Graham, Hugh, Baron Atholstan 1848-1938, newspaper proprietor, was born of Scottish parents at Athelstan in eastern Quebec 18 July 1848, the eldest son of Robert Walker Graham, by his wife, Marion, daughter of Colonel Thomas McLeay Gardner. At the age of fifteen his scanty education at Huntingdon Academy terminated when an uncle, E. H. Parsons, the editor of the Evening Telegraph of Montreal, gave him employment, first as office boy, later as business manager. After gaining a varied experience in journalism, he took the daring step of founding, in January 1869, with meagre resources, an evening paper, the Montreal Star. In its initial stages it specialized too much in sensational news and scandals to win favour with the educated public of Montreal but, after it had acquired a good circulation among the workers, Graham, who had great business ability, gradually transformed it into a reputable, influential, and prosperous paper. Later he established two weeklies, the Family Herald and Weekly Star, which had a nation-wide circulation in the rural areas, and the Montreal Standard, which catered for the urban population of Montreal; he also acquired control of the Montreal Herald, a liberal daily, and became president of the Montreal Star Publishing Company. A man of great vitality and immense energy, he retained active direction of his newspapers until he was well beyond his eightieth year, when he disposed of them. His education being deficient, he made no pretence of being a writer or editor, and the outstanding factors in his remarkable success as a newspaper publisher were his almost uncanny ability to appreciate and even foresee what the public would regard as important news and his energetic skill, which he reinforced by a willingness to spend money freely for his purposes, in catering for its appetite as he gauged it from time to time.
Since Graham was a strong protectionist and keen imperialist, the political influence of his papers was usually, but not always, exercised on behalf of the Canadian conservative party. Indeed in political circles he was regarded as erratic and undependable and his habit of sending communications to political leaders in a curious cipher of his own invention exposed him to the charge of being an intriguer. But he never wavered in his ardour for the closer consolidation of the British Commonwealth, and it led him to take a leading part in the organization of the Empire Press Union, of the Canadian section of which he was president for many years.
In his later life Graham used his great wealth generously for philanthropic purposes. Among these, he was best known for the maintenance of a free soup-kitchen every winter for the poor of Montreal and the support of hospitals and medical research. He was knighted in 1908 and was raised to the peerage as Baron Atholstan, of Huntingdon, Quebec, and Edinburgh, in 1917; he was the first Canadian journalist to receive this latter honour. He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Law from Glasgow University in 1909. He married in 1892 Annie Beekman, second daughter of Edward Hamilton, of Montreal, and had one daughter. He died at Montreal 28 January 1938.
A portrait of Atholstan by Alphonse Jongers is in the possession of his daughter, the Hon. Mrs. B. M. Hallward, of Montreal.
The Times, 29 January 1938
Canadian Men and Women of the Time, edited by Henry James Morgan, 2nd ed. 1912
Who's Who in Canada, 1937-1938
Contributor: John A. Stevenson.