In the days following Ted Byfield’s death at his Edmonton home on December 23, commentators across Canada praised him as a champion of Western Canada, a man who contributed to shape Canadian politics through its steadfast conservative and free enterprise principles. This is all true, but the praise barely mentioned a distinguishing feature that, in my mind, was the foundation of it all – his great Christian faith.
Reports indicated that Ted, who was 93 when he died, was an iconoclastic educator, having established independent boys’ schools rooted in traditional curriculum and Christian values; that he had created a series of western Canadian news magazines, which carried all of their geographic and political biases on their sleeves and in so doing contributed to the rise of the Reform Party of Canada; and that he later published two series of books, one on the history of Alberta and the other on the history of Christianity.
They also wrote that he was charismatic, politically incorrect, visionary, at times acerbic, witty, a great storyteller, and volcanic when he lost his temper. In short, he was a very interesting man.
But as someone who got to know Ted intimately from one of his magazines, British Columbia Report, during the 1990s, I think the praise did not give enough space to the significance of Ted’s Christianity and his spectacular determination to put that faith into action.
Ted was not a Roman Catholic, but his favorite author was the great Catholic apologist GK Chesterton, and he always struck me as a crusader, except he wielded a pen and typewriter instead of a sword. and a shield.
Ted awakened to Christianity in his youth, inspired first by Anglican writer CS Lewis, then by writers Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers, who described themselves as “Anglo-Catholic.” The telling realities of World War II and the challenges of raising a young family also sparked his eventual membership of Anglicanism.
He then left the denomination when it began to embrace what he believed to be senseless and offensive liberal policies and practices. He found a new home in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where he told me that he was convinced that he would not have to endure any new and possibly heretical teaching.
His commitment to mainstream Christianity was the basis for his decision to write a weekly column on religious affairs, “OrthodoxyThe title is a nod to the classic Chesterton book of the same name.
“People have fallen into the crazy habit of talking about orthodoxy as something heavy, mundane, and sure,” Chesterton wrote in this book. “There has never been anything as perilous or as exciting as Orthodoxy. That was the reason: and being sane is more dramatic than being mad. The Byfield Chronicle was a living example of the truth of this intuition.
The article, which he co-wrote with his wife Virginia (who died seven years before him), was not intended to discuss the intricacies of theology but, in Byfield’s distinctively combative manner, was aimed at to expose the ways in which the modern world misinterpreted, ignored or opposed time-tested “orthodox” Christian principles and practices.
The couple have often used the column to challenge or correct the mainstream media’s treatment of Christianity. In January 1998, for example, they hired Maclean‘s for its Christmas cover, in which the national magazine interviewed eight “experts” who denied traditional Christian principles around the birth of Christ, and only one who defended them.
In that same column, the Byfields reported that “ultra-liberal Vancouver” Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham recently published “a confession of his own disbelief,” which the Byfields then linked to the decline in membership of the Anglican church.
At the root of it all was Ted’s commitment to the truth with a capital T. This included not only his belief that Christ was God, that he died on the cross, and was resurrected, but also his complete certainty that such a thing as “truth” existed. , although it could not necessarily be fully known to us imperfect humans.
This meant, of course, that the modern idol of relativism was Ted’s great enemy. And so it was that Ted waged a relentless war against the sleazy politicians, the relativistic moralizers and the confused educators.
I must state here that the more I came to understand the dimensions of this war, the more engaging, captivating and even exciting it became to me.
When I went to work for Ted, I had just stepped out, bruised and bruised, from the crusher of image and emotion-based television news. It had brought out the worst in me and I was ready to quit journalism altogether.
Ted’s advice and encouragement allowed me to reconnect with the profession I was willing to give up and discover how to use the information I gathered in my reporting to try to tell the truth, not just to throw it away. a bunch of sensational facts at the reader’s feet.
A key moment came when he brought me into his office one afternoon and told me that I was the most organized journalist he had ever met, but also the one who most needed ” reading ”, which meant a much larger selection. of books than the novels I read to get my English degree – a biography, philosophy, theology and, most importantly, history.
And so began a transformation. The exercise not only led me to discover that I was more of a conservative than I had wanted to imagine, but also to re-embrace my outdated Catholic faith. I attribute all the success I have enjoyed since then – in journalism, public speaking, broadcast media and politics – to this awareness.
And, yes, there is a direct link between this personal rebirth and my current work for this journal.
I am not the only Catholic who was so motivated by Ted. Foremost on my mind is the unfazed, eagle-eyed Tom McFeely, who worked for over a decade in the Report family of magazines and is now the editor of the newspaper. Catholic National Register, a job he manages to do from his home office in Saanich.
Other Catholics similarly encouraged by Ted include academic and author Joe Woodard, who was the religious editor of the Western Report; Celeste McGovern, now a regular contributor to LifeSite News; and British Columbia Catholic contributor Steve Weatherbe, who started out as a teacher at one of Ted’s schools.
Ted’s magazines also spawned a number of other journalists who, while not necessarily Christians, often carried the flag of socially conservative policies or made fair and accurate reporting of them. A number of these Report graduates have worked with The National Post, including Kenneth Whyte, the founding editor of The Post who later edited Maclean‘s, and current To post commentator Colby Cosh, who only had a fine arts background when he started working with Ted. Others, like Paul Bunner, moved to Ottawa to work with Stephen Harper when he was Prime Minister.
It should also be noted that two of Ted and Virginia’s sons, Link and Vince, converted to Catholicism, as did at least two couples who worked with the Byfields.
We’ve all been engaged in the good fight, a fight in which we risk losing many of our battles in this modern post-Christian world, but also a fight in which we, like Ted, believe the truth will prevail.
Chesterton wrote: “Great truths can only be forgotten and can never be falsified. This knowledge certainly supports journalists like us.
Lest I end this reflection by leaving the impression that Ted was some sort of prophet holier than you, waving his finger at a world he thought was going to hell in a hand basket, in truth it was almost impossible to dislike, had a wonderful Mark – a sense of humor similar to Twain’s, and wasn’t the type to hold a grudge.
There is a famous story from the early 1970s where Ted staked out the back entrance to a courthouse in Edmonton to get a photo of the secret Ghermezian family (who developed the West Edmonton Mall), whose members were on trial for attempting to bribe an Edmonton city councilor. Ted took a photo of Rafi Ghermezian, only for the businessman to attack Ted and destroy his camera. A CBC cameraman filmed the entire episode.
This was an open and closed assault case, but Ted never made a complaint and never filed a complaint. “It drew the respect and admiration of Rafi and all of his brothers,” Vince Byfield told me earlier this month. “Ted bumped into Rafi in a pub a few months later and jokingly said, ‘Do you want to attack me again?’ Rafi just laughed and the two were now friends, ”Vince said.
“This is really how Daddy worked, and how so many people you might think were his enemies became friends and admirers instead.”
It certainly describes Ted – a journalist on a crusade and a muscular Christian who loved his enemies, even educating them about their multiple flaws.