Major-General Sir Edward Morrison, a former Ottawa Citizen editor-in-chief who became Canada's artillery commander in the First World War, was commemorated in a ceremony at Beechwood Cemetery Sunday November 5, 2017.
Maj.Gen. Sir Edward W.B. Morrison in 1922.
This year, the Ottawa Citizen — the capital’s oldest continuously operated business — marked its 175th anniversary. The COVID-19 pandemic put our plans to celebrate this remarkable milestone on hold, but we couldn’t let the year end without showing why this institution has been an important voice in our community for so long.
This article is part of a series of stories celebrating the newspaper’s past and looking forward to the future.
The Ottawa Citizen 175th anniversary series
- Charles in Charge: The life and times of the legendary Citizen editor Charles Bowman
- Potter: How the Citizen helped create a shared community in Ottawa
- Editors-in-chief: The Citizen newsroom has been led by the formidable and the quirky
The life of former Citizen editor Edward “Dinky” Morrison was coloured by ink and blood.
Morrison led the Ottawa newsroom for 10 years after being recruited from the Hamilton Spectator in July 1898. But his most celebrated accomplishments took place on the battlefield: Maj.-Gen. Morrison was knighted in June 1919 for his contributions to the Allied victory in the First World War.
As commanding officer of the Canadian Corps’ artillery, Morrison played an instrumental role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, orchestrating the creeping barrage that covered the advance of Canadian troops.
“He was endowed with remarkable ability and resourcefulness,” Canada’s wartime prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, said of Morrison upon his death in May 1925.
Born in London, Ont. on July 6, 1867 — only days after Canada launched into nationhood — Morrison went to school in Hamilton, then joined the local paper as a reporter. He also joined the Canadian militia, trained as a gunner, and was appointed second lieutenant of the 4th Field Battery.
In 1898, at the age of 31, he moved to Ottawa to become editor-in-chief of the Citizen, where he became known as a newsroom taskmaster. Every Sunday afternoon, he held journalism tutorials on everything from political writing to reporting ethics.
“Getting it right is more important that getting it first,” Morrison lectured. “Getting both is our goal.”
He was also a stickler on the fine points of writing, warning his staff: “There are only two people in this business entitled to use ‘we:’ an editorial writer and a man with a tapeworm.”
Morrison often wrote about his outdoor adventures, including a paddling trip along the coast of Georgian Bay, and another to the headwaters of the Gatineau River.
“Portaging,” he wrote of his 1903 river trip, “combines more misery to the square inch than any other mode of progression … The perspiration drops off your eyebrows and trickles down your nose as you stagger desperately on exhausted, but not daring to stop lest the flies and mosquitos eat you up entirely.”
In Ottawa, Morrison joined the 2nd Field Battery militia unit, and in 1899, took a leave from the newspaper to fight in the Boer War, where he earned a Distinguished Service Order.
It was in South Africa that Morrison befriended fellow Canadian artillery officer, Lieut. John McCrae, a medical doctor. The two men shared a love of history, drawing, literature, and animals, particularly dogs and horses.
In the First World War, Morrison would see to it that they served together again: They were both at the Second Battle of Ypres, where McCrae wrote his celebrated poem, In Flanders Field. (The poem, Morrison would later say, was “literally born of fire and blood.”)
Morrison left the Citizen in 1908 to take over militia recruitment, and later joined the permanent force as a lieutenant colonel and director of artillery.
He went overseas with the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914, and was part of almost every major Canadian battle until the end of the Great War.
He rode the same horse, King, throughout the war. “King behaves like a lamb under shell fire,” Morrison told Maclean’s magazine, “but has a rooted aversion to the sight of the smallest piece of paper flying across his path. Rather odd for an old newspaperman’s horse.”
After the war, Morrison was appointed to a committee tasked with reorganizing the militia, and served as deputy inspector-general of the artillery until he was forced to retire by failing health. He died in his MacLeod Street home on May 28, 1925. Morrison was 57.
Retired major Marc George, the former director of the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, said Morrison was one of the most successful artillery commanders in Canadian history. “Sir Edward was a morally and physically courageous man,” George said. “He did what he felt was right despite the risk of censure by higher authorities.”
In his book, Vimy, author and journalist Pierre Berton called Morrison “the man most responsible for the barrage that broke the Germans’ back” during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Morrison’s letters from South Africa were made into a book, With the Guns in South Africa, while his rediscovered memoirs were published posthumously in 2017 — the same year that his unmarked grave was rededicated at Beechwood Cemetery.
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