Political Cartoons | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Political Cartoons

The art of the political cartoon as we know it in Canada today began in the 1870s when John W. Bengough (1851-1923) started publishing his satirical magazine, Grip.
J.W. Bengough, politician
J.W. Bengough puts words into the mouth of John A. Macdonald at the time of the Pacific Scandal. Left is Alexander Mackenzie, Liberal leader who replaced Macdonald as PM (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-78604).
Prison or Zoo?
Cartoon by Aislin (courtesy Montreal Gazette, Aislin).
Lapointe, Ernest
Lapointe was Mackenzie King's most important colleague in the Cabinet, shown here in a cartoon by Robert Lapalme (courtesy Le Cercle du Livre de France).

The art of the political cartoon as we know it in Canada today began in the 1870s when John W. Bengough (1851-1923) started publishing his satirical magazine, Grip. In its pages, Bengough pilloried Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, and since then each prime minister has had an alterego with a sketchpad: Sir Wifrid Laurier had to contend with Henri Julien (1852-1908), Mackenzie King with Arch Dale (1932-1962), John Diefenbaker with Duncan Macpherson (1924-1993), Pierre Trudeau with Jean-Pierre Girerd (b 1931), Brian Mulroney with Aislin (Terry Mosher, b 1942), and Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin with Serge Chapleau (b 1945).

The art is ephemeral. Artists must create caricatures on a daily basis as a commentary on a news event. Once the drawings appear they are as relevant as yesterday's newspaper. They are not comic strips drawn to tell a story and get a chuckle, nor are they illustrations created by graphic artists. They often exceed the bounds of fair editorial comment and are usually drawn to make their subjects look ridiculous.

Earliest Practitioners

The first celebrated example in Canada was the work of Brigadier-General George Townshend, who served with General James Wolfe at Québec in 1759. Townshend drew sketches to undermine his commander's reputation. Wolfe demanded an inquiry after the war, but died on the Plains of Abraham. Ironically, it was cartoonist Townshend who subsequently signed the capitulation papers. It wasn't until the arrival of Punch in Canada in the 1840s that editorial cartoons began to appear on a regular basis. Punch spawned other homegrown publications such as Grinchuckle, Canadian Illustrated News, and L'Opinion Publique, which carried illustrations that imitated the work of Britain's John Leech (1817-1864), the first cartoonist in the contemporary sense of the word.

Development of a Distinctly Canadian Approach

Working for the first comic journal in Québec, "la Scie" (the Saw), which began in 1863, was cartoonist Jean-Baptiste Côté. He was a legendary Canadian political cartoonist. His simple woodcuts fit perfectly with the journal's motto, "Laughter Corrects Abuse." He attacked the political elite and the civil service with such ardour that in 1868, after depicting a civil servant "at his day's work," he was arrested and thrown into jail - the first and only Canadian cartoonist to achieve this distinction. In 1877 Le Canard was published in Montreal by pioneer cartoonist Hector Berthelot. This publication, like many before it, was supported by editors and publishers who drew the cartoons themselves.

Popular Recognition

When Bengough introduced Grip in 1873 he was influenced by the leading US caricaturist, German-born Thomas Nast (1840-1902), famous for his devastating cartoons about the corrupt Boss Tweed and New York's Tammany Ring.

At the same time that Bengough was with Grip, Québec artist Henri Julien was making his mark drawing political cartoons at the Canadian Illustrated News. One of Julien's studies of rural French Canadians was a depiction of an elderly farmer, rifle in hand and pipe clenched in teeth, ready to defend his land. This spirit of the rebellion of 1837 was later adapted by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) in the 1960s as a symbol of armed revolution. The Montreal Star became the first newspaper in Canada to employ an editorial cartoonist when Henri Julien was hired in 1888 to do "news pictures." He was the first cartoonist to be honoured with an exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa, and a street in Montréal is named in his honour.

With the introduction of half-tone photo engraving, the art of caricature generally declined during the first half of the 20th century. David Low (1891-1963) revived it at the London Evening Standard during World War II, lampooning Hitler and Churchill. At about the same time, the Halifax Chronicle Herald hired Bob Chambers (1905-1996) and John Collins (b 1917) began working at the Gazette in Montréal. For many years, however, cartoons in Canadian newspapers were pale imitations of Low's work, or were influenced by the ubiquitous drawings of syndicated US artists Herbert Block ("Herblock" 1909-2001) at the Washington Post and Bill Maudlin (1921-2003) at the Chicago Sun Times.

Two cartoonists of note from the pre-1950s era were Arch Dale of the Winnipeg Free Press and AG Racey of the Montreal Star. Racey joined the Star in 1899 and remained there for 40 years. The character of cartoonists in Canada of this generation was that of well-mannered good sports. Rarely vicious, they supported good causes and did their work in a cheery manner. A distinctive Canadian style emerged after World War II. Led by Robert Lapalme (1908-1997) at Le Devoir, Duncan Macpherson at the Toronto Star, Leonard Norris (1913-1997) at the Vancouver Sun and the Montreal Star's Ed McNally (1916-1971), cartoons broke with accepted cliches. Their drawings were sharper and often more savage than American cartoons, which arguably tend to be more allegorical.

Editorial Independence

Canadian cartoonists also began to wield a greater degree of independence than their US counterparts; they divorced themselves from the art department and created a separate editorial entity, autonomous in its own right. Duncan Macpherson was not afraid to challenge his editors and did so on a number of occasions, threatening to get his way or quit. He came by his distaste for editors honestly, having witnessed the poor treatment of his predecessor at the Toronto Star newspaper, Les Callan, who after twenty-five years was unceremoniously cast aside. Terry Mosher, cartoonist at the Montreal Gazette, is on record as saying, "Macpherson established a new ground rule for all political cartoonists to follow: never give an editor an even break." Before Macpherson, most cartoonists were a part of the editorial page "team" who decided what would go on the page that day. Macpherson refused to join the team or go to meetings, and pressed to be given the status of independent contributor to the editorial page.

For many years it was common for an editorial cartoon to contradict the stated editorial position of a Canadian newspaper. However, in the early part of 2000 the position of staff cartoonist came under increasing attack with chain newspapers beginning to cast aside staff positions, employing instead the less expensive freelancers, or using syndicates. In this way the cartoon could be "cherry picked" to coincide with the paper's position, in what seems to be a return to the bad old days. With the rise of the Internet, freelance cartoons are now marketed worldwide by such syndicates as Edmonton cartoonist Malcolm Mayes's ARTIZANS and American cartoonist Daryl Cagle's Pro-Cartoonists Index. These sites are web portals where an editor or business can download fresh political cartoons, gag cartoons, caricatures, graphic art and illustrations by dozens of cartoonists.

New Directions

The future of Canadian political cartooning may be seen in a phenomenon from Québec called "Et Dieu créa Laflaque." The series is a 30-minute television show created by Québec's Serge Chapleau and Vox Populi. It began in 2004 on Radio-Canada in Québec and has made Canadian cartoon history with its combining of political cartoons with computer 3D graphic animation. The show follows the adventures of Gérard D. Laflaque as he interacts with celebrities and Canadian politicians such as Paul Martin and Jean Charest. A huge hit with its fans in Québec, it won the best comedy award at the 2005 Banff Festival against major competition such as Corner Gas and the British series Curb Your Enthusiasm.


First-rate editorial cartoonists are members of a select club. There are no more than two dozen employed at any one time in Canada. Among the new breed of distinguished artists are Serge Chapleau (b 1945) at La Presse, Dale Cummings (b 1948) at the Winnipeg Free Press, the Ottawa Sun's Susan Dewar (b 1949), Le Droit's Guy Badeaux (b 1949), the Globe and Mail's Brian Gable (b 1949), John Larter (b 1950) at the Calgary Sun, the Halifax Herald's Bruce MacKinnon (b 1961), Tim Doligan (b 1963) and Ingrid Rice (b 1960). Freelancers Mike DeAdder (b 1967) Daily News and National Post, Malcolm Mayes (b 1960) at the Edmonton Journal, and at the Gazette and Maclean's magazine, Terry Mosher (b 1942).

By 1949, cartoons had become so persuasive that the Canadian National Newspaper Awards decided to honour those that "embody an idea made clearly apparent, good drawing, and striking pictorial effect in the public interest." The first recipient was the Globe and Mail's Jack Boothe (1910- 1973), at the time the highest paid political cartoonist in the country. Duncan MacPherson held the record for NN Awards with six until 1998, when he was finally overtaken by Roy Peterson (b 1936) with his seventh win. Among the winners are some of the country's leading cartoonists, including the Dean of Canadian cartooning, Merle Tingley (b 1921), whose trademark, a pipe-smoking worm named Luke, has been around for more than 50 years; Yardley Jones (b 1930); Roy Peterson (b 1936); Andy Donato (b 1937); and Vance Rodewalt (b 1946). The art was further recognized when an International Salon of Caricature and Cartoon organized by Robert LaPalme in Montréal was held for the first time in 1963.

See also Cartoons and Comic Strips.

NNA Winners Editorial Cartooning:

  • 1949 Jack Boothe Globe and Mail
  • 1950 James G. Reidford Montreal Star
  • 1951 Leonard Norris Vancouver Sun
  • 1952 Robert LaPalme Le Devoir
  • 1953 Robert W. Chambers Halifax Chronicle Herald
  • 1954 John Collins Montreal Gazette
  • 1955 Merle Tingley London Press
  • 1956 James G. Reidford Globe and Mail
  • 1957 James G. Reidford Globe and Mail
  • 1958 Raoul Hunter Le Soleil
  • 1959 Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star
  • 1960 Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star
  • 1961 Ed McNally Montreal Star
  • 1962 Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star
  • 1963 Jan Kamlenski Winnipeg Tribune
  • 1964 Ed McNally Montreal Star
  • 1965 Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star
  • 1966 Robert Chambers Halifax Chronicle Herald
  • 1967 Raoul Hunter Le Soleil
  • 1968 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1969 Ed Uluschak Edmonton Journal
  • 1970 Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star
  • 1971 Yardley Jones Toronto Sun
  • 1972 Duncan Macpherson Toronto Star
  • 1973 John Collins Montreal Gazette
  • 1974 Blaine Hamilton Spectator
  • 1975 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1976 Andy Donato Toronto Sun
  • 1977 Terry Mosher Montreal Gazette
  • 1978 Terry Mosher Montreal Gazette
  • 1979 Ed Uluschak Edmonton Journal
  • 1980 Victor Roschov Toronto Star
  • 1981 Tom Innes Calgary Herald
  • 1982 Blaine Hamilton Spectator
  • 1983 Dale Cummings Winnipeg Free Press
  • 1984 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1985 Ed Franklin Globe and Mail
  • 1986 Brian Gable Regina Leader Post
  • 1987 Raffi Anderian Ottawa Citizen
  • 1988 Vance Rodewalt Calgary Herald
  • 1989 Cameron Cardow Regina Leader Post
  • 1990 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1991 Guy Badeaux Le Droit
  • 1992 Bruce MacKinnon Halifax Herald
  • 1993 Bruce MacKinnon Halifax Herald
  • 1994 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1995 Brian Gable Globe and Mail
  • 1996 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1997 Serge Chapleau La Presse
  • 1998 Roy Peterson Vancouver Sun
  • 1999 Serge Chapleau La Presse
  • 2000 Serge Chapleau La Presse
  • 2001 Brian Gable Globe and Mail
  • 2002 Serge Chapleau La Presse
  • 2003 Serge Chapleau La Presse
  • 2004 Theo Moudakis Toronto Star
  • 2005 Brian Gable Globe and Mail

Further Reading

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