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80 years of Q&Q: historically speaking, CanLit moments through the years


Jack McClelland (centre, seated)

Jack McClelland passes the M&S torch

A few years after Jack McClelland (who once said “I am McClelland & Stewart”) sold his beloved M&S to businessman Avie Bennett in 1985, the larger-than-life publisher retired from the book biz altogether. Bennett’s first pick as the new head of M&S, Adrienne Clarkson, barely lasted a year. His next pick, Douglas Gibson, lasted nearly two decades – until the beginning of the takeover, by Random House of Canada, of the publishing company that, more than any other, defined CanLit. At right, a previously unpublished letter from McClelland to Gibson, which currently hangs, framed, in Gibson’s Toronto home.

September 13, 1988
Dear Doug,
Just a note to congratulate you on your new appointment. I say “congratulate,” but
just possibly mean “commiserate.” Because of the stories and rumours – and I 
certainly did not invite them, nor did I want to hear them – I’m not surprised 
about Adrienne Clarkson’s executive departure. It has been in the cards for some
months. She is an extremely intelligent lady, but it would’ve surprised me if she’d
managed to survive in that new role for very long. Well, you have the know-how and
the experience, and it should work extremely well. Obviously, you’re going to be 
busier than a one-armed paper-hanger for a while, but it will work out. Don’t 
bother acknowledging this letter – you have enough to do. Just know that I am 
pleased personally to have the old firm with Doug Gibson as publisher.


Everybody read together

Canada’s 1967 centennial party inspired a greater legacy than that catchy “Ca-na-da” tune. Wanting to spruce up the country for the celebration, three levels of government co-funded more than 2,500 civic projects, including 144 public libraries and Ottawa’s new $13-million National Library of Canada building.

Architecturally, the libraries symbolized a new way of thinking about public spaces, as traditional Carnegie columns made way for a stripped-down modernist style, with an emphasis on open-concept interiors.

The approach continued well into the next decade, with the 1977 construction of the internationally admired Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library (above), featuring central curving staircases and open stacks.


80-44 Marshall McLuhan on the dew-line

From 1968 to 1970, real-life Don Drapers sucked back martinis while reading the Marshall McLuhan Dew-Line Newsletter. More like a school bulletin than a glossy magazine, the publication promoted itself as an “Early Warning System for our era of instant change!” featuring McLuhan’s analyses of topics such as “The Computer data-bank as the dissolution of private life.”

According to McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand, the project was conceived by New York publisher Eugene Schwartz. Its high-powered ad-executive subscribers received posters, recordings, and, for an extra five dollars, playing cards featuring McLuhan quotes designed to prompt “spur-of-the-moment thinking.”


80-15 Begun in the 1950s under the aegis of editor Malcolm Ross and designer Frank Newfeld, McClelland & Stewart’s New Canadian Library paperback reprint series has been largely responsible for defining the CanLit canon for a half century.