Manitoba History: Cool Things in the Collection: The Fred McGuinness Collection
by Christy M. Henry and Suyoko Tsukamoto
Popularly known as the “voice of the prairies,” Fred McGuinness was known by many titles and honorifics: apiarist, author, columnist, editor, father, memoirist, Morse operator, publisher, radio broadcaster, vice-president, and wordsmith. A well-known advocate for rural topics and local history, he pursued a prolific career spanning more than 50 years. He was also one of the founders of the S. J. McKee Archives at Brandon University (BU). McGuinness proposed the archive concept, as a joint project between BU and Manitoba Pool Elevators, to BU President Lloyd Dulmage and the Board of Governors in the fall of 1973; the Rural Resource Centre was born in 1975. After his passing on 22 March 2011, the McGuinness estate donated his records to the McKee Archives.
Frederick George McGuinness was born at Brandon on 21 January 1921. During the Great Depression, he launched his career with The Brandon Sun as a newspaper carrier in 1933. He delivered papers in Brandon’s downtown core, to many of the city’s now-historic or demolished buildings. Four years later he was working for CPR telegraphs as a messenger and then as an operator. McGuinness would weave these early Brandon experiences into his newspaper columns, broadcasts, and books. In turn, his readers shared with him their own memories about Brandon and its local history.
In 1939, McGuinness enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy and served as a wireless operator on the HMCS Alachasse. Following a serious injury in 1940, he was discharged in 1941, at which time he returned to school, first at St. Paul’s College in Winnipeg to complete his high school equivalency and university preparation courses and then at United College as an undergraduate.
While a student McGuinness served as a Sports Editor for The Crusader student newspaper from 1943 to 1946. He also served on the student union’s Public Relations Committee and in 1945 he became Chairman of the Radio Subcommittee. There he worked as the Director of the University Radio Series where he was responsible for writing, casting, and directing a half-hour Saturday afternoon radio program. McGuinness’ military experience also allowed him to work as an Assistant Veterans Counsellor at the University of Manitoba, and, following a recommendation from the university’s President, as a speaker for the War Finance Committee in the Winnipeg area.
In the early 1950s, McGuinness worked as a publicist with the Unemployment Insurance Commission (UIC) in Winnipeg. In the summers McGuinness travelled the fair circuit with displays promoting the UIC and its benefits. During that time, he took the opportunity to also work as the Royal American Show’s Director of Publicity and Exploitation, where he was responsible for submitting weekly reports to Billboard Magazine about the Canadian prairie fair circuit.
From 1953 to 1955, McGuinness worked as an organizer for the Province of Saskatchewan’s 1955 Golden Jubilee. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas during the jubilee preparations, driving the premier to sites throughout the province. This experience would lead to his appointment as a provincial representative to the Canadian Centennial Commission in 1963. Following the Jubilee, McGuinness worked with The Medicine Hat News as a journalist and publisher from 1955 to 1965.
In November 1966, McGuinness was hired as Associate Editor and Vice-President of The Brandon Sun; he had a career with the paper until his death. In addition to his administrative duties, during his years with the Sun, McGuinness wrote the “Sunbeams” column using the nomde-plume F. A. Rosser and following his retirement in 1987, he began writing the “Diary” column. The columns were a combination of current and local events, book reviews, reminiscences, historical retrospectives of Brandon and other topics of interest.
In 1979, McGuinness started writing the syndicated weekly news column “Neighbourly News.” He would write the column for 22 years until age-related macular degeneration, diagnosed in 2001, became an impediment to his research, writing, and editing. The column initially began with a dozen subscriptions from prairie weeklies and grew to 55 weeklies. This column evolved from public interest in McGuinness’ CBC Radio broadcast “Neighbourly News from the Prairies,” that he hosted from 1980 to 1983. After the show was cancelled it was picked up by CFAM and ran until the summer of 1987. McGuinness continued working with the CBC, however, and is popularly known for his work as the prairie essayist for CBC Radio’s Morningside with Peter Gzowski.
In addition to his work with the Sun and “Neighbourly News,” McGuinness had an extensive career as a freelance writer and journalist for Reader’s Digest and prairie weekly newspapers, as well as authoring several books, including a number on Manitoba social history, co-authored with Ken Coates.
By the 1970s, McGuinness was also writing copy for CBC’s Radio Noon and Information Radio, as well as producing Ashgrove Farm, a CBC radio drama. In the 1980s and 1990s, he co-taught an undergraduate journalism class at BU. McGuinness delivered community workshops on memoir writing, and was an invited speaker on local history, rural develompent and other topics. His lifelong commitment to prairie social history earned him numerous awards and recognitions including an honorary doctorate from Brandon University, the Order of Manitoba, and the Order of Canada.
The S. J. McKee Archives owes its existence in no small part to Fred McGuinness and it is honoured to be the home of his significant archival collection. The records in the McGuinness collection, which consist of over 7 metres of textual records and 500 photographs, reflect his passion for local history and the rural experience. They touch on every aspect of his personal and professional life: from his childhood, education, war experience, newspaper and freelance career, to his work in radio and public speaking. In addition to records created by McGuinness, there are also records created and collected by a variety of his relatives, on both sides of the family, as well as correspondence from his readers. The collection includes newspaper clippings, research materials, letters, certificates, scrapbooks, photographs, books, periodicals, pamphlets, sound recordings, artifacts, maps, newsletters, magazines, teaching materials, workshop materials, and financial records.
McGuinness Photo Album
Consisting of 28 black and white photographs, this photo album provides an extremely well documented glimpse into early Canadian ore mining in the former Michipicoten Township (northern Ontario) during the 1900s. They document aspects of the mining process from the camps and mine sites to the transportation of the ore. It also includes images of Wawa, Ontario, points along the railway line, the summer home of industrialist Francis Hector Clergue on Wigwam Island, and members of Michipicoten First Nation.
Local History Materials
McGuinness kept numerous files on various subjects and continued to add to them throughout his career. He accumulated materials by personally collecting newspaper clippings, books, and magazine articles; by readers’ forwarding materials for his interest; and from workshop participants submitting memoirs and personal narratives for his interest, review, and feedback. Some of the topics in the collection include noteworthy anniversaries in the history of Brandon, historic buildings and streets, businesses, citizens and early pioneer families, institutions, military units, museum, local newspapers, politicians, railways, and religious groups. McGuinness also maintained files on the history of surrounding communities, including Birtle, Beresford, Camp Hughes, Hartney, Kemnay, Russell, and Souris.
In addition to textual records, McGuinness collected photographs over the course of his career, particularly during the research and writing period of his Brandon pictorial book The Wheat City (1988). These records include historic images of Brandon businesses such as barbershops, cafes, dentists, hardware stores, hotels, grocers and dry good shops, and tobacconists. He also collected photographs and many aspects of daily life in Brandon were captured on subjects such as camps, early transportation, fairs, hunting trips, parades, personal portraits, service clubs, school photos, street scenes, winter storms, and visits to 10-Mile Dam and the International Peace Gardens.
W. F. McGuinness Collection
The collection also contains records of Fred’s father, William “Bill” Frederick McGuinness. Born in Ottawa in 1884, W. F. McGuinness moved to Brandon with his family in 1900. He was involved heavily in the lumber industry, as well as a number of local organizations and businesses including: Manitoba Hardware and Lumber Company, Dominion Hardware & Lumber Co., and the Oak Lake Farming and Ranching Association.
The lumber company records provide a unique perspective into the founding and operation of these businesses and include minutes, by-laws, and financial documents. The records for the Oak Lake Farming and Ranching Association provide an exceptional background to the founding and operation of the Oak Lake Shooting Club, beginning with its inception in 1906.
The collection reflects McGuinness’ long-held interest in telegraphy arising from his employment with the CPR before the Second World War. It includes copies of telegraphs announcing the end of the war, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and McGuinness’ published articles and manuscripts on the subject, as well as records related to the First Annual Reunion of Morse Operators in 2009, including essays/memoirs by a handful of former Morse operators.
We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.
Page revised: 15 September 2020