Browse Case Studies (alphabetical by title)


The Perilous Trade by Roy MacSkimming is the only general narrative on contemporary book publishing in English Canada. It appeared from McClelland & Stewart (M&S) in 2003 with the subtitle Publishing Canada’s Writers, becoming a finalist for that year’s National Business Book Award. Four years later M&S issued a revised and updated edition in paperback with the subtitle Book Publishing in Canada 1946-2006. Here MacSkimming reflects on his research for the book, particularly the process of interviewing his subjects. Excerpts of some of his audio interviews are included below with this study.


Duncan Campbell Scott enjoyed a long and congenial publishing relationship with Lorne Pierce of the Ryerson Press, as over twenty years of correspondence between the two men attests. Scott was never shy, however, about speaking his mind when he disagreed with Ryerson’s vision for his work.


Founded in 1952, the Contact Press emerged over its fifteen-year history as the most ambitious independent venue for modernist poetry in Canada. Including the Contact’s founding editors Louis Dudek (1918-2001), Irving Layton (1912-2006) and Raymond Souster (1921- ), thirty-three authors were published in sixty-one separate editions. Contact Press served as durable model for author-owned, non-commercial literary publishing in Canada and proved to be an inspiration for a generation of Canadian poets, some of whose first books were published by Contact, and who followed Dudek and Souster, in particular, in advancing the small press cause in Canada.


Charles G.D. Roberts (1860-1943) was the first of the Confederation poets, the loosely associated group of Canadian poets who came to prominence in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. His Orion and Other Poems (1880) inspired the others, especially his cousin Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott. In “Two Canadian Poets: A Lecture,” Lampman recalled that, as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, he “sat up all night reading and re-reading Orion in a state of the wildest excitement ... It seemed to me a wonderful thing that such work could be done by a Canadian, by a young man, one of ourselves.”


One of Canada’s most important early newspapers, launched by its first publishing dynasty, the bilingual Quebec Gazette/La Gazette de Québec announced its impending establishment with a prospectus dated 1763, in which citizens of Quebec City were promised a publication that would become a “benefit” to their community. Preserved in the collections of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at University of Toronto, the prospectus and the newspaper are valued today as one of the treasures of Canadian cultural history.


McClelland & Stewart (M&S) has published four volumes of Alistair MacLeod’s fiction—the short story collections The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986), the novel No Great Mischief (1999), and Island: the Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod (2000)—all to great critical acclaim. However, due to a senior editor’s initial lack of enthusiasm and misplaced manuscripts, M&S came close to not publishing MacLeod at all.


Canadian publishers underwent dramatic changes during the twentieth century, shifting their focus from the importation of foreign titles to the manufacture of Canadian books by Canadian authors, while continuing alliances with foreign firms. Navigating the difficult waters of the Second World War, ongoing financial challenges, and relentless competition from abroad, homegrown publishers have nurtured a Canadian voice and brought much-beloved literature in all genres to the world. In this case study, book history scholar George L. Parker, author of the seminal The Beginnings of the Book Trade in Canada (1985), provides an overview of the industry from 1918, with reference to transformational events of the last decade.


Whether you date the explosion of Canadian small press publishing from the The Sunset of Bon Echo (Bon Echo, Ont., 1916-20), le Nigog (Montreal, 1918), or the McGill Fortnightly Review (Montreal, 1925-27), or even earlier, by the 1960s the handmade chapbook, the mimeographed magazine, and the illustrated broadside had become common publishing venues in writing communities across Canada. These are the markers of the small press revolution that dramatically reorganized publishing in this country. The most significant impact was the establishment of an alternative to the hierarchical, sales-driven models of commercial literary publishing.


Canadian Wild Flowers (1868) set the standard for sumptuous nineteenth-century Canadian books. An early example of large-format home-produced colour illustration, it was one of the first serious botanical works published in the country. Readers have long delighted in the graceful, yet scientifically precise text by Catharine Parr Traill as well as the beautiful, hand painted lithographs by her niece, Agnes FitzGibbon.


The Toronto Small Press Book Fair (TSPBF) is one of Canada’s most important venues for small literary presses, having exhibited and provided a distribution network for the imprints of hundreds of publishers since its inception in the late 1980s.