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The Guardian newspaper officially began printing in 1887, after Rev. William R. Frame gained ownership of The Protestant Union, previously known as the The Presbyterian. Following Rev. Frame's death in1888, John L. MacKinnon became general manager and editor followed by Benjamin Higgs who changed the paper from a weekly to a daily on 27 January 1891. J. P. Hood acquired a controlling interest in the paper following the death of Higgs in 1896. J.E.B. MacCready was already in editorial charge at that time.
In 1912, The Guardian came under the ownership of the Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island which was seeking stronger newspaper support. They hired J.R. Burnett, an experienced journalist from Scotland, to be the editor of their newly aquired paper. With him as associate editors were J.E.B. MacCready, D.K. Currie, and later Frank Walker. At this time the paper was owned by Charles Dalton whose interests were sold to W. Chester S. MacLure and Lt. Col. D.A. MacKinnon ca. 1921. J.R. Burnett was the only other stockholder.
James Robertson Burnett was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1871. He began his career in journalism in his hometown as a reporter for the local paper, and later he became editor of The Dalkeith Advertiser, another Scotland-based newspaper. By the turn of the century, Burnett was employed as assistant editor, and eventually editor, of The Weekly Argosy, a weekly newspaper located in British Guiana. Burnett experienced great success with the Guardian, increasing its readership from 3,000 readers in 1912 to over 13,000 readers in 1952.
He also made great strides in the system of delivering his paper to the public. He enlisted the help of delivery trucks, and eventually airplanes, in a successful attempt to deliver the newspaper to all Island citizens, regardless of location, on the morning that it was printed, a feat which had never been attempted before. He even began his own transportation company, Provincial Transport Limited, which he eventually sold to Canada Post. Also part of his legacy is his coining of the phrase "Covers the Island Like the Dew", a phrase that is still used today as the sub-heading of The Guardian.
Operation of The Guardian became a truly family affair in 1946, when J.R. Burnett and his four sons, Ian, William, James (Lyn) and George bought out shareholders MacKinnon and MacLure, to gain total ownership of the newspaper. This ownership would remain intact until June 12th, 1952, when J.R. Burnett passed away late in the evening of apparent heart failure. Ian became editor and publisher, with Frank Walker as associate editor, while his brothers held executive positions in other departments. The Burnetts retained ownership of The Guardian until December 1953, when they ended their financial ties to the paper by selling it to Thompsons Newspapers Limited.
Since 1953,The Guardian has changed hands several times, but as of August 2002, the newspaper has been under the ownership of Transcontinental Media of Montreal, Quebec.
On 28 April 1923, a fire had destroyed the Guardian building and plant then located on the corner of Kent and Gt. George Streets. For some time the paper was issued from J.R. Burnett's residence and printed on the Patriot press. When the Temperance Hall on the corner of Prince and Grafton Streets became available the paper moved to that location where it was published until 1956 when it moved to a new building across Prince Street.