Stratford had its first newspaper, Perth County News, a weekly, in 1849, five years before it became a village. By 1886 there were seven weeklies, and the dailies were starting to appear. Absalom Dingman was a newspaper publisher from Strathroy, Ont. A United Empire Loyalist, he had immigrated to Canada from an early Dutch settlement along the Hudson River in New York State. He came to Stratford with his family and purchased the Herald, a weekly with a steadily increasing readership.
Three of his sons joined him at the paper. The eldest, William Smith, in addition to his newspaper experience in Strathroy, had spent a year as managing editor of the Port Arthur Daily Sentinel. He had become its co-publisher, and hence began what is described by Adelaide Leitch in Floodtides of Fortune, as a newspaper dynasty. It would last for 113 years.
William Smith Dingman and Margaret (Maggie) Elizabeth McDonough were married in Strathroy on March 13, 1889, with her father, Rev. William McDonough, a Methodist clergyman, performing the wedding ceremony. They immediately moved into 59 Grant St.
There were three sisters and four brothers in William’s family. In their early years in Stratford, two brothers, Lewis Hervey and Charles Oliver, worked with William at the Herald. Lewis moved on in 1889 to become managing editor of the St. Thomas Journal. He later purchased the St. Thomas Times and merged the two papers. St Thomas would be his home base for the rest of his life, but he maintained a connection with Stratford by purchasing the Herald in 1920 and merging it with the Beacon in 1923.
Charles Oliver gained journalistic experience at the Montreal Star, the Winnipeg Telegram and as publisher of the Gannoque Journal. He returned to Stratford in 1918 as editor and manager of the Daily Herald and later became the first editor and managing director of the newly established Stratford Beacon-Herald in May 1923. When he died suddenly, six months later, his son Charles Dobson Dingman succeeded him.
In 1890, William S. Dingman moved the Herald into a new building, designed by architect Joseph Kilburn, on the south side of Market Square. The paper remained their until its merger with the Beacon in 1923. Active in municipal life, her served on the board of the Collegiate Institute, as an alderman on the city council, and as mayor in 1909-10. It was during his term as mayor that he played a key role in bringing water-powered hydro service to Stratford. His advocacy and support for Sir Adam Beck’s Niagara Power project culminated in a 1910 Christmas Eve ceremony at which the first Niagara-powered electric lights were switched on to illuminate Stratford’s streets.