Ted Byfield, 1928-2021 (Photo: Facebook/Ted Byfield).

Ted Byfield, publisher of the influential Alberta Report Magazine and similar hard right spinoffs, died Thursday at 93. 

Edward Bartlett Byfield was born in Toronto on Bastille Day, 1928.

Mr. Byfield in his later years (Photo: Twitter/Ted Byfield).

He was talented rhetorician and prominent influencer of the Harper-Manning-Kenney Axis of Paleoconservatism – and by inevitable extension, of Canadian journalism. 

He probably would not have been entirely pleased that word of his passing first appeared as a notice posted on Facebook by his son Vincent Byfield and was later spread on Twitter.

Mr. Byfield never hesitated to mount his metaphorical charger and ride to the rescue of Alberta’s perpetually beleaguered Moral Minority.

A devoted propagandist for social conservative causes and a proselytizer of a highly politicized interpretation of the Christian message – which was not the message found in the Gospels – Mr. Byfield was a skilled and entertaining writer who knew how to compose a column that would be noticed. 

That is to say that his columns, while often tendentious and wrongheaded, were strongly worded, coherently argued, and had three qualities that every good column requires: An attention-grabbing beginning, a clearly stated middle, and a forceful end.

A latter-day Jeremiah, his style was to report facts, but spin them hard to suit his worldview, and then leave the impression the targets of his ire were up to no good. An occasional shot of sarcasm lent astringency to the mix.

While his politics were at times abhorrent, the way he pursued them through his journalism was worthy of admiration. 

Preston Manning, one of Mr. Byfield’s pet projects (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And he kept at it through tough times into old age: he lost a daughter in 2007, his wife Virginia in 2014, and his son Link in 2015. Virginia and Link were both right-wing writers and activists as well.

He founded his weekly Alberta-based newsmagazine in 1979. It was never a financial success, folding in 2003, but it was a journalistic tour de force, not to mention an incubator for a generation of far-right journalists including Ezra Levant, Lorne Gunter, Colby Cosh, and Paul Bunner who have been enormously influential turning Canadian media into the propaganda wing of modern neoliberalism that it is today. Their name is Legion, for they are many.

As a paleoconservative activist, Mr. Byfield was there at the start of the Reform Party in 1987, standing with founder Preston Manning, son of Social Credit premier Ernest Manning, which for a time split the Canadian conservative movement asunder.

Throughout his long career, Mr. Byfield never had much difficulty spotting sinister progressives lurking and working like rust to destroy Civilization As We Know It.

As a journalist with a strong interest in education – in the 1960s he was one of the founders the justly controversial St. John’s School for boys – he saw classrooms as a likely venue for socialistic subversion.

Jason Kenney, another of Mr. Byfield’s enthusiasms (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Among the many bees in Mr. Byfield’s bonnet over the years were women’s reproductive rights, feminism generally, new-fangled ideas about how to teach arithmetic, and Gay-Straight Alliances, which he dubbed “school sex clubs.” He was against them all.

If readers note that many of these ideas are also obsessions of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, that should be no surprise. One of the last big crusades in Mr. Byfield’s life was the elevation of Mr. Kenney to the premiership of Alberta.

When the NDP was in power in this province, he argued that the solutions to all of Alberta’s troubles could be summed up in two words: Jason and Kenney. 

In addition to his periodicals, he published a multi-volume illustrated history of Alberta and a 12-volume magnum opus called The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. 

CORRECTION: Virginia Byfield died in 2014. An incorrect date appeared in an earlier version of this story. 

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52 Comments

      1. While Paula and David Gray got their start from this Ted, it is likely that they would have worked for the other outlets if they Alberta Report didn’t exist. The fact that Alberta Report did employ some good journalists at some point doesn’t undo the damage that this publication did in its existence.

  1. It seems you knew Mr. Byfield writings well, and have captured the essence of his political nature. I admire your ability to recognize his skills at communicating a message while still noting your disagreement with what the message was.

    Unfortunately many have learned from Mr. Byfield, although the pretenders try, non have risen to his level of elegance.

    A quick editorial note as you used ‘an’ when I believe you meant ‘and’ in this “skilled an entertaining writer”.

  2. Never understood what this man really was talented about. I believe anyone can come up with destructive ideas and that is what this group of geniuses have done for so many years. Ted is responsible for a lot of extreme right wing creations like Jason Kenney and people that to me are of no interest in any society that values ethics and the rule of law.
    Manning was a zero before a valid number and Jason Kenney does not even show up on that table of curiosities. I know I am supposed to respect different ideas and I do but what these people produce is not ideas, it is pure crap. So no I do not care about any of them. I have no interest in their bull

  3. While you can feel some sense of sadness for his family I can’t feel any sadness for his departure given the damage he did in putting some of the most harmful disinformation in regards to homosexuality. His magazine was vessel for some of the most crackpot ideas that existed. This has made it difficult to live in this provinve.

  4. As shocking as his principles were, he was a charming fellow in person and a pleasure to chat with. Go figure, I found it hard to reconcile that Ted Byfield with the one that ran the Alberta Report. Before reading your post today, David, I often wondered if Byfield’s harsh right-wing stance was less ideological and more of a marketing device to carve out a niche in Alberta’s media.

  5. RIP. There was a time in Alberta when you couldn’t sit in a doctors’s or dentist’s office and not find an issue of Alberta Report.

    1. Indeed. When we first arrived in Alberta from the east coast in the mid-80s, I would often pick up that rag in waiting rooms at medical clinics and barbershops, and leaf through it appalled at the views expressed in it. Then, one day in the early ‘00s, I saw a copy of Alberta Views, and found it to be an anodyne to Byfield’s yellow journalism. I’ve been a subscriber now for several years, and they have Byfield to thank for that at least.

      https://albertaviews.ca/

      1. I hadn’t thought of that. Alberta Views is an excellent cure for whatever ails the body politic in AB, including Alberta Report (and its infernal spawn, The Rebel).

  6. “.. for the edification and mental emolument of you, the Hoi Palloi…”
    One name that I oft reflect on, from that particular time, was Bill Matheson.
    He was one of the last coherent voices of moderation in the field of radio talk shows, here in Alberta. The next generation, here in Canada, would be Rush Limbaugh and his compatriots. To me, they are pale imitators who are political hacks. We see their voices carried forth in the pages of Post Media.
    I will always remember his to and fro with Audrie Jenson and his interactions with Bill Jackson.
    He was typical of his generation who had personal experience with the reality of the war and lived to try to bring forth a better future.
    Ted Byfield worked to bring us back to a feudal state. Where clergy were not answerable for their conduct, as we see in contries such as Poland or Croatia.

  7. Two things I would like to point out in regard to the passing of Ted Byfield.

    Among his many misdeeds (too numerous to mention) was the interesting comment he made about being a devout Christian and regular church-goer. In a TV interview, he said he says what he likes over the course of the week, but always insists on going to his church’s Sunday service for the purpose of saying sorry. Then, he repeats his SoCON antics again the following week.

    When, in another TV interview, he was asked about the subject of abortion, which he compared to the Holocaust as a grave crime against the innocent pre-born, when asked about his public cheerleading whenever harm came to an abortion specialist, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say why should he care about the guilty?

    Ted Byfield remains, in life and death, another disgusting piece of human garbage, who cloaks himself in piety to conveniently justify his hatreds.

    I am a non-believer, but it is a wonderful Christmas gift to be able to dance on Ted Byfield’s grave.

    1. Political Ranger I concur. Let the cons eulogize him with incessant and simplistic jibes and whining directed at the nation’s government. Western discontent is better understood as western malcontent.

  8. To Carlos…

    Apparently, Albertans like Jason Kenney and Preston Manning. Are you sure your living in the right province?
    Why not go East, where welfare loving Liberals live.

  9. Interesting to see the reaction to Ted’s death. He was my first first boss. I was a member of the Company of the Cross, the lay religious order which published St. John’s Edmonton Report, the forerunner of Alberta Report. We got paid $1 a day and said prayers, led by Ted, twice a day, and joined in holy communion twice a week. Ted took a group of us to the Edmonton Anglican Cathedral Choir, which began a lifelong interest in choral singing for me. I also learned to be a journalist. Like Paula Simons later I was an odd duck in a place full of various odd ducks. My main assignments were sports, city hall and a variety of crime and courts stories in both cities. As a weekly publication we had our pick of stories and lots of variety. This was admittedly before the increasing polarization in Alberta in the 80s. Byfield was ultra-conservative, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the polictics of the magazine, especially when the Company of the Cross folded its press connection and remained only in the schools. Since I was a left winger and former writer for the U of T Varsity, Mounties come and visit wondering if he was aware who he had hired. He told me about this afterward and said he laughed them out of his office. So in spite of his paleo politics and columns, I saw a kinder gentler side of Byfield, and a surprisingly egalitarian side, especially during Company of the Cross Days.

    1. Bob Bettson: you say: “This was admittedly before the increasing polarization in Alberta in the 80s. Byfield was ultra-conservative, … ”

      My first acquaintance with Byfield alumni was during my Alberta undergraduate years in the very early 1970s as a sort of cultural anthropologist studying the alienated. Byfield was a propagandist and superb recruiter for the hard right. He and the many useful idiots he used laid the basis for that polarization in the 1970s during a time when Premier Lougheed and those who supported him tried to continue moving Alberta into a more social democratic path. In my view, Byfield created a sort of bizarre amalgamation of Catholic Flangism mixed with the paranoid Social Credit right.

      For example, the later Alberta Report Magazine regularly published stories like the one about pilgrims flocking to a rural Alberta farmstead to view a manifestation of Jesus in the grease on the kitchen wall by the stove, allowing them to demonize those expressing doubts as anti-Christian. This to effectively split a here-to-for cooperative society along long-suppressed religious and ethnic lines – all in the service of American capital and the looting of Alberta. Don’t get me started on Byfield’s efforts to falsify Alberta’s history. But there can be no doubt of his profoundly destructive legacy.

      1. Re: Memes. Not to nitpick, but I’ll leave it at this. Keep up the excellent work. We may disagree (often), but I respect good writing and yours usually fits this bill. Merry Christmas 🙂

        “Memes are interesting or amusing pictures, videos, or GIFs that frequently evolve. It represents a common idea or feeling, usually humor, that relates to a culture or subculture. A meme is usually a cultural inside joke that’s easily recognizable among mass audiences. ”

        https://www.webopedia.com/definitions/meme/

    1. Way to go Vince! Truly, you are one who has and shows true class in adversity. My sincere condolences.

      Personally, as a former student of SJSA, 73-77, I have the fondest memories of the personal accomplishments of those days. Your dear late mum sewed the laundry number on my school issued clothing. May she rest in peace. What a priviledge to have been Part of that experience. Your father some forty years later still knew me by name even though he never taught a class to me.
      I am honored to have known him.

  10. It should be noted that there was a recent passing of a far, far greater man than Dead Byfield.

    ARCH Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, anti-Apartheid campaigner, human rights activist, climate change advocate, peacemaker, and all a round defender of all that is decent passed away today. This is truly a far pronounced tragedy and a great loss for those who seek progress in the improvement of the human condition.

  11. The Byfield’s Alberta Report (Ted’s), then BC Report (Link’s) started showing up in toilet stalls in logging camps where I worked. I never heard anybody claim to have put them there, not in what used to be solidly NDP-voting, thoroughly unionized camps. I used to wonder how much it was costing to distribute so widely to remote camps where magazines were typically more of the pictorial kind and sold at the commissary, right beside the wall of antacids and other digestive tract amendments. The Byfield’s Reports were free, though, like Watchtower or Awake!

    But was it coincidence that during this time I witnessed a sea change of political partisanship? The vast majority of resource workers used to be unionized and voted NDP, then all of a sudden they stared voting federal Reform and provincial Socred. WTF?!

    Well, I’d attribute more of that to the gun registry, controversial at the time (many resource workers are also hunters and they hated the registry) and to NDP Premier Mike Harcourt who was too moderate for union radicals. The cover of one BC Report issue depicted Harcourt and his finance minister (and future Premier) Glen Clark in Nazi uniforms, getting away with portraying democratic socialists as far-right fascists by appealing to loggers’ simpler sense of enmity.

    Anyways, by the time the Byfield’s Reports went bust in 2003, the NDP had been reduced to two seats and the far-right BC Liberals’ regime of perfidy ( which BC is still paying for and will, far into the future) had just begun its 16-year sabotage of the public enterprise.

    It would be churlish not to condole with Byfield’s family, but if the Reports had anything to do with inflicting ultra-right SoCondom on Canadians, they must be condemned nevertheless.

    At least all those stacks of Alberta, BC and Western Reports in logging camp toilet stalls were close to where they needed to go.

  12. I grew up in Quebec during the time that politics were the domaine of the church and the Union Nationale Party.

    We had a saying…roughly translated. ‘When the church and the politicians get into bed together it is the voters who get screwed’. True then….true today.

    One good thing came from it. Quebec’s quiet revolution.

    The negative impact of this unholy alliance is still very evident in Quebec society today.

    We see it in Alberta from time to time. Like the time one faith leader attempted to stop a school board from offering HPV vaccines to students. A vaccine that has proven to reduce certain cancers by 30 percent. Fortunately his influence proved to be nil…the program continued.

  13. Putting a $5000 bounty on a doctor trying to save lives during the Covid pandemic: this is the rot that sprang from Ted Byfield’s camp. Apparently life is cheap, and only certain lives matter.

  14. My one Byfield-related memory: around the time of the June 1978 mass drowning (13 fatalities) during the St Johns School canoe trip on Lake Temiskaming, I was working in Jasper National Park that summer. Discussing this tragedy with a Parks Canada warden, I was told that the St Johns schools had been banned from national parks after various safety infractions, e.g. paddling on the Bow River after dark because they couldn’t be bothered to stop and make camp.

    Sado-Christianity?

  15. Ted and I crossed paths occasionally from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s, although the only work I did for him was a chapter for his Alberta history project. We never agreed about politics or religion, but he was a fun guy to debate over a drink or two, and more profane than you might expect from the sanctimonious public persona. His journalistic background (Washington Post and Winnipeg Free Press) provided him with an arsenal of tools for effective communication that unfortunately got skewed by his weird obsessions. He certainly had a “nose for news” and found provocative angles on stories that drew readers’ attention–what we would now call “click bait”–and he imparted those skills to a generation of acolytes, both secular and spiritual. His mentorship produced professionals like Paula Simons and Eric Reguly, among many others, as well as right-wing ideologues like Kenneth Whyte, Lorne Gunter, et al. If there is an afterlife, and we meet again, I hope Ted is occupying a bar stool rather than a pulpit.

  16. Generally speaking, the commenters on this blog display a high level of writing competence in style, structure and ideas. I envy the language and literary skill, not to mention the blogger’s accomplishments. You make it look easy.

  17. I think you have managed to be both kind and fair in your assessment of Byfield, which is no easy feat. He was certainly a talented journalist, but his slant on everything was cringe worthy.

    To his credit, he did mentor a whole bunch of young journalists, not all who have ended up as right wing ideologues, although he might not see that as a success. Unfortunately, he also inspired a number of bad politicians some of who are still with us. However, I think his passing does definitely mark the end of an era in Alberta with the social conservative movement on the wane even here for about the last decade.

    It is too bad he couldn’t have used his talents to create more moderate publications that could have still covered local and regional news well. If so, I suspect they would have been much more successful and might still be around. I believe a lot of people initially supported his publications because of the local and regional coverage, but were eventually turned off by the strong social conservative messaging.

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