Sunday newspapers get the axe

The death of three Postmedia Sunday newspapers leaves few remaining.

(Photo: Hampfler)

On the weekend of May 24, 1891, the Toronto-based World became the first newspaper in Canada to publish a seventh daily edition carrying a Sunday dateline. The World’s first Sunday paper contained only four pages—half the size of its Saturday edition—but cost five times the price of its weekday penny paper, and 2¢ more than popular Saturday papers published by The Globe and The Mail. (Though B.C.’s Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle—now the Times Colonist—began publishing a Sunday-dated edition in 1869, it ceased publishing its Monday paper at the same time.)

Though thick, lavishly illustrated Sunday papers became popular in the United States during the late 19th century as a form of weekend leisure, religious pressure to ban labour and trade on Sundays assured that Saturday papers remained the more popular weekend reading in Canada—something cemented by the passing of the federal Lord’s Day Act in 1906. In fact, despite its cover date, the law required The World to distribute its Sunday edition on Saturday night, a practice also popular in the U.S., with the difference being that employing staff past midnight in Canada would be a federal offence. (Indeed, the much lamented Saturday Night magazine cheekily took its name from this forced sales date.) So frowned upon was the idea of a Sunday paper in Canada that no other publication in the dominion published a seventh daily edition throughout the history of the Sunday World, which was absorbed into the Toronto Star’s weekend magazine in 1924.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that secularization became strong enough in the city once known as “Toronto the Good” for another paper to attempt a Sunday edition. Born from the ashes of The Toronto Telegram, the Toronto Sun launched its first Sunday edition in 1973, followed by a seventh-day Toronto Star four years later. After the Lord’s Day Act was struck down in 1982, and Sunday shopping became common in the early ’90s, more and more Sunday papers began to appear. But these papers were generally thin, news-driven affairs, and the Saturday paper remained Canada’s weekend leisure reading. Sitting down with a fat Sunday paper simply wasn’t in the national DNA. “If The New York Times were to only publish one day a week, it would be Sunday,” says professor and media historian Paul Moore. “Where if the Star were to only publish once a week, it would be Saturday.”

As newspaper publishers struggle with an increasing digital world, it is the Sunday editions that are feeling the first hits. Both La Presse and the Montreal Gazette reduced their schedules in 2009 and 2010, respectively, leaving Le Journal de Montréal as the only paper in the city with a Sunday edition. Then, last month, Postmedia announced it would be cancelling the Sunday editions of its Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal and Ottawa Citizen, focusing instead on digital distribution.

Canwest’s Sunday papers are survived by a few remaining Sunday editions across Canada—most notably the Sunday Star—but the 24-hour news cycle will undoubtedly continue to force the number down, as sitting with the Sunday paper becomes more of an anachronism, in a country that never fully embraced the idea of a Sunday paper in the first place.

(Correction: This story originally failed to distinguish between publishing a Sunday edition and publishing a seventh daily edition. It has been corrected, with proper credit to the Times Colonist.)