Matthew Halton: A Hero Father Remembered Through Research


 Canadian David Halton grew up in London during WWII with a father who was rarely home. Matthew Halton was the voice of Canada, sending reports home for the Toronto Star and CBC from the front lines. His stories from the battlefields kept Canadians aware of what was happening daily but today that voice has been largely forgotten, or was until David put ink to paper. Dispatches From The Front brings this extraordinary man to a new generation.

Born in Pincher Creek, Alberta Matthew may have grown up with humble means but his parents made sure that their children read the classics, cultivating a love and thirst for knowledge. David reflected how his grandmother had the writing bug reporting for the local paper where Matthew would write his first stories. When at 12 Matthew asked to write for the paper the editor sent him out to cover a local campground as a lark thinking nothing would come of it. Matthew not only covered it but wrote with such passion and prose the editor told him that he was a writer. From those early words to his untimely death Matthew Halton brought pieces of the world to his audience. 

David Halton followed his father's footsteps, becoming a notable journalist for the CBC as a foreign affairs correspondent. After retiring in 2005 David gave lectures to up and coming journalist students. He was staggered to find that while war time reporters like Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer  have been remembered few had heard of Matthew Halton. "It seems to be a national trait for Canadians to forget our high achievers," David said sadly. 

The discovery that his father had been forgotten led David on a "voyage of discovery." Just 16 when his father passed away as David researched his father's articles, journals, letters home and other documents he got to know his father with clear, adult eyes. The result of that result is his acclaimed book 'Dispatches from the Front: The Life of Matthew Halton, Canada's Voice at War,' one of the books shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. 
KJ interviews David Halton

Halton reflected on his father and the journey of writing Dispatches From the Front at Toronto's King Edward Hotel. David is a thoughtful, gracious man who clearly loves his father and holds his career as a groundbreaking journalist in high esteem. 

Matthew Halton was often away during David's young life but when he was home he was a devoted father who took long walks with his children. He also helped with homework cultivating a love of literature and good writing. David smiled remembering that his father would reward good marks in English with fine dining, special treats that remain cherished memories and left a lasting impact. This was a welcome respite from war rations. “In London the rations didn't end until 1952,” David remembered adding his grandmother sent treasured food parcels from Canada with sweets. 

Halton was one of the first to understand the evil of Hitler and give warnings about Nazi Germany. In 1935 Matthew predicted the bombing of London, 5 years before the Blitz.  “He was almost clairvoyant on his predictions about Hitler during WWII,” David stated with loving pride.

When David started at the CBC he had big shoes to fill. Matthew Halton's writing was so impeccable that the copy he set from war zones to the Toronto Star ran as is. “My father was the darling of the Star,” David said proudly stating that the top brass made it clear that any article that Halton sent in was not to be edited, a rarity for any journalist. His father's name may have helped to get him through the door but David's talent kept him there. 
David Halton on Monocle Radio

Starting at the age of 26 David's tenure had him covering foreign affairs from Paris, Moscow, London, Quebec, the Middle East, Vietnam and Ottawa. He thought when he was posted in Washington D.C. in 1991 the position was be for a few years. He remained in D.C. until his retirement in 2005, a total of 14 years. Those years were rapid fire reporting compared to other posts, with almost all stories from the U.S. capital affecting the entire world quickly. As the senior correspondent David covered some of the most memorial stories of our times including 9/11.

In today's news world Matthew Halton's style of journalism may not be as popular to editors. Halton put himself into the stories and his personal opinions were often very clear. This editorial style did not always meet with favorable review but it was always honest and clearly thought out. Written with flowery prose Halton's articles and newscasts let his audience know exactly what was happening on the front lines. Halton's work is a national treasure. He was a hero to the countless men and women who served on the front lines, bringing their stories back home nightly so that they would be remembered. Let's hope that we as Canadians remember Matthew Halton as well, a hero who gave the truth to our nation when we needed it.

By KJ Mullins


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