Born in Pincher Creek, Alta., Matthew (1904-1956) always knew he wanted to be a journalist. By his fourth year, second as an editor for the Gateway, he’d laid the foundation of what would be an illustrious career in journalism.
His official biography, Dispatches From the Front – penned by his son and fellow journalist David Halton – is a comprehensive portrait of Matthew’s life from his time as former editor of The Gateway to war correspondent for CBC News.
“His talent for writing was quickly apparent,” says David, noting his father had already been reporting for the Pincher Creek Echo before he came to UAlberta. “The U of A helped produce a man who became, by all accounts, Canada’s greatest correspondent,” says David. “It had a huge impact on him.”
In an excerpt from the book, David noted “(Matthew’s) professors were impressed with him but quick to chide him for any signs of intellectual pretentiousness.” The popular student once began a philosophy exam with the sentence “In one short hour, one can hardly solve the riddle of the universe,” to which, David writes, his professor replied, “Had I known that you could solve the riddle of the universe, I should gladly have allotted more time.”
Still, Matthew was well liked, and the relationships he cultivated in his residence – Athabasca Hall – would prove lifelong and prolific. His list of friends, which included future Canadian Ambassador Max Wershoff, read like a “Who’s who of Canadian history,” David notes.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1929, Matthew moved to London, England where he quickly proved his journalism prowess and was appointed Senior War Correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), covering the Spanish Civil War and the Russo-Finnish War.
He became the “voice of World War II” for Canadians and remains one of the nation’s most respected broadcasters.
“In the 1930s, my father produced an extraordinary series of reports on Nazi Germany and was one of the first foreign war correspondents to sound the alarm on Hitler’s regime,” says David. “Though he wasn’t taken very seriously at the time, it was quite remarkable; he was one of the first to see the threat.”
Matthew went on to serve as CBC’s correspondent during the Nuremberg Trials. His career continued to flourish and brought him face-to-face with British Royalty – he covered Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation – as well as the likes of Albert Einstein, Lawrence of Arabia and the exiled Haile Selassie.
Shortly before his death from an apparent stroke in 1956, Matthew was conferred an Honorary Doctorate from UAlberta.
David, who spent 14 years in Washington as a CBC correspondent himself, says he knew he wanted to pen Matthew’s biography when he returned to Canada to teach university and discovered students had never heard of his father.
“I hope the biography can renew the public’s interest in a man who has been called ‘Canada’s greatest foreign war correspondent,” says David. “I like to think the book shows him as he was, human, but also one of the greats.”
Dispatches from the Front is available online at http://www.randomhouse.com/book/74080/dispatches-from-the-front-by-david-halton.