Butler Cove Road

Butler Cove Road is named in honour of newspaperman Henry T. Butler

Stratford Herald on Market Square in about 1900

Henry Thomas Butler was born in Sussex, England on Nov. 5, 1844. He came to Canada as a young man and worked on newspapers in several towns until he landed in Stratford. He was publisher of the Herald in the early 1870s, and then started his own newspaper the Times. After selling it, he started another paper called the Sun.

Butler was a colourful and well-liked man of strong opinions, which often got him into trouble. He was the city's mayor in 1889, but it is for his newspaper career and his connections with the Dingman family that he is best known.

When he was publisher of the weekly Herald in the early 1870s, readership was reaching 1,700 and snapping at the heels of the Beacon and its circulation at just over 2,000. Those were sizeable numbers given that Stratford's population was more than 9,000, a far cry from the 200 of 1846.

The Herald had several owners as it sought to surpass its rivals in Stratford, all of them weeklies. It considered itself a Conservative paper. Its arch rival, the Beacon, was known to be a Reform paper. In 1923, the two were amalgamated under ownership of the Dingman family (see Dingman Place) who had purchased the Herald in 1886.

Butler had left the Herald to run his own newspaper, the Times, which he started in June 1874. As a man of conservative leanings, he found himself in a bitter rivalry with the Herald, especially with the Dingmans after they had taken over that paper in 1886. The Times was the town's seventh newspaper.

By then, several other papers had made their mark, all weeklies. The Beacon had been founded in 1854 by Peter Eby, the son of a Mennonite bishop. It was the Herald's stiff rival. When it first rolled off the press, on Dec. 29, 1854, it was the Stratford Beacon and Perth County General Intelligencer.

The composing room at the Herald Photo: Beacon-Herald files

The newsroom at the Herald on Market Place Stratford-Perth Archives

According to Floodtides of Fortune, Henry Butler was a fearless newspaperman, widely liked but with an aptitude for news coverage and editorializing that frequently landed him in trouble. That was a consequence that bothered him little because since it usually generated peppery news items with which to lure readers away from his entrenched rivals. Inevitably, he made enemies.

In April 1884, his Times printing plant was entered by night and left a shambles. Every font of type was dumped on the floor and virtually every piece of equipment ruined. While many people disagreed with Butler politically and editorially, old antagonists rallied round him in his misfortune. On a recommendation following a public meeting, town council offered a reward of $500 for information leading to the conviction of the culprits. Butler added $200 himself. Two men were charged, but when a number of the important witnesses conveniently left town, the charges were withdrawn.

Butler was not finished. A committee solicited subscriptions and the stricken editor was soon able to buy new stock.

When the Herald came under the control of Absalom Dingman in 1886, it naturally became fair game for Butler, who didn’t relish an aggressive rival in the Tory field, and was spoiling for a fight. He put his considerable talents as a writer to use with a vengeance.

When the Dingmans, whose number by then included Absalom and two brothers, Charles and Lewis Hervey, and the Herald had taken more than enough abuse and insult, they launched a libel suit against Butler and his Times. In court, one vitriolic Times article in evidence accused the Dingmans of being "rank imposters, thieves, pimps and libertines," and added an implication of murder against one member of the family.

It came out in court that the libelous article had been written by a disgruntled employee but that didn’t clear Butler for using it. The Herald was awarded $150 in damages and costs, amounting to a total of about $1,800.

Eventually, Henry Butler sold the Times, which two years later was absorbed by the Herald. In 1892, after completing his year as mayor, Butler started a new weekly, the Sun, but published it in Stratford for only one year before he moved both plant and paper north to Wiarton.

Years later, Butler returned to Stratford where he befriended the Dingmans. More than that, he became a contributor to the paper of the very editors he once had reviled. Henry Thomas Butler was 62 when he died in Stratford in 1909. Sources: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune and Mary Jane Lennon, A Stratford Album: Memories of the Festival City. Compiled by Gord Conroy