Inducted: October 25, 2006
During his lengthy tenure as a columnist and chief editorial writer for the Chatham News, he frequently expressed a deeply-held conviction that a thriving farm industry is vital to the health and vitality of the community at large. With simple eloquence, he said: “If farmers do not do well, we will all suffer.”
One of Mr. Lauriston’s triumphs during more than four decades as a school trustee was his campaign to establish a vocational high school in Chatham. He understood that many students, particularly farm youth, were not receiving adequate education because the system was built to serve the academically inclined and little or nothing was provided for young people whose interests or aptitudes lay more in agricultural and vocational realms.
The result of Mr. Lauriston’s efforts was the establishment of the Chatham Vocational School in the former Hotel Sanita, a business abandoned after the failure of the mineral springs that had attracted visitors wanting to “take the waters”.
Vocational training proved an immediate success, vindicating Mr. Lauriston’s promotion of this educational alternative in the face of considerable skepticism. In 1965, he was recognized for his unwavering support of vocational education and his long service as a school board member when the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation presented him with the coveted Lamp of Learning Award.
Victor Lauriston was born William Edward Park on October 16th, 1881, in the Kent County hamlet of Fletcher, son of Robert Park and Mary Jane Radley. His father was a highly regarded educator who became Inspector of Schools for Chatham.
As a young man, William Park accepted his father’s wishes and pursued a legal career, studying at Osgoode Hall in Toronto and articling with a Chatham law firm. But his dream was to be a writer and in 1904, he went to work at the Chatham Planet as a reporter. The following year, he jumped to the Chatham News and three year’s later was appointed the newspaper’s editor.
The young journalist, known as “Carnation Bill” because of the flower he invariably wore in his lapel, married Emily Grace Carry of Harwich Township, a typesetter at the Chatham News. The couple had seven children and adopted an eighth. Three children – Wilfred of London, Arthur of Ottawa and Win Miller of Chatham – survive (Win was inducted into the Kent Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1991). Victor’s other children were Dorothy Steinke (Capt. Frederic), Napa, California; Robert, Chatham; John, Smooth Rock Falls; Laura Johns (William), Niagara Falls; and Gloria Thomson, Wallaceburg.
Victor Lauriston was a pen name adopted early in his career when he decided Park was too ordinary for an aspiring writer. The name was changed legally in 1918.
In April, 1913, he left the Chatham News to pursue a career as a freelance writer. He had a special interest in Canada’s oil and gas industry, with its strong roots in Southwestern Ontario, and became a widely published expert voice on the petroleum industry.
He also made his mark as a historian with the publication of The Blue Flame of Service, a history of Ontario’s natural gas industry, a history of Kent County doctors, and Lambton’s 100 years, the county’s official history.
But his crowning achievement as a chronicler of local history was Romantic Kent, commissioned in December, 1949, by Kent County Council to commemorate the county’s 100th anniversary, and published in 1952. The saga of Kent’s people and places provides a vivid portrayal of the struggle of early settlers to wrest a living from a vast and unforgiving wilderness.
In 1943, Mr. Lauriston responded to a call to support the war effort and returned to the Chatham News as chief editorial writer and columnist. His hallmark column, Maybe I’m Wrong, was published six times a week and he also wrote editorials and reported on meetings of County Council and Kiwanis. When he was 87, he was awarded the J.V. McAree Award for the outstanding Canadian Newspaper column, just one of many awards over a long career. He continued this prodigious publishing pace until his retirement as one of Canada’s oldest active newsmen in 1969 at age 87. He died in October, 1973, a few days after his 92nd birthday.
A Globe and Mail story on his death lauded Mr. Lauriston’s debating skills, noting he could be a pugnacious speaker when circumstances required, but could also apply his considerable charm when pushing favourite causes such as education or conservation.