By Jonathon Van Maren
Ted Byfield was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Edmonton Dec. 30, the Alberta flag draping the casket symbolizing his decades-long devotion to the province and role in its history.
Edward “Ted” Bartlett Byfield died at 93 on Dec. 23 in his Edmonton home, attended to by his family. Although many younger Canadians may not be familiar with his work, Mr. Byfield was a titan of the country’s journalism and politics.
But Mr. Byfield was beloved by many Canadian Christians for far more than his stature as a standard bearer of the West. He was the unwavering voice of Christian conviction, speaking for the millions of Canadians despised and scorned by mainstream politics, culture and media. He unapologetically championed the moral values of orthodox Christianity, standing his cultural ground even as it began to cave away.
“If adultery or homosexuality is wrong in the sight of God, then all the task forces in Christendom aren’t going to make it right,” he wrote. “If God is timeless and changeless, then human conduct considered wrong in the eighth century is just as wrong in the 20th.”
Born in 1928, Mr. Byfield’s worldview was shaped by his childhood growing up in Toronto during the Great Depression and “the War,” after which he landed a job as a copyboy at the Washington Post where he scored a front-page story as a teenager. He headed back to Canada to work for the Ottawa Journal after being told he would need to obtain a university degree to become a full-time reporter at the Post. This struck him as a waste of time, and so, as he often joked, he searched for a newspaper with less stringent professional standards.
At the Journal he met Virginia (Ginger) Nairn, the love of his life. The couple married in 1949 as soon as he could persuade her it was a good idea (against the initial wishes of her parents). They worked together at the Timmins Press in Northern Ontario before Mr. Byfield sunk their savings into a newspaper in Ansonville, Ont. The disastrous venture bankrupted them. Ginger decamped to Toronto to stay with family while Mr. Byfield hunted for a job, which he found in Manitoba. At the Winnipeg Free Press — where he rapidly became a rising journalistic star — he encountered Bob Saunders, the man he credited with leading him back to Christianity.
Steeped in the writings of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers, the Byfields and several others founded an Anglican order called the Company of the Cross. Its centrepiece was a boarding school for boys in Selkirk called the St. John’s Cathedral School. There would eventually be three of them.
In 1973, the St. John’s Edmonton Report was launched. It would become the Alberta Report magazine, eventually growing into a series of similar magazines across Western Canada. The publication was credited with giving voice to western alienation during the Pierre Trudeau years, fuelling the rise of the Reform Party and laying the groundwork for Stephen Harper’s 2011 majority government.