Popularly known as the “voice of the prairies,” Fred McGuinness was known by many titles and honorifics: wordsmith, apiarist, author, beekeeper, brother, columnist, editor, father, historian, husband, journalist, memoirist, Morse operator, member of the Order of Canada, member of the Order of Manitoba, public speaker, publisher, radio broadcaster, son, telegrapher (CP), telegraphist (Navy), vice-president, and writer.
Frederick George McGuinness (b. 21 January 1921 – d. 22 March 2011) was born in Brandon, Manitoba. He attended Park and Earl Oxford public schools. Upon his father’s death in 1933, McGuinness worked as a paper carrier for the Brandon Sun, whose route covered the City’s downtown core. In 1937, he quit school and began working for the CP Telegraph Service initially as a telegram messenger and later as a Morse code operator.
In 1939, McGuinness enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy in Winnipeg and served as a wireless operator on the HMCS Alachassee. On 23 September 1940, McGuinness was seriously injured in a naval accident when his ship ran aground; McGuinness’ leg was broken when the ship’s tow cable snapped and he spent the next 11 months convalescing at Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While in hospital McGuinness contracted scarlet fever and diphtheria and developed osteomyelitis as a complication of his femur facture. McGuinness returned to Winnipeg to continue his convalescence at Deer Lodge Hospital and was ultimately discharged from the navy in 1941.
Fred McGuinness’ newspaper, public speaking, and broadcasting career began after he enrolled at St. Paul’s College in 1941. At St. Paul’s, which was affiliated with the University of Manitoba, McGuinness was able to complete his high school equivalency and university preparation courses. Additionally, in 1942, he served as a Sports Editor for St. Paul’s College Crusader student newspaper.
In 1943, McGuinness began his undergraduate university career at United College, which was also affiliated with the University of Manitoba. From 1943 to 1946, McGuinness served on the student union’s Public Relations Committee; in 1945, he became chairman of the Radio Subcommittee working as the Director of the University Radio Series where he was responsible (i.e., writing, casting, directing) for a half-hour Saturday afternoon radio programme. During this period McGuinness also uitilized his pervious military experience to work as an Assistant Veterans Counsellor in the univeristy, and, following a recommendation from the President of the University of Manitoba, as a speaker for the War Finance Committee in the Winnipeg Area.
In 1946, McGuinness moved to Port Arthur to work in public relations with the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. He married Christine Thompson (d. 14 August 2009) in Port Arthur, Ontario on 29 June 1946. Married for 61 years, the couple had four children together: Colleen, Fred Jr., Gallagher, and Timothy.
In 1947, the couple returned to Winnipeg when McGuinness took a job as a Public Relations Officer for the National Employment Service’s Unemployment Insurance Commission (UIC). During the 1950 Winnipeg Flood the UIC offices served as a communication base between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments and McGuinness received commendation from the military for his assistance during the disaster. While employed with the UIC, McGuinness also travelled the summer fair circuit with displays promoting the UIC and its benefits. During that time, Royal American Shows also hired McGuinness as its Director of Publicity and Exploitation while the show toured with the fairs on the Canadian prairies. As part of his responsibilities McGuinness had to submit weekly reports to Billboard Magazine on the Royal American fairs. McGuinness also sold his first manuscript to the CBC in 1947, recording a 14-minute broadcast titled the “Class A Circuit” about the Royal American tour, after his summer fair schedule concluded.
McGuinness continued his work with Royal American and the UIC until he accepted a position with the Saskatchewan government in 1952 to promote its upcoming 1955 golden jubilee. McGuinness worked closely with Tommy Douglas during the jubilee preparations, driving the premier to sites throughout the province. His experience with the Saskatchewan Jubilee preparations lead to McGuinness being appointed as a provincial representative to the Canadian Centennial Commission in 1963.
Fred McGuinness worked with The Medicine Hat News for 10 years, starting in 1955, when he was hired as an assistant to the paper’s publisher. In 1958, he was promoted to publisher of the newspaper. At the same time McGuinness was also appointed vice-president of Southam Company Limited. In addition to his administrative and editorial work, McGuinness also authored a column titled, “The Lighthouse” while employed by The Medicine Hat News. During his time in Medicine Hat, McGuinness was heavily involved with the Chamber of Commerce and community service organizations. His position within the community had him delivering talks to many local groups and working in tandem with the Chamber to actively solicite businesses to the City.
In November of 1965, McGuinness resigned as publisher of The Medicine Hat News and moved with his family to Winnipeg where he was appointed manager of the New Personnel and Information Division with James Richardson and Sons. At that time McGuinness began developing broadcast scripts for the CBC in earnest.
In November 1966, McGuinness was hired as associate editor and vice-president to the Brandon Sun. He moved to Brandon with his family and had a career with the paper until his death in 2011. During that time McGuiness also had an extensive career as a freelance writer and journalist for the CBC, Reader's Digest, and prairie weekly newspapers, as well as authoring several books. By the 1970s, McGuinness was writing copy for CBC’s Radio Noon and Information Radio, as well as producing Ashgrove Farm, a CBC radio drama.
During his years with the Sun, McGuinness wrote a tri-weekly “Sunbeams” (sometimes spelled “Sun Beams”) column using the nom-de-plume F.A. Rosser. The F.A. stood for “Fifth and,” and referenced the fact that the Brandon Sun offices and publication plant occupies the city block between 6th Street and 5th Street along Rosser Avenue, and McGuinness’ office overlooked the intersection at 5th Street and Rosser Avenue. The Sunbeams column was similar in style and content to McGuinness’ “Lighthouse” column for The Medicine Hat News; commenting on a variety of current events, Sunbeams also included book reviews, local events, and reminiscences.
In 1979, McGuinness started writing the syndicated weekly news column “Neighborly News.” He would write the column for 22 years until his age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diagnosed in 2001, became an impediment to his research, writing, and editing abilities. The column initially began with a dozen subscriptions from prairie weeklies and grew to publication in 55 weeklies.
The “Neighborly News” column evolved from the interest in and the impending cancellation of McGuinness’ CBC Radio broadcast “Neighborly News from the Prairies,” that he hosted from 1980 to 1983. The show was cancelled in 1983 but was picked up by Altona broadcaster CFAM later that year with McGuinness at the microphone. The radio show ended its run in the summer of 1987. McGuinness continued working with the CBC, however, and is popularly known for his work as the prairie essayist for CBC Radio’s Morningside with Peter Gzowski, a position he held for 17 years.
Many of McGuinness’ Morningside essays were autobiographical in nature. He often reported about life on Christmas Tree Farm, a section of land where the McGuinnesses built their dream home in the late 1970s. The couple planted a Christmas tree farm on the property and Christine maintained an extensive kitchen garden, while Fred tended honey bees. Life on the farm made its way into radiobroadcasts, Neighborly News columns, and the book Letters from Section 17: A Collection of Morningside Essays.
Upon his retirement in January 1987, McGuinness was made publisher emeritus of the Brandon Sun. A week after his retirement, he began writing a new column for the Sun called the “Diary.” McGuinness continued writing the “Diary” until his hospitalization in 2010. The Diary column was primarily a historical retrospective of Brandon, although it also touched on broader topics of interest to McGuinness during the time period.
During the 1980s and 1990s, McGuinness co-taught an undergraduate journalism class at Brandon University with English Professor John Blaikie. Around that time, he also partnered with Brandon University History Professor Ken Coates and published a number of popular books on Manitoba social history. McGuinness also delivered community workshops on memoir writing, a past time he continued until shortly before his death.
McGuinness took an active roll in the community and cultivated his interest in local history. Consequently he was invited to guest speak and chair sessions on local history, rural development, and the economy while providing his personal insights as a newspaper publisher. His previous experience with the Saskatchewan Jubilee and Canadian Centenial Commission made him a desirable committee and board member for many local organizaitons and planning committees. McGuinness’ lifelong commitment to prairie social history, earned him numerous awards and recognitions including an honorary doctorate from Brandon University, the Order of Manitoba, and the Order of Canada.
Fred McGuinness died on 22 March 2011 in Brandon, Manitoba.
Records in this collection were acquired by the S.J. McKee Archives in four accruals. Prior to their donation to the Archives the materials were in the possession of Fred McGuinness.
Accession 18-2002 contains records created and collected by Fred McGuinness until the publication of Only in Canada, a history of the Kinsmen Club Association in Canada co-authored with BU history professor Ken Coates. During the research and writing process for the book, originals and copies of Kinsmen Club of Canada records were amassed at the McKee Archives. Coates and McGuinness added their research materials to these records circa 1987. The Kinsmen records have since been deaccessioned by the McKee Archives and transferred to Kin Headquarters in Ontario.
Accession 6-2008 contains records created and collected during the writing of the Provincial Exhibition book, Pride of the Land. Fred McGuinness, who co-authored the book with Ken Coates, donated these records to the McKee Archives circa 1988. The materials in the accession relating to Souris, Manitoba, were given to McGuinness by Kay Sullivan in August 2007, and were subsequently deposited in the Archives. The material in the accession related to Kemnay, Manitoba, was given to Colleen McGuinness (Fred’s daughter) by Mona McKinnon (nee Corkish) in the fall of 2007. Colleen then passed the materials on to her father, who in turn donated them to the S.J. McKee Archives.
Accession 20-2009 contains records created and collected by Fred McGuinness over the course of his career as a newspaper journalist and during the research and writing period of the Brandon history book, The Wheat City. Records remained in his possession at his home until their transfer to the McKee Archives on July 28, 2009.
Accession 1-2015 contains records created and collected by Fred McGuinness over the course of his career as a newspaper journalist and freelance writer. The Estate of Fred McGuinness donated the materials to the S.J. McKee Archives in March 2011. The Archives accessioned the records in 2015.
Scope and Content
The records in this collection touch on every aspect of Fred McGuinness’ life. From his childhood, his education, his war experience, his newspaper and freelance career, his work in radio and public speaking, and his family the collection covers both his personal and professional life. In addition to the records created by McGuinness, there are also records created and collected by a variety of his relatives (on both sides of the family), as well as correspondence from his readers. The collection includes newspaper clippings, research materials, letters, certificates, scrapbooks, photographs, books, periodicals, pamphlets, sound recordings, artifacts, maps, newsletters, magazines, teaching materials, workshop materials, and financial records.
Because of McGuinness’ wide-ranging interests, the records include a significant number of subjects, both within his own writing and correspondence, but also within his library. They would be of particular interest to researchers who share McGuinness’ passions for local history and rural topics.
The scope and importance of McGuinness’ work in the prairies also resulted in a number of noteworthy honors, in particular the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada. The collection contains materials related to both.
The Fred McGuinness collection consists of nine (9) series further divided into subseries, including: (McG 1) Personal papers; (McG 2) Newspaper career; (McG 3) Freelance; (McG 4) McGuinness research materials; (McG 5) Monographs; (McG 6) Broadcasts, lectures, workshops; (McG 7) McGuinness artifacts and sound recordings; (McG 8) McGuinness library; and (McG 9) McGuinness photographs.
See the Arrangement Note for a more detailed breakdown of the collection’s arrangement.
The description of the Fred McGuinness collection was made possible by financial assistance from: The Manitoba Government Department of Tourism, Culture, Heritage Sport and Consumer Protection through the Manitoba Heritage Grants Program & The Fred McGuinness Endowment for Rural Archives, Brandon University
Information for the history/biography was compiled by the Archives and can be found in the Fred McGuinness timeline containing footnotes (see the S.J. McKee Archivist). Additional information was taken from his book, Letters from Section 17: A Collection of Morningside Essays, which is autobiographical in nature
Description by Suyoko Tsukamoto and Christy Henry (2015)
A file level inventory is available for each subseries, see subseries descriptions
Provincial Exhibition Association of Manitoba fonds
Lawrence Stuckey collection
Jack Stothard collection
Trillium Business and Professional Women’s Club records
Oriole Vane-Veldhuis collection
William Wallace papers
Fred McGuinness local history collection (John E. Robbins Library)
CBC Radio Archives – Morningside
Trent University, Peter Gzowski fonds (99-015)
Kin Headquarters, Mississauga
The arrangement was artificially created by the Archives with the intention of grouping like materials. Records within files were placed in chronological order wherever possible. An inventory of the prearranged materials is available (consult the Archivist)
McG 1 Personal papers
McG 1.1 McGuinness family papers and letters
McG 1.2 Fred McGuinness correspondence
McG 1.3 Fred McGuinness Ltd. business documents
McG 1.4 Fred McGuinness certificates and scrapbook
McG 2 Newspaper career
McG 2.1 The Medicine Hat News
McG 2.2 The Brandon Sun
McG 2.3 Neighborly News
McG 3 Freelance
McG 3.1 Reader’s Digest
McG 3.2 Miscellaneous freelance
McG 4 McGuinness research
McG 4.1 Local history research materials
McG 4.2 Newspaper clippings
McG 5 Monographs
McG 5.1 Pride of the Land (1985)
McG 5.2 Only in Canada (1987)
McG 5.3 Old Pathways, New Horizons (1995)
McG 5.4 Manitoba: The Province & The People (1987)
McG 5.5 The Keystone Province: Manitoba Enterprise (1988)
McG 5.6 The Wheat City (1988)
McG 5.7 Chronicle of Canada (1990)
McG 6 McGuinness broadcasts, lectures, workshops
McG 6.1 Radio broadcast scripts
McG 6.2 BU Journalism course
McG 6.3 Talks and workshops
McG 7 McGuinness artifacts and sound recordings
McG 8 McGuinness library
McG 8.1 Books
McG 8.2 Booklets
McG 8.3 Maps, newsletters, and periodicals
McG 8.4 Pamphlets
McG 8.5 Magazines and newspapers (oversize)
McG 9 McGuinness photographs