The origins of The Maple Leaf

“This is the kind of a piece that tempts the opening: it seems like yesterday. But, of course, it being more than 40 years since the founding of the Canadian Army newspaper The Maple Leaf, it doesn’t seem like yesterday at all.

“Because yesterday was pleasant and cheerful and homey and relatively peaceful. And the day the first copy of The Maple Leaf staggered off the presses of a beat-up printing plant in Naples, Italy: January 14, 1944, that day was not pleasant nor cheerful, far from homey and definitely not peaceful.”

— Major J. Douglas MacFarlane (1987)

The story of The Maple Leaf begins in 1943 with a visit to Canadian soldiers in Italy by Colonel James Layton Ralston, Minister of National Defence. He was concerned with the needs of the troops, whose top priorities at the time were faster mail and more news from home.

Better mail service could be arranged, but news from Canada would be a bigger project. Initial suggestions—sending hometown papers to the front or having Canadian Press News air mailed in to be printed in Italy—were deemed too impractical or slow. The time had come to establish a Canadian army newspaper.

Col Ralston appointed his staff secretary, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard “Dick” Malone, to set up publication. LCol Malone agreed, with stipulations: first, that the paper would be published and distributed daily with the rations; second, that the paper would have editorial freedom and no direct obligations to the chain of command or the government. In return, he agreed that it would publish no opinions on domestic issues, or on internal military problems that might impact morale.

The Maple Leaf was born.

Major J. Douglas MacFarlane, formerly a reporter and editor with The Windsor Daily Star and The Toronto Star, was selected as managing editor for the new paper. It fell to him to find a printer, supplies, personnel, and material. The first issue was put out on January 14, 1944 in Naples, Italy, less than 10 days after he had begun that search.

By early February The Maple Leaf was publishing daily, circulating over 10 000 copies by land, air, and sea to the Canadian troops stationed around the Mediterranean—but its story was only just beginning.

Continued in The Maple Leaf in the Mediterranean.

Information for this article has been collected from Barry D. Rowland & J. Douglas MacFarlane, The Maple Leaf Forever, Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc. (1987).