western-based magazines the National Report.) Ted Byfield wrote the back-page column in the Report magazines and Ted and Virginia co-wrote a column, “Orthodoxy,” about religion and morality. The magazine ceased publication in 2003.
Upon his passing, the CBC reported “The Report was also no stranger to controversy, fielding accusations of racist, homophobic and anti-feminist material” — including, it still seems, from the CBC.
Ted Byfield’s biographer, Jonathon Van Maren, wrote in Convivium following his Dec. 23 passing, “Ted’s magazines were the voice of both a region and a religion (even if there was occasional confusion as to which was which). While Alberta Report and her sister publications were not explicitly Christian, Ted and his team simply ‘covered the news as if Christianity were true’.” Or as this paper once reported, “Byfield comes from the age which did not view the term ‘judgmental’ pejoratively.”
Political observers on both the left and the right connected Byfield to the rise of the Reform Party. Senator Ron Ghitter (Progressive Conservative, Quebec) said in a 1999 speech railing against “theo-conservatism” that Byfield and Reform leader Preston Manning (as well as the Christian Heritage Party and REAL Women) presented a “scolding, moralizing conservatism” and a renewal of “puritanism” that was “inherently pessimistic” about modernity.
The Byfield’s would later leave the Anglican Church for its “heretical” turn and convert to the Orthodox Church of America.
Starting in the 1990s, Byfield began publishing the 11-volume Alberta in the 20th Century: A Journalistic History of the Province, and in the early 2000s began publication of the 12-volume The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years.
Byfield was one of the most prominent conservative voices in the Canadian media. In a 1980 CBC segment, he debated the abortionist Henry Morgentaler. Morgentaler claimed that science could not determine when human life began. Byfield countered with a hypothetical question about whether a hunter could blindly shoot into trees not knowing whether the rustle was caused by a deer or another person. Morgentaler protested that he did not answer hypothetical questions. But Byfield made his point: if we do not know whether the fetus is a human being, why not err on the side of caution. Byfield was capable of being much more direct, once writing about “therapeutic” abortions “where the little one is ‘therapeutically’ ripped to pieces, limb by limb, by a suction machine” and concluding, “What matters is ‘choice,’ meaning the mother’s. The baby doesn’t have one.”
In a 1985 column, he decried the Playboy culture which did not only consist of normalizing pornography, but the abolition of marriage and promotion of licentiousness. “Familial obligation was not negotiable,” Byfield lamented, “Fidelity had been repealed.”
The Byfield’s had six children. Ted was predeceased by his wife Virginia, to whom he was married for 65 years, and two children, Philippa and Link.