a media industry resource

Torstar Group


This page considers Canadian publisher Torstar.

It covers -

  • Introduction
  • The group
  • The Star and beyond
  • Studies

Torstar competes with the Bell Globemedia, Quebecor and Canwest Global groups.


Torstar, centred on The Toronto Star (a counterpart of Murdoch's Melbourne Herald-Sun and the largest daily in Canada), includes a range of newspapers, book publishing and video production operations, and substantial stakes in other media groups. In contrast to many competitors, driven by the tyranny of the quarterly report and threats from private equity funds, it enjoys the advantage of control by a foundation.

The group

The flagship Toronto Star is Canada's largest daily newspaper. The group includes three major regional daily newspapers (Hamilton Spectator, Record and Guelph Mercury), 68 community newspapers (114 editions) in the Toronto area, the largest Chinese daily in Canada (Sing Tao), 50% of Toronto's transit paper and specialty publications.

Its book publishing interests centre on bodice-ripper mill Harlequin Enterprises, which absorbed Mills & Boon. Toronto Star TV is a 24-hour home shopping channel for the Greater Toronto Area.

In addition to newspaper-based sites the group includes video production facility TMG Production and TMG Entertainment.

Torstar has a 20% stake in Black Press, the minor Canadian and US newspaper publisher that is not related to Hollinger or Conrad Black, and 20% of Bell Globemedia.

The Star and beyond

The Star dates from 1892, when it was established as a voice for the Liberal party. In 1899 its proprietors hired Joseph Edward Atkinson (1866-1948) as editor and manager; growth under his leadership reflected both liberal politics (often with a strongly personal favour) and a strong emphasis on local issues. In 1910 Atkinson established the Toronto Star Weekly, a Sunday paper that gained a national market by the early 1920s and from 1938 was published as the Star Weekly. By 1913 he had become the major shareholder of the Star group, reconciling payment in shares with a crusading temperament that on occasion led the Star to be tagged the Red Star or Pravda.

The Star's populism gained criticism from Ontario Conservatives during the 1930s and 1940s. Atkinson had intended to bequeath most of the shares to the Atkinson Foundation. That plan was hindered following his death in 1948 by a high profile conflict with the Ontario Government. The Star was initially directed by Atkinson's son-in-law Harry Hindmarsh, closely associated with the left of the federal Liberal Party but following Hindmarsh's death in 1956 the papers gained greater editorial independence.

The next two decades saw substantial expansion, as the flagship paper aligned itself with Toronto's middle classes (particularly in the suburbs). The Star Weekly ceased publication in 1973 (following acquisition by Canadian magazine) but the Star was strengthened by death in 1971 of competitor The Toronto Telegram. The group acquired Harlequin romances, subsequently engulfing Harlequin's major competitor Mills & Boon to become the world's largest publisher of bodice-rippers. Expansion into educational publishing and software was less successful.

In the 1980s it acquired a substantial stake in the Southam newspaper chain (later sold to Conrad Black's Hollinger). A bid for Sun Media in 1998 was unsuccessful: that group was acquired by Quebecor. Torstar was consoled by purchase in 1999 of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Hamilton Spectator, Guelph Mercury and Cambridge Reporter from Quebecor for C$335 million.

In December 2005 BCE sold most of its stake in Bell Globemedia for C$1.3 billion. Torstar and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan agreed to take 20% stakes, paying C$283 million. Woodbridge, the Thomson family holding company, was to increase its stake in Bell Globemedia to 40% from 31.5%, paying C$120 million.


There is no major study of the Toronto Star. Atkinson is the subject of JE Atkinson of the Star (Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press 1963) by Ross Harkness.

For Harlequin see Joseph McAleer's Passion's Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1999) and Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain 1914-1950 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1992).