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Steady at the helm: Montreal’s Véhicule Press turns 50

Photos from the press’s archives. At left, Irving Layton, F.R. Scott, and Louis Dudek in the publishers’ living room for the launch of CIV/n: A Literary Magazine of the 50s, edited by Aileen Collins, in 1983.
At right, the 1986 launch of the Montreal Story Tellers edited by J.R. (Tim) Struthers. Pictured left to right are John Metcalf, Raymond Fraser, Ray Smith, Simon Dardick, David Homel, Clark Blaise, J.R. (Tim) Struthers.

The day-to-day operations of Véhicule Press look a little different now than they would have in the press’s early days in 1973. For starters, the Montreal-based independent publisher is no longer printing their own books, nor are they operating as a co-op out of an artist-run gallery. Operations have also changed as a result of the pandemic, moving online in the last few years, with each member of the small team working from their own spaces. The driving force behind the press, however, has remained the same.

You’re always looking for really good books,” co-publisher Simon Dardick says. “We see ourselves as a national indie publisher, but with an emphasis on exploring and explaining Quebec culture to the rest of Canada, and that has not changed. Translation still plays an important role in what we do. … We’ve published books that relate to Montreal’s nightlife and jazz history, and none of that has changed – we’ve just gotten better at doing it.”

2023 marks a milestone for the English-language indie publisher: this spring, the press will celebrate 50 years of making books. Looking back on the press’s hardscrabble origins, when they were scrounging for grants to get by and printing posters and artist’s invitations as well as art books, Dardick laughs. 

“It’s hard to believe, when I think about the printing presses that we were working on, the little books that we did, that we’d still be here today and doing a mix of important fiction and nonfiction,” Dardick says. “It’s crazy.” 

Véhicule Press co-publishers Simon Dardick and Mancy Marrelli with their daughters Anne and Rosemary at a party celebrating the press’s 15th anniversary in 1988. Marrelli made the cake. (photo courtesy Véhicule Press)

When Véhicule first started printing books – it took its name from the art gallery in which it was housed, Véhicule Art Inc. – Dardick and Guy Lavoie were the general editors. In 1981, the co-op that initially ran the press and the art gallery dissolved, and Dardick and his co-publisher and wife Nancy Marrelli moved the operations to the ground floor of their home and added a poetry imprint, Signal Editions, which was created in 1981 by Michael Harris and has been edited by Carmine Starnino since 2001.

Fiction imprint Esplanade Books, launched in 2003 with Andrew Steinmetz editing (now edited by Dimitri Nasrallah), vintage noir series Ricochet Books, launched in 2010 (edited by Brian Busby), and Dossier Quebec (a series edited by Dardick and Marrelli that explores Quebec’s social history), have been added to the stable over the years. Véhicule now releases about 14 or 15 books a year, and has published a number of award-winning books, including six Governor General’s Literary Award winners (two translations of Quebec poet Pierre Nepveu’s work among them: 2012’s The Major Verbs, translated by Donald Winkler, and 2004’s Mirabel, translated by Judith Cowan), as well as Kaie Kellough’s Giller-longlisted Dominoes at the Crossroads, and Nasrallah’s Hotline, which was a finalist in this year’s Canada Reads competition. 

Although Dardick says the press’s focus hasn’t altered, for many years it was informed by his interests and those of Marrelli, whose work as an archivist had a significant influence on the press’s focus on history and social history. 

“Literature in the context of social history has been our credo,” Dardick says, pointing to books like Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage, a 2013 translation of historian Marcel Trudel’s look at slavery under French colonial rule in Quebec, and Kellough’s short story collection Dominoes at the Crossroads, which uses history to consider alternate visions of Canada, that have gone through multiple printings and capture that ethos.

Nasrallah, who came on board as fiction editor in 2013 after publishing his second novel, Niko, with Véhicule in 2011, sees the most recent decade as one of unexpected but organic growth for the press. 

The last 10 years of the 50 years have been, I think everyone would agree, kind of this unprecedented growth for the company that no one really thought would happen. It wasn’t part of the plan; I think we just kind of grew organically,” Nasrallah says. 

Recent editorial changes have seen Carmine Starnino move into an associate publisher role, with Signal Editions taken over by Michael Prior, whose first acquisitions will be published in 2025. Nasrallah sees these changes as a natural transition that will usher Véhicule smoothly into the coming decades. 

“There’s this natural evolution happening between the team that started this and the team that’s going to keep moving it forward, and we all work really well together,” he says. 

By gradually expanding the group of people at the helm, Véhicule has been able to do more. “For such a long time,” says Dardick, “it was just me and [Marelli] setting our goals and now, for the past number of years it’s been our team that discusses and decides how we’re going forward. That, to me, is really integral to what we’re doing: good things come out of discussion.”

Plans are underway to mark the occasion with a gala on June 17. The event, put on in partnership with Blue Metropolis, will be hosted by Nyla Matuk and Mark Abley and will include readings, book displays, and food and wine. 

“An appropriate celebration to celebrate good writing, the fact that we’ve survived all these years, and also to celebrate Montreal, because we come out of Quebec, and Quebec has enriched us,” Dardick says. “Being an English-language publisher in Quebec, sort of on the margins, is a very exciting place to be. It has given us access to really wonderful writing.”


May 10th, 2023

5:17 pm

Category: Industry News

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