by Jonathon Van Maren
2022 / 256 pages
God works in history through people, some of whom have a particularly significant impact. In Canada, one such person was Ted Byfield. Although best known as the founder and editor of Alberta Report magazine, there is much more to his life and accomplishments than that.
This book is an impressive biography of Byfield, written by Jonathon Van Maren who is no stranger to readers of Reformed Perspective. The foreword is by Preston Manning, founding leader of the Reform Party of Canada. The book does a wonderful job of outlining the major events of Byfield’s life and explaining the impact he had.
Newsprint in his blood
Ted Byfield was born and raised in Toronto. One of his uncles, Tommy Church, was mayor of Toronto and later a Conservative MP. His father was a respected newspaper reporter, but also an alcoholic. That vice led to his parents’ divorce, which had a profoundly negative impact on young Ted.
Like his father, Ted became a reporter. He moved to Winnipeg in 1952 to work for the Winnipeg Free Press where he was incredibly successful, including winning the National Newspaper Award in 1957.
One of his new Winnipeg friends was a devout Anglican who eagerly evangelized him. Through reading books by major Christian apologists, especially C.S. Lewis, Byfield and his wife became committed Christians. Subsequently, he co-founded the Company of the Cross, an Anglican lay organization that would operate three private Christian schools (the St. John’s Schools in Manitoba, Alberta, and Ontario).
In 1965, Byfield became something of an apologist himself. That year, legendary Canadian writer Pierre Berton released a book entitled The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment in the New Age criticizing Christianity from a secular, leftist perspective. In response, Byfield wrote a defense of historic Christianity called Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder), published by the Company of the Cross. Van Maren notes that it “easily constituted the most effective response to both liberalization within the Church and those urging liberalization from outside it.” Like Berton’s book, Byfield’s became a bestseller.
The man behind that magazine
In 1973, Byfield began using the St. John’s School of Alberta as a base for producing a weekly newsmagazine called the St. John’s Edmonton Report. In 1977, a Calgary edition was added and these two magazines combined to become Alberta Report in 1979.
Other editions of the magazine (Western Report, BC Report) appeared later in the 1980s. It was through the magazines that Byfield had his greatest impact. The Report magazines were not overtly religious, but their fundamental purpose was to convey the news from an underlying Christian perspective. As Van Maren explains:
“The Report magazines became known as championing two primary causes: Christian values and the Canadian West. The primary enemy of both could be found in the personage of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man responsible for decriminalizing abortion, ushering in the sexual revolution, and—at least as Ted and legions of likeminded Canadians saw it—declaring war on the West.”
With the magazines as a platform, Byfield played a major role in the formation of the Reform Party of Canada in the late 1980s, which subsequently had a profound impact on Canadian politics.
Looking forward to the coming Christian age
Ted turned over the major duties of the magazine to his son Link, and spent the next twenty years or more creating two multi-volume history book projects. First was the 12-volume Alberta in the 20th Century series (completed in 2003), and secondly came the 12-volume The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years (completed in 2013). Needless to say, the second set was history from an explicitly pro-Christian perspective.
Of course, throughout Byfield’s lifetime, conservative Christianity was losing cultural and political influence in Canada. Nevertheless, he was optimistic about the future, and, as Van Maren explains, he “remained convinced that the post-Christian era was merely a pre-Christian era, and that a new dawn might be just around the corner.”
Byfield was, of course, correct to see fighting the culture wars as worthwhile despite the losses, and as his son Link put it, “Think how much worse it would be if we had not fought the fights we fought.”
This book is definitely worth getting. For those interested in political and cultural matters in Canada, it is essential. For others, it can be an encouragement to see how one person’s dedication to Christianity made a profound difference in the country.
Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield is published by SEARCH (Society to Explore and Record Christian History) and is available from the publisher’s website at TheChristians.com/product/PrairieLion.