Brief History of The Canadian Encyclopedia

“James Marsh has held up a reasonably unflawed mirror to his culture.” Historian Viv Nelles


Hiring the Editor in Chief
Learning from Others
Senior Editors
Compiling the Article List
Internal Conflict
First Principles
The Editorial Process
Editorial Challenges
Production and Marketing of The Canadian Encyclopedia
The Reviews of The Canadian Encyclopedia
A Second Chance: Kudos and Critiques
The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada
Into the Electronic Age
A Nostalgic Gesture and the Future

Mel Hurtig, the Edmonton publisher and high-profile nationalist, writes in his memoirs that he first had the idea for a new Canadian encyclopedia while sitting alone in a school library and growing despondent at the lack of Canadian reference works. A former bookseller, Hurtig had embarked on an ambitious publishing program in the 1970s and in his involvement with the Committee for an Independent Canada had become a well-known spokesman for nationalist causes. Grolier’s Encyclopedia Canadiana, published in 1958 but based largely on a reference work published by Macmillan in the 1930s, was by then badly out-of-date, not only in obvious things like statistics but in how it represented the country.

Book publisher and Canadian nationalist Mel Hurtig sold the idea of a new Canadian encyclopedia to the Alberta government as a “gift to Canada” on the occasion of the province’s 75th anniversary.

The idea for a new encyclopedia actually predates Hurtig’s epiphany. Ivon Owen, former head of Oxford University Press (who had panned Canadiana as a regrettable missed opportunity in a critical review), and freelance editor-writer Morris Wolfe approached Hurtig and authored a proposal for a new encyclopedia in conversations in 1975. Hurtig sent a submission to the Canada Council in 1976 to produce a single volume of some 3 million words. The Council expressed interest in the project and offered some funding but insisted that Hurtig set up duplicate French and English editorial staffs and offices and that he publish a French edition simultaneously with the English. Unfortunately, the Council was not willing to pay for these added expenses.

Fate intervened two years later as Alberta’s 75th anniversary neared. Hurtig approached the Alberta government with the idea of supporting the encyclopedia as Alberta’s “gift to Canada.” It was a novel idea and caught the attention of Premier Peter Lougheed, who despite his conflicts with the federal government over energy policy considered himself no less a Canadian nationalist than Hurtig. On November 15, 1979 the announcement was made in the legislature that the Alberta government would underwrite the encyclopedia’s development costs with $3.4 million and would donate a further $600,000 to pay for delivery of a free copy to every school and library in the country. It was all done on condition that no other (particularly federal) funding obscure the gesture. Hurtig spent the next few years raising the money for printing and marketing from reluctant banks. It would be a publishing megaproject. The issue of a French-language edition was put aside with a promise by Hurtig that the rights would be donated free to a Quebec publisher.

Hiring the Editor in Chief

Hurtig hired a general manager, Frank McGuire, who set up offices on the second floor of an old brick house (Ring House 3) on the campus of the University of Alberta in early spring 1980. Former university president Harry Gunning was appointed head of an advisory board. Hurtig held a nation-wide search for an editor in chief through his extensive connections and an advertisement in the Globe and Mail. I never saw the ad but was alerted to it by my friend Dan Francis over coffee at the National Library in Ottawa, where I was conducting photo research for a textbook I was writing. When I later saw it in our files it read (in large letters) “Editor in chief $35,000 starting salary.” The main qualification was that the candidate must be “a generalist with a lengthy background of working in Canadian topics, and have excellent academic and other connections across Canada.” The ad promised that this was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for “the very best person.” (The first thing that was said to me at the University of Alberta, by a history professor, was “so you are the one who got the $35,000 job!”)

Ring House 4, the original office of The Canadian Encyclopedia. Editor in chief’s office upper floor, left front.

In preparation for my first interview with Hurtig at the Chateau Laurier I tried to find out whatever I could about how to go about making an encyclopedia. It was clearly a daunting task and there is very little written about it. My first job in publishing, with Holt, Rinehart and Winston, was as a proofreader on a new dictionary, a project that went on for years but never saw the light of day. It was my luck to meet there an editor, named Peter West, who shared with me his intense love of words and introduced me to that little grab bag of editorial tools that includes Fowler’s Modern English Usageand Appleton-Century-Crofts Words Into Type.

I had had a passing acquaintance with encyclopedias in my youth. Almost the only book in our house when I was growing up on Perth Avenue in Toronto was an old encyclopedia whose maps and photographs of exotic places fascinated me. I would spend hours with a clump of plasticine trying to model the wild animals and famous buildings I saw in that book. At Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto, an English teacher punished me by making me copy out pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica, something that I enjoyed rather more than the punishment of redrawing multiple copies of the innards of a frog meted out by one of my science teachers.

On a tip from historian David Farr at Carleton University, I uncovered the papers of John Robbins, who had been the editor of Grolier’s Canadiana in the 1950s, from the back rooms of the National Library. I learned very little of how Robbins organized his encyclopedia (it was in fact copied from Grolier’s) but I noted his frustration with the editorial interference of Grolier’s head office in New York. Canadiana was in most ways a “branch-plant” publication.

Editor of the Oxford english Dictionary James Murray

The National Library eventually yielded two useful articles in an obscure library publication about the creation of the Columbia one-volume encyclopedia, which provided rare and excellent background. A quick reading of the book Caught in a Web of Words, the story of the great lexicographer James Murray and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, elevated my ambitions and livened the conversation with Hurtig over our breakfast meeting. For him I must have been an unknown quantity, the editor of an important but specialized series of Canadian books called the Carleton Library Series, co-published by McClelland & Stewart and the Institute of Canadian Studies, and the author of several textbooks on Canadian history, but someone with no managerial experience. Including research and production costs, this was going to be an eight million dollar project, and hence an enormous gamble for the publisher. I did not have a graduate degree like many of the other candidates but I had pretty much spent my whole life learning, reading and studying. As a kid in the Junction area of  Toronto I managed to spend almost as much time in the local libraries as I did making trouble in the back alleys. Editing a series of textbooks, including the landmark Canadian history text Canada: Unity and Diversity, and some 75 volumes of the Carleton Library Series was a thorough, if informal, education in Canadian social sciences as well as history, though I had been working part-time on a combined history and art history degree. I was a French test short of graduating in honours.

Hurtig asked Morris Wolfe to interview me in Toronto (we talked in the famous “publishers” bar atop the Park Plaza) and then he brought me to Edmonton. I had major reservations about how Frank McGuire, the general manager hired by Hurtig from the provincial government, and I were going to work out our roles, and had an awkward interview with him before having dinner with Hurtig and several of his friends at his golf club, including Bill Thorsell and Don Newman. McGuire sat behind a huge desk in his government office and after asking me how I was going to make an encyclopedia, informed me that I was on the right track with what he called a “systems approach.”

In my three days in Edmonton, I had little opportunity to speak with Mel face to face, though we spoke on the telephone. I insisted on seeing all the documents and contracts (which he delivered to me in a large box) but was pretty confused by the whole process. I phoned Hurtig from the airport and asked him if he was thinking of hiring me and he told me that yes, he thought that we could produce an encyclopedia together. When I returned to Ottawa, Mel asked me to write him a letter telling him “in two pages” why I should get the job. I wish that I could write that letter now! I fretted over the wording, dreaming that I might write something that would have a Leonardo-like impact on him. I did believe that I had something like a “universal mind,” based on my eclectic interests in history, art, music, sports and literature. In a positive way, I did not consider myself to be a specialist, wedded to a particular discipline. I had a great deal of experience dealing with academics and knew their strengths and weaknesses. Through Jack McClelland and Rob McDougall (one of the founders of Canadian Studies) I had been intimately exposed to a positive Canadian nationalism.

Whether it was that letter or the approval of his friends or the support of Davidson Dunton and my other references at Carleton, Hurtig finally made me an offer in May of 1980. I arrived in June and brought my family out west a month later. It was a difficult time. Edmonton’s housing market was booming while the market for our house in Ottawa was depressed. McGuire had the idea that somehow the entire staff could operate out of two small rooms because the editors would obviously be spending all their time in the library. I persuaded him to negotiate with the university for another office in Athabasca Hall, where at least the senior editors could set up desks, and another in Cameron Library where the researchers could park their coats and books, but in reality neither one of us foresaw the small army of staff that would eventually be needed.

Learning from Others

I had a vague idea of how I was going to begin organizing the encyclopedia but I knew a great deal more after I visited the chief editors of Britannica and World Book in Chicago and those at Columbia and McGraw Hill in New York. They all gave freely of their time and advice and saved me from numerous pitfalls. From my experience dealing with the indecision and politics of a board of academics at Carleton University I determined that I must keep total editorial control of the encyclopedia if it was to be produced in less than five years. I appointed Davidson Dunton, William New, J.M.S. Careless, Thomas Symons, Rose Sheinan, Pierre Maranda and Norman Ward to the advisory board, which gave the project important early prestige and impetus. Dunton in particular was of enormous help at our very first meeting when Professor Maranda insisted that no one encyclopedia could represent the whole country and that we should in fact produce two completely different encyclopedias! (This outdid even the Canada Council.) I resolved not to hold another meeting of the board but to meet and speak to the members in person whenever possible. Their indispensable value was in helping us to persuade scholars from all over Canada to join the project.

Several days spent studying the files of The Dictionary of Canadian Biography in Toronto and some sage advice from its editor Frances Halpenny were invaluable in learning how to deal (or not to deal) with academic authors and (admittedly in our case much tighter) deadlines. Projects such as the DCB, the Historical Atlas of Canada and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada had university or government affiliations and generous funding from the Canada Council that would enable them to withstand long delays that would cripple a small commercial publisher like Hurtig.

Senior Editors

I had a great deal of difficulty hiring experienced editors in Edmonton. I did hire two senior editors locally, Adriana Davies for the sciences and Diana Selsor for the arts, and brought in two from Toronto, notably James Ogilvy, who brought valuable experience from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Within a year, two of the senior editors were replaced by more experienced editors, Mary Maud and Rosemary Shipton. McGuire opposed hiring these two editors because they would not move to Edmonton, but at this stage of the project their experience was far more important to me than daily contact. The troublesome area of the Social Sciences saw several changes in senior editor until Patricia Finlay arrived from Ottawa to see it through.

I almost faced a revolt in the early months when I put the whole encyclopedia staff to work analyzing Canadiana, creating an index card for every article, noting its length and assigning it a subject from a list I had compiled from the Library of Congress List of Subjects (or rather its Canadian adaptation). It was tedious work but proved invaluable. It was my firm belief, not shared by the editors in this instance, that the best way to build an encyclopedia was by looking at what existing encyclopedias have done and then trying to make improvements. Any encyclopedia is an intellectual reflection of its creators. By comparing how Canadiana saw the world with how we viewed our own time, a structure began to emerge. For example Canadiana devoted virtually no words to urban themes, women’s issues, the sciences or politics. Perhaps most deficient in Canadiana was the decision not to include biographies of living Canadians born before 1910. Yes we knew that choosing living subjects for biographies would be controversial but we simply could not draw a convincing portrait of our generation without biographies of living artists, musicians and politicians, not to mention athletes, whatever their age. A large contingent of scholarly consultants was invaluable in the process of developing the article lists, adding or deleting topics and suggesting contributors. Within months our article list bore little resemblance to that of the earlier work.

Compiling the Article List

These days, with so much thought and talk about “information architecture” and with the uses of databases and search engines, a new encyclopedia might get planned in a completely different way. I never thought fundamentally about these things—I had no expertise and there was no time. I accepted that somehow the alphabet and a list of subjects would provide all the organization we would need. From the beginning it was clear to me that although an encyclopedia, like a dictionary, seems to be organized around the alphabet, you don’t make an encyclopedia by working the alphabet, i.e., casting out a net for As or Ds. A list of articles is only revealed after a coherent and manageable subject tree is nurtured. I compiled a master list of about 125 subjects with the help of the Canadian List of Subject Headings used by the National Library of Canada to categorize their collections and with the help of professors in the School of Library Science at the University of Alberta. Often the branches of the subject tree corresponded nicely with academic disciplines—for example Social Science/Sociology/Demography, a branch that yielded topics such as Population Growth, Baby Boom, etc.—which meant that we could find the experts in the field through our university contacts to help develop the lists and find authors. Other subjects, such as sports, entertainment, physical features, etc., had no academic standing but clearly needed to be included. We refined the subject lists and uncovered articles by studying textbooks and journals, high school curricula and the daily press.

This frontispiece from Canadiana with its caption commenting on how it was a woman’s place to keep a stable home illustrates how far out-of-date it was in representing the changes that had occurred since its publication in 1958.

It was during this process that I completely changed the conception of The Canadian Encyclopedia from the one originally outlined by Wolfe, Owen and Hurtig. Even in the proposal that won funding from the Alberta government, the encyclopedia was going to be a single volume, essentially staff written, without illustrations. This would have been in my opinion a terrible missed opportunity (worse than the one decried by Owen) and with difficulty I persuaded Hurtig to consider a multi-volume, illustrated version written by authorities from all over Canada. There was no statement of principles in the proposals, but I learned from studying the great works of the past that the value of any reference work is the participation of experts—not to write for one another, but to make their work known to the general public.

Once I assigned subject lists to the senior editors the internal battles began. Those subject lists were critical for organization but they soon took on lives of their own. Each senior editor and his or her consultants became vehement advocates of their domains and I was presented with four developed lists of articles, each one of which would have consumed the entire three million words. While the work of the academic consultants was critical, their views were often too narrowly focused. An encyclopedia based only on their concepts would have been far too specialized to be of much interest to a general reader. (Academics often fail to distinguish between their own models and the common understanding of reality, and in the case of economists, as proven in the recent economic debacle, with any semblance of reality.) For example, our consultants did not want separate entries for ethnic groups, sports, towns, or particular plants, animals or minerals. I could not conceive of a Canadian encyclopedia without articles on Ukrainians, Ice Hockey, Glace Bay, Maple, Beaver or Nickel. The interest is in the specifics, not in the abstract, though we covered that too.

I needed advice and support and got it from my many friends in the academic community, such as historian Norman Hillmer, political scientists Paul Fox and Norman Ward, and sociologist Wallace Clement. I had never foreseen that one of my greatest challenges would be managing the conflicts among the editorial staff. I finally assembled a group of respected generalists in a Toronto hotel—they included Robert Fulford, Sydney Wise and Paul Fox. After a long day of reviewing article lists the group stiffened my resolve to keep the encyclopedia focused on its generalist role.

Although I had determined from the very first that the encyclopedia would reflect the highest scholarly standards—every article would be vetted by outside readers and thoroughly verified by internal researchers—we could not forget that we wanted the encyclopedia to reach the widest possible audience or that for Hurtig it was a commercial publication that had to sell over 100,000 copies to make a profit. I personally revised every article list, cut it to size, compiled a master list and instructed the editors to start commissioning. This process was most difficult for the social science editor who had created a scholarly list of interrelated subjects on “phenomenological” principles that was defensible but wholly discordant with the rest of the encyclopedia, and for the science editor Adriana Davies, who had done a fantastic job of assembling some of the country’s most eminent scientists, but whose list contained a great deal of material that did not focus on Canada. I would have loved to deal with each of the sciences outside the seemingly “parochial” Canadian aspects, but there simply was not the room.

Internal Conflict

Once I had done what I saw as my primary job as editor in chief, laying down the broad lines of approach and the formulation of principles, the daily work of the encyclopedia was primarily in the hands of the senior editors, who had to find writers and consultants, persuade authors to write for a pittance, cajole and persuade, and then deal with the readers’ reports and the editorial process. I never had a complaint after the process got rolling in the second year from any contributor and received many compliments about how well treated they all felt. I knew that even with five senior editors we were still severely understaffed and I undertook the commissioning and even the writing of several subject areas, such as sports and geographical places, to relieve some of the pressure. The enthusiasm of the whole team was contagious and there was a shared relief when someone ripped open the mail and announced that such and such entry had finally arrived.

A second source of conflict, between General Manager Frank McGuire, and myself also needed to be resolved if the encyclopedia was to be successfully completed. Disputes over authority are almost inevitable in a new (or any) organization. McGuire’s experience in government led him to believe that he knew best about how to “manage” the encyclopedia. He actually had responded to Mel’s ad for an editor in chief, describing himself as a “results-oriented manager.” I wasted hours trying to justify to him why we needed editors or proofreaders or space or resources. I had to fight with him over buying dictionaries or sending editors to the learned society meetings to meet consultants. We fought over what kind of bookcase I should have in my office. (Ikea was too expensive and he drove around town to find cheaper ones himself.) When we went to Toronto to interview candidates for the senior editor positions, he checked out of his room and crawled into bed with me. This discontent and a violent shouting match that he had with one of the senior editors leaked back to Hurtig (not through me) who wisely decided to hire Harold Bohne, the head of University of Toronto Press, to make an independent evaluation of the crisis. In a letter to Bohne, Hurtig repeats McGuire’s charge that I was a “hopeless manager.” Hurtig always saw the differences between McGuire and myself as “cultural” or as matters of personality, but the senior editors and I saw his interference as a serious threat to our work.

Bohne somehow agreed to enter the hornet’s nest and flew out from Toronto. McGuire picked him up and tried to never let him out of his sight. So that we could meet alone, Bohne called me late in the evening and asked me to meet him at the Macdonald Hotel. The senior editors had to meet him the next morning before breakfast. Bohne’s report, which Hurtig watered down in order not to offend McGuire, began with “I have every bit of confidence in Jim’s ‘management ability’ based on my interview with him and comments made by his staff. Jim knows perfectly well what he is doing and he will produce a fine encyclopedia, if he is left alone to do so. [These italicized words and the following were omitted in Hurtig’s version to McGuire.] “He works well with his staff and all of them are dedicated to him.” “That Jim ever had to justify the attendance of three people at the Learneds is quite unbelievable.” Bohne told Hurtig that McGuire’s comments about my lack of management skills were made strictly “to justify his excessive interference.”

Hurtig made some administrative changes so that I would have more control over the budget, and while I knew that McGuire now resented me even more, I really felt that a new working relationship in which he provided the support that we needed, putting the goal of getting the work done above financial bickering, suited him better. (The encyclopedia was produced on time and under budget. The management of finances, payrolls, hiring and production by McGuire were first class, but he never got over being seen as not the man in charge of the encyclopedia.)

First Principles

An encyclopedia is a curious sort of enterprise. No one set of books could possibly fulfill the many demands made of these exalted works. Perhaps it was possible in Diderot’s time for an encyclopedia to represent all human knowledge, or even to aspire to changing the world, but such claims had already become dubious when the legendary 11th edition of Britannica was published in 1911. Despite the explosion in information, an encyclopedia could still fulfill a role in attempting to present human knowledge in some semblance of coherence. It can hold up a mirror to its time and in the words of H.G. Wells present “the ruling concepts of our social order.” A “national” encyclopedia such as ours can also attempt a broader goal of displaying the rich diversity of its subject and even raising the level of pride.

Reading under the statue of Diderot at the Paris Opera. Encyclopedias have a long, illustrious history, none as influential or renowned as Diderot’s Encyclopédie.

This idea of a national encyclopedia seemed parochial to some people. More than one professor at the University of Alberta asked derisively who would possibly be interested in such a narrow work. I agreed that national borders seemed arbitrary in discussions of physics or mathematics, but the whole point of our encyclopedia was to provide information on Canadian contributions to these subjects that never would appear in the general reference works emanating from the US or Great Britain. Americans would never consider the need for a “national encyclopedia” because works such as Britannica and World Book and Encarta are produced in the US and reflect their own perspective, in fact making little distinction between their own and a universal view.

I was able to draw on my own publishing experience and some learning to evaluate what kind of portrait TCE would present of Canada and how that would differ from Canadiana. Some things would change very little. For example, there had to be heavy emphasis on articles about places as Canadians are very local in their focus. Leaving out certain places, such as Waterloo and Burlington, from the first edition caused me a fair bit of grief. While biography was of little interest to the consultants or to the subject editors (until I hired Mary Maud to work on them exclusively), it is clearly of enormous interest to the general public. This judgment has proven correct over the years as most of the comments or criticisms of the encyclopedia concern biography. It is a little dispiriting not to have had a single letter or email, among many thousands, comment on articles that caused the editors a great deal of editorial grief (for example the 15,000 word article on Philosophy in Canada. Yes, Canadians have published books on the metaphysics of R.G. Colingwood, Whitehead’s theory of reality, Paul Tillich’s question of being and the rational metaphysics of Baruch Spinoza!)

While it was my intention that the engagement of literally thousands of consultants and authors would broaden the scope of the encyclopedia it was inevitable that my own biases would leave their mark. It would be an encyclopedia that would devote as much space to painters as to prime ministers. A poet might have a larger entry than traditional historical figures such as William Lyon Mackenzie. It was my view that Canada exists by virtue of a common culture as much as by a common history and geography. I would as far as possible try to remain “objective” about contentious subjects such as abortion or federalism, but would understand that topics such as “Economic Nationalism” or “Quebec Separatism” or “Feminism” had to be written by fair but sympathetic authors. Whenever necessary or possible we commissioned articles in French and had them translated. We were less successful in fulfilling my hope of including thoughtful or entertaining essays. The severe word restrictions imposed by the commercial nature of the project left their scars on the language and the text peppered with acronyms and abbreviations.

I was able, however, to make sure that the encyclopedia avoided two influences that would have tarnished its credibility. It could not be, ironically, a “Mel Hurtig” encyclopedia. Hurtig phoned me frequently with suggestions drawn from his own broad knowledge of current affairs (and kept insisting that I insert copious statistics which I resisted for the reason that they are quickly out of date and without context often meaningless) but he always finished by telling me that final decisions were mine (in fact my contract ensured that they would be). Nor could the encyclopedia be the mouthpiece of the Alberta government. After the right-wing Alberta Report raised an alarm by accusing me in December 1983 of being a socialist, if not communist, and of creating a left-wing screed with taxpayers’ money, some Conservative Cabinet ministers demanded to see articles. I refused to acknowledge the demand and Hurtig had to arrange for the articles to be sent by the general manager. The government agreed to submit the entries to an intermediary, political scientist Peter Meekison, who was not only a well-respected academic but also a close associate of the premier.

Meekison’s positive report ended the crisis. (While Jack McClelland had always taught me never to respond to negative criticism, Hurtig disagreed and insisted that I respond to the Alberta Report. I did so reluctantly in a letter to the editor, which only provided the publication’s chief ideologue Ted Byfield with the opportunity to take a whole page responding to “poor, pathetic Mr. Marsh.” Though no-one from the Report had ever spoken to me or any of my staff, Byfield predicted that the encyclopedia would be a disaster and he wondered about how I “ever got the job of editing an encyclopedia.” It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, as being criticized by Byfield provided me with a caché among my more liberal colleagues.

The Editorial Process

I was overly ambitious in asking the editors to hire a writer for every article. We ended up with some 2500 writers for the first edition (more than Britannica had for its 40 million words), which created an administrative and editorial nightmare. Nevertheless, the assembly of this broad-based community of respected writers from every part of Canada was perhaps our greatest accomplishment. They were paid a measly sum of eight cents per word, yet of the many we approached to write for the encyclopedia very few turned us down because of money. Many writers refused to take any payment and all appreciated the offer of a free encyclopedia for their labours. The fact that we refereed the articles with three and often more readers encouraged academics to write for us as they got credit in their annual evaluations. We even persuaded high-profile writers such as Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, John Robert Columbo, George Woodcock, David Suzuki and Peter C. Newman to make contributions. I was gratified also that the integrity of the work persuaded Quebec authors, such as Daniel Latouche, Marc Laurendeau, Fernand Ouellett, Paul-André Linteau and Pierre Dansereau to contribute. I found that despite the “two solitudes” there were often partnerships between English and French scholars, like the one between Alan Artibise and Linteau, who shared an interest in urban studies, which could be exploited.

Once word of the encyclopedia got out, organizations, cults, religions and advocates of all kinds lobbied me hard for inclusion or for control over our interpretations. My very first visit when I settled in my office at “Ring House 4” was from a group called Technocracy, not only to get themselves represented but to help me to organize the whole encyclopedia and to predict the future. I played host to a Mensa group intent on showing me that I was not intelligent enough for my job. I had a television crew from a fundamentalist Christian network arrive at our front door to interview me on the issue of evolution. (I passed right by them without incident as they could not believe that someone so young looking could be the chief.)

The limited number of words (3 million, hardly more than Canadiana but triple the amount originally planned) meant rigid editing of the text and the casting off of hundreds of thousands of words. Some authors submitted articles thousands of words over their allotment. This situation would have been impossible if we had stayed with the original plan for a one-volume encyclopedia. Having won over Hurtig to publish three illustrated volumes, our workload became even greater. I hired Carol Woo and Debra MacGregor to gather and clear permission for the thousands of photographs. On any given day they had hundreds of slides for me to view. We were able to negotiate reasonable terms, thanks to the editors’ persuasions, with some of Canada’s finest photographers, including Janis Kaulis, Tim Fitzharris, Richard Harrignton, Freeman Patterson, Pat Morrow, Yousuf Karsh, and many others. We commissioned a series of paintings from Quebec artist Claire Tremblay, who brilliantly and accurately depicted Canadian ecosystems, flora and fauna. Many of our contributors worked hard identifying illustrations. The contributor writing our article on “Clouds,” Ed Lozowski, spent many hours in our office choosing the best cumulus or cirrus cloud photographs. Stunning satellite photographs gave a unique portrait of Canada from space. Hundreds of artists and sculptors had their work illustrated. TCE is likely the most comprehensive visual portrait of Canada ever published.

By summer 1982 we had commissioned some 9000 articles from over 2500 experts. How the editors managed to contact and persuade all those contributors, and to collect, evaluate, verify and edit all those articles in such a short period of time is pretty much lost on me now. The schedule was a terrifying spectre in all our lives for those four or five years. We were ably supported by McGuire and the rest of the staff as demands for space, supplies, phone lines, desks, bookcases and resources continued to grow. By mid-1984 we had some 47 editors, researchers and proofreaders working out of two small university houses, including the attics, as well as the administrative staff.

The article list transformed itself from my ideal of a rational, logical progression to something more tangled and organic. I altered the alphabetical system to “word-by-word” so that the entry “A Mari usque ad Mare” could appear first. Volume I proceeded with “Abalone,” Abbotsford,” various “Abbotts” and then “Abduction,” in which L.C. Green wrote concisely that “It is also abduction to take away a child under 14 years of age with intent to deprive a parent or other lawful guardian of possession of that child, or with the intent to steal anything on or about the person of such a child. See KIDNAPPING.”

“Aboriginal Rights” was indicative of the kind of article that did not even appear in Canadiana but was extensively covered in TCE. The article “Abortion” went through so many writers and readers (at least 12) that it had to appear without an author’s name. As the articles migrated out of their subject areas, where they had been nurtured by the editors, into their destined places in the alphabet, they produced delightful juxtapositions for the reader. In the Bs, political activist “Buller, Annie” is followed by “Bunkhouse Men,” “Bunting,” “Bunyan, Paul,” “Buoy,” jurist “Burbidge, George,” “Bureaucracy,” “Burgeo,” “Burgess Shale” and “Burglary.” Thus while the articles remained connected with tens of thousands of cross-references, they also shared serendipitous relations with their alphabetical neighbours.

Editorial Challenges

Because every small aspect of an encyclopedia is scrutinized, particularly by those lurking hedgehogs who know “one big thing,” we set very high standards for editing and verification. One of the first things that I did as editor in chief was to write an extensive Style Guide <> that covered everything from the numerous abbreviations to the subtle differences between “convince” and “persuade.” I was particularly obsessed with rooting out jargon, particularly the “lawyer speak” creeping into the language (“in terms of,” “with respect to,” “the fact that”) in the 1980s. Every article was read critically by at least two outside readers. Every fact was checked by our in-house researchers and every entry was returned to the contributor for a final approval before passing through several stages of proofreading. I often saw an article at every one of these phases. Perfection is demanded of a reference work but it is an elusive not to say impossible goal. So is “objectivity.” It is useless to claim that such a thing exists in some pure form, as if we were the first generation to see all subjects fairly. We did our very best to find sensible compromises in contentious entries such as “Abortion” and “Federalism” without bleeding the work of informed debate.

An even more vexing editorial problem was the demand for currency. We had made so much of how badly out of date Canadiana was that being up to date became almost a fetish, particularly with Hurtig, who called me frequently with the latest statistics from the newspaper or some Statistics Canada report. I tried to explain that the primary role of an encyclopedia is to provide information of long-term interest, not to be as current as the daily newspaper—a miracle that obviously could never be achieved. Whenever possible I tried to provide consistent numbers from census data that could be used for comparison. (The issue of the size of cities was irksome. Cities conduct periodic counts, based on samples, and trumpet the results—Calgary has surpassed Edmonton! But the only meaningful statistics come from the census, in which every person is accounted for.) It is impossible, though, to be current on all subjects, even in these days when the database can be changed hourly. There is simply not the staff.

Even six months before the delivery date to the printers, only a fraction of the text had been processed, yet somehow the senior editors managed to get every single important entry delivered. Where did the articles on “Masks,” “Intellectual History,” “Horseradish,” “Fruits of the Earth,” “U-Boat Landings,” “Yew,” “Ice Worm,” and “Qaqaq Ashoona” come from? The answer is from everywhere. Some came on time; most did not. We eventually hired an additional staff member whose only job was tracking down contributors. Her logbook included such esoteric explanations from authors as a vasectomy gone bad and a stroke that obliterated all memory of a half written entry. One distraught author arrived on our front steps explaining that he had lost his research in a house fire. Another author, eighteen months overdue, claimed that he had a persistent cold. Of course most of the entries arrived over length as writers found it difficult to condense a lifelong interest into 400 words. No-one outdid the author who was asked to write a 500-word article on sheep and goat farming in Canada. When it finally arrived, long overdue, it was some 9000 words and had been re-titled “Sheep and Goat Farming in Quebec.” Thousands of articles had to be re-commissioned or rewritten.

We were not aided in the editorial process as we would be today by computers or the Internet. The general manager did manage to install cumbersome (to us now) Micron dedicated word processors part way through the editorial process. We doubled the editorial staff and had proof readers and researchers stationed in every corner of our expanded offices and in offices in the Cameron Library. We tried to track the word count using the Spires database, but when we were finally able to measure accurately the typeset galleys at the last minute, we discovered to our horror that we were some 300,000 words in excess. Hurtig could not add pages to a publication pre-sold at a set price. This meant that I had to read the entire encyclopedia and cut great bleeding blocks of text from the galleys (much of which I was fortunately able to reinstall for the second edition in 1988). This was likely the worst job that I ever had to do (aside from a summer job in which I had to steam the grease off capacitors in a battery factory), made worse by the bleeding nose I suffered from the constant smell of ammonia wafting off the galleys.

Production and Marketing of The Canadian Encyclopedia

The pages were made the old-fashion way as I sat with book designer David Shaw in his Toronto office for days as he waxed and cut the repro proofs and sized and placed the illustrations. It might have been the last great example of that age-old method. It reminded me of the assembly of a gigantic scrapbook, as the designers literally crawled about the floor with scissors and paste, assembling the yards of text, pictures and captions into pages. From time to time a missing line or two of text would show up on the sole of somebody’s shoe. (By the time of the second edition three years later, I was sitting next to an operator as she made the pages on a computer screen at the University of Alberta.)

The three volumes finally went to press in Montreal in the spring of 1985: 463,500 volumes in all, which was by far the largest printing job in Canadian history. It was a huge challenge for the printing company, Ronalds, to deal with the many pieces. At one point an exasperated manager flew from Montreal to Edmonton and tossed a negative of an abstract painting by Paul-Emile Borduas on my desk pleading “Please, tell us which way it goes!” There was a Proustian barrage of corrections, all of which had to be conveyed by primitive fax machines at all hours of the day or night. When we received the blueline proofs with the pictures in place we finally began to realize the scope of what we had done. I could barely bring myself to look, for I had a horror of seeing errors—it seemed almost better to pretend that there could be none.

The marketing campaign directed by Hurtig went brilliantly. Tens of thousands of sets were pre-sold, with orders for some 105,000 sets received by May of 1984. Public interest was high as Hurtig was one of the most popular media figures in those days. While filming a segment on the encyclopedia for CBC’s “The Fifth Estate,” Hanna Gartner asked me on camera if Mel Hurtig was the greatest encyclopedia salesman in the world. But this was an encyclopedia like no other. Yes, it could be said that it might make you smarter, inform you, help your kids with their homework or settle an argument, but it was more than that. It was a bold statement about the country, an assertion and perhaps the closest thing we had ever had to an expression of the Canadian identity.

Mel Hurtig walks up into a podium in the shape of the bound and boxed first edition to speak at the launch party at the Citadel Theatre.

Hurtig threw a great launching party for some 1100 guests at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton on September 6, 1985. Peter Lougheed, Mel Hurtig and I spoke before the Tommy Banks Band began to play and the champagne began to flow. None of us had any idea how the critics would receive the encyclopedia. The last few months were the most hectic of my life and from the inside I could only see the seams and weaknesses. The first reaction that I heard, on the radio, was a pompous academic with an English accent from Carleton University nit picking about how “The Canadian Encyclopedia was no work of genius.” But my spirits soared when I got a phone call from the eminent historian John Saywell, who was reviewing the encyclopedia for Saturday Night magazine. He congratulated me and enquired just who I was to have created this great work when he had never heard of me. Mel handled most of the national media while I travelled from Halifax to Vancouver speaking on the radio and giving newspaper interviews.

The Reviews of The Canadian Encyclopedia

The reviews that followed ranged from complimentary to ecstatic. I had some odd requests from reviewers. One in particular told me that he had been hired to speed read the encyclopedia in a weekend. To make him look good, would I help him by pointing out in advance some errors? Reviewers naturally followed their own interests. Kenneth McGoogan declared that “all things bookish and literary are blanketed.” As examples he noted entries on “Authors and their Milieus,” “Autobiographical Writing” (in both languages), “Literary Prizes,” and “the list goes on.” “It is an intellectual triumph, uniquely Canadian in its approach and outlook,” wrote editor and author Stephen Hume. “It is an adventure that Canadians who want to know more about their land should not miss,” wrote Eric Nichol. “On the scholarly side a magnificent accomplishment,” wrote Jack Granatstein, who also noted that it was easy to read (caveat that Marsh was too involved in the writing). A librarian said that it “belongs just everywhere.”

On a loftier plane others wrote that the encyclopedia “helps us to see ourselves,” and that the editor in chief “has made a noble effort to gather in a phenomenal number of subjects and put them in Canadian perspective.” The Toronto Star noted that the encyclopedia was “a delight to browsers old and young, rich in detail and resourcefulness and perhaps best of all it incarnates a living sense of Canada’s past and present.” The well-respected critic William French wrote that the encyclopedia captured “a nation in a nutshell” and was “an indispensable reference work for anyone with even the slightest interest in this improbable country of ours.” When John Saywell’s review appeared he called it a “superb accomplishment and eloquent testimony to the scholarly maturation of a nation.” (He had been a contributor to Canadiana.)

One reviewer gave it his ultimate compliment that “as someone who owns 4129 reference works, this one will always have a special place in my heart.” In Books in Canada George Galt focused on how the encyclopedia reflected the efflorescence in the arts over the past 30 years. “I am left with the sense,” he wrote, “that a vast and variegated land has met its match in print.” James Reany stretched for a metaphor in Saturday Night comparing TCE to Anne of Green Gables and Alouette, “in a very exciting way, a new communications satellite.” With special music to my ears John Hutcheson wrote in the Canadian Forum “Diderot’s Encyclopédie put the ideas of the Enlightenment on the map. The Canadian Encyclopedia will do the same for Canadian studies.”

Premier Peter Lougheed congratulating me at the launch of the first edition. An encyclopedia editor needs a universal mind. If I did not start with one, I certainly had one at the end.

On an even more literary note Val Cleary in Canadian Literature wrote that we had succeeded in our goal of describing and expressing Canadian consciousness. “They have done so in a way which fascinates because it shows us how Canadians as a collective mentality think, and how they understand their own being.” Historian Viv Nelles in The Canadian Historical Review called TCE “a monument to the integrative power of culture, the myth of a fragile land, the limits of limited identities and the waning of a useful past. James Marsh has bravely held up a reasonably unflawed mirror to his culture.” All that work trying to represent the country now seemed to pay off. “The encyclopedia is probably the closest equivalent that we will have in this generation to an intellectual ‘bee'”.

In my contract with Hurtig, one of my duties as editor in chief was to deliver an encyclopedia that would garner excellent reviews. It was clear that we had accomplished that.

Hurtig was a publisher like no other and commanded attention far beyond the scope of his modest publishing company. He attracted a special audience of nationalistic Canadians who almost certainly purchased the encyclopedia as a gesture of national pride. By Christmas of 1985 almost all of the 150,000 sets were sold. Premier Peter Lougheed and I travelled to Ottawa to present official copies to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in his office and to Governor General Jeanne Sauvé at a dinner party on the outside grounds of Rideau Hall. Once the encyclopedia proved to be a critical as well as commercial success, some of the editors and contributors felt slighted for lack of recognition—it was inevitable that most of the credit would go to Hurtig as the project’s originator—but in the long run most of the people involved came to see their work on the encyclopedia as a highlight of their lives and to feel a part of a great community effort. (I was rewarded personally with the Order of Canada in 1988 and with the prestigious Lorne Dawson Centenary Medal of the Royal Society “in recognition of exceptional achievements in scholarship and research.”)

Two years later Stanké of Montreal brought out a three-volume French edition of the encyclopedia. I knew that Stanké had to change and expand the treatment of Quebec in the encyclopedia to make it more palatable to his audience and I approved most of the changes. In fact I found much of the work that Stanké did to be useful to our own second edition. It was his own heroic effort and I wished that we had been working together earlier. It would have made the engaging of Quebec writers so much easier.

A Second Chance: Kudos and Critiques

The publication of a second, greatly expanded edition in 1988 provided a great opportunity to correct errors, reinstate much of the excised text and to respond to readers and critics. I was astonished by the thousands of letters that we received, most beginning with a compliment before going on to point out some grievous omission or error. An elderly lady in Regina wrote to comment on the small biography of one of her relatives, Hazen Argue. Why, she implored did I pick that man from the entire Argue clan, and she proceeded to provide potted biographies of dozens of Argues far more worthy than “that wretch.” Another reader commented on the biography of Samuel Hearne, correcting the direction that he took on some obscure little river. The reason that he knew was that he had paddled that river himself. Another man pointed out that our statement that an all-weather road between Jasper and Edmonton was built in 1927 must be wrong. “I remember well,” he continued, “trying to get from Edmonton west in September 1929 got stuck in a mudhole at Wolf Creek east of Edsen [sic] and had to spend the night in a barn.”

The second edition of The Canadian Encyclopedia, published by Hurtig Publishers in 1988, added a fourth volume and some 500,000 new words.

Some of the most unpredictable correspondence concerned the illustrated endpapers that Hurtig commissioned. The purpose was to show the diversity of the contents with a representative array of Canadian personalities and symbols. While the encyclopedia itself might have been too rich a source to judge, everybody seemed to have an opinion about the endpapers. Why Wayne Gretzky but not Gordie Howe? We were able to justify or explain the Golden Boy, salmon or astrolabe, Captain Cook, Glenn Gould or Laura Secord. All that was fine, except for “Powlisik.” I had no idea where the artist had found this Inuit face or why he gave it that name (he could never explain) but my lack of diligence was to haunt me until we finally got rid of the offending endpapers. We got hundreds of letters about “Powlisik.” Who was he? Why did we have a picture of him but no biography of him? It was no good to just say, well we had to include an Inuit face, but the truth was that we had no idea who he was. Even reviewers got into the act. My apologetic letters seemed to many an admission that the encyclopedia was not all it was cracked up to be in the way of authority. I was greatly relieved when Hurtig agreed to scrap the endpapers and replace them with a map of Canada.

My assistant Carol Woo patiently responded to every letter. Many complaints turned on those exquisite distinctions that you must love if you are an editor of a reference work. “I realize the difficulty that such a comprehensive work as the Encyclopedia presents,” wrote E.D. Lane. “However, in future editions it might be useful to avoid words like “sea trout” (although I don’t know how) as they usually lead to more questions than answers.” A school principal corrected us about the date for Canada’s first kindergarten (1882 at Jeremiah Suddaby School). Almost always the letters began well. “I hope that you will not consider the comments in this letter to detract in any way from that well deserved sense of achievement,” began J. A. Robertson before correcting some spelling errors and attacking our entry on Nuclear Safety as “journalistic.” Valerie Haig-Brown responded to the article on her famous father by pointing out the difference between “fly fishing” and “sportfishing.”

The encyclopedia seemed to spur some readers to go rooting through their family tree. Mary Burles thought that the assassin of Thomas D’Arcy McGee might have been related to her late stepfather. “Your illustrations are superb,” she wrote, “but I want some information on Darcy McGee’s murder. One of my Irish aunts before she died a summer or two ago said ‘As far as we know none of the family hung. Maybe some of them should have.” Others wrote as did the poet Ralph Gustafson to ask “Please let me know why there is no separate entry on my work.” “It is all very well for us to say that any list can only be representative, never complete and always contestable,” I wrote, “but when you are the person omitted I know it still irks.” (We added an entry in the next edition.)

An encyclopedia certainly brings out the champion nitpickers. Barbara K. Whistler wrote me a three-page letter telling me that our use of quotation marks was “distracting and sometimes irritating.” Some letter writers overstated their case. A group wrote me to regret that “our community, Chemainus, now becoming known world wide as ‘the Little Town That Did’ did not receive its own entry.” No place haunted me so much as Waterloo, Ontario, enraged at being lumped in the encyclopedia as “Kitchener-Waterloo” (following Statistics Canada). The campaign to get Waterloo included was spearheaded by one Betty Gardner, who involved the mayor, school children, and storeowners. To prove the justification of the cause she invited Carol Woo to visit and not to worry too much about the city’s “beer and sausage” image. “Poultry and fish are more to our taste,” she said reassuringly.

Whenever possible we tried to involve our authors in the responses. A sheep farmer from White Rock, BC, W.J. Harper objected to our claim that coyotes are not a threat to livestock. “Coyotes are a serious and on-going threat to livestock,” he claimed, “in spite of continuous poisoning.” We tracked down our author, C.S. Churcher, in South Africa and he responded that “coyotes seldom hunt in packs and usually take prey much smaller than themselves (sheep are larger!).” A onetime farmer himself, he wrote “I have lost sheep to feral dogs and (in Africa) to leopards but never to coyotes.”

I was surprised at the number of young people who wrote letters. Eldon Grant wrote “I just turned 16 and bought these books out of my birthday money. They are the best encyclopedias I have ever read.” A nine-year old boy told us how useful the article on owls was but he wondered why we used no periods in our abbreviation “BC” for British Columbia.

By responding to these comments, verifying the facts and adding articles whenever I thought appropriate I felt that I was making the encyclopedia even more part of the Canadian community.With Edmonton bookseller Laurie Greenwood with Junior, on the cover of Quill and Quire, May 1990.

From a marketing standpoint the second edition turned out to be premature. Hurtig was a small, regional publisher who could not afford to keep a large editorial staff together for another five or ten years. The idea of publishing interim yearbooks, like Britannica or World Book, was never really tested and Hurtig believed that only a successful second edition could keep the enterprise alive. The new set comprising four volumes with an added 500,000 words was launched in September 1989 at the St Lawrence Centre in Toronto. Because there was less immediate demand for the second edition, many of the independent bookstores became annoyed at Hurtig for giving discounts to the chains. Hurtig claimed to have written $685,000 in refund cheques to booksellers. The second edition sold well enough but made it clear that the market was saturated with some 250,000 sets out there.

The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada

The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada (I always hated the name) was an attempt to reach a different market. Britannica and World Book had success with their scaled-down products aimed at younger students. Funded by the federal Department of Communications and a grant from the CRB Foundation of Montreal, The Junior Encyclopedia was a noble adventure in trying to produce a Canadian reference for younger readers. The editors, who included Rosemary Shipton, Carlotta Lemieux, Nancy Foulds, Sean McCuthcheon and Daniel Francis, approached this encyclopedia as a writing rather than a research exercise, attempting to describe the topics in clear concise language. It was not simply a “watered down” version of TCE but an entirely new work. Not being able to assume the basic knowledge that served as a starting point for the reader of TCE, the challenge of “Junior” was to explain the most basic concepts to children who do not know the subjects.

Along with a host of consultants and teachers, we field-tested over a thousand articles with students in classrooms from Alberta to Nova Scotia. The process was extremely valuable as we found invariably that young readers were very specific and concrete in their comments, often going straight to the heart of the matter. The five volumes were beautifully illustrated with over 3000 photographs, drawings and maps but the whole project was in a commercial sense overly hopeful. Once again the reviews were positive. Quill and Quire called it “unquestionably an impressive achievement.

"For too long the Canadian education scene has been restricted to information sources that originate in other places and interpret information with other eyes; this encyclopedia will do much to change that situation significantly," wrote a reviewer.The negative aura around the marketing and sales of the second edition led to a fatal decision by Hurtig to try to market the Junior Encyclopedia by direct mail. I tried to dissuade him and told him that the booksellers would get over their pique at being mistreated during the second edition if they thought that they could sell the product. By the time that the misguided direct marketing campaign was abandoned and reluctant bookstores began to accept the sets, Hurtig was in the financial difficulty that would cost him his company. (Hurtig eventually made a unique arrangement with the booksellers. Rather than purchasing the books from the publisher at a given discount and reselling them at a suggested price, booksellers were paid a fixed commission of $20 for each set sold. The booksellers were not asked to stock copies but took orders that were fulfilled from a warehouse in Toronto. Chains such as Coles refused to take part.) Hurtig Publishers was sold to McClelland & Stewart in 1991. The key element that attracted Avie Bennett, the chairman and owner of M&S, to purchase Hurtig Publishers was the encyclopedia. As for Hurtig, he continued to remake himself in a remarkable way, forming a new political party, running for Parliament and becoming a best-selling author.

Into the Electronic Age

Avie Bennett hired me to continue my role as editor-in-chief, updating material in the encyclopedia and exploring the possibilities of bringing this unique reference work into the electronic age. The time from the appearance of the first edition in 1985 to the sale to M&S in 1991 saw momentous changes in the technology of publishing. In 1981 the magic of a database program called Spires, which ran on the University of Alberta Amdahl mainframe, was explained to me by programmer Ron Senda, who simply shook his head in disbelief when he saw the banks of index cards in our offices. Soon we made the transition from shuffling index cards to organizing and printing out article lists and schedules. We were likely the first encyclopedia in the world to use a computer in this way and it saved us enormous time.

Through our association with the University of Alberta we were among the first to use computers to organize and produce the encyclopedia but the real revolution came when we began to deliver the encyclopedia on computers. CD-ROM seemed a godsend at the time but as demands for multimedia grew it proved very limited and was soon superseded by the Internet.

Around 1982-83 we began to use dedicated word processors to enter and change text and by the second edition we were using university computers to typeset and make pages. (McGuire vehemently opposed these changes, particularly the idea that editors or writers should be anywhere near computers.) All this was moderately revolutionary but the real transformation came not with the use of computers as tools to produce an encyclopedia but with using electronic technology to deliver the encyclopedia. When in November of 1985 Fraser Sutherland of Books in Canada wrote to me to enquire when TCE will “be going on-line in a computer data base,” I naively wrote back saying I thought it was in a data base but had no idea of how it would ever be going “online.”

The idea arose from the spread and evolution of the personal computer through the 1980s. A few initial steps had been taken by Barry Hicks of Hurtig Publishers who shared my enthusiasm for the PC. George Goodwin, a VP at McClelland & Stewart initiated the first real electronic version, on CD-ROM. Goodwin introduced me to Kate Hamilton, who was working with the M&S editors in formatting the text of their books and she in turn initiated me into the arcane world of SGML. She spent a weekend with me going over the process by which I had originally structured the encyclopedia and compiled a set of codes that would not only make the encyclopedia text easy to format and organize for any database program, but would make every transition from one electronic medium to the next extremely easy. (For example the move to the Internet was simple, as HTML is merely a subset of SGML. Other reference works went through the nightmare of stripping codes from Microsoft Word.)

The first disk that we produced was understandably flawed as the developers struggled with the complexities of the new medium. The challenges of creating a CD-ROM for both DOS and Apple platforms, neither of which were sufficiently advanced to deliver multimedia, proved costly but there was enough interest, particularly among educators, to persist. Those were the days when some of the most intense relationships were between perplexed and frustrated purchasers of the CD-ROM and our fulltime support staff.

After a bizarre sidestep in which M&S produced a floppy disk version of the text on 21(!) disks, a saner and more usable CD-ROM was produced with Kaufman Consulting in Toronto. Kaufman had written a superb search engine and produced a professional disk that eventually proved almost as popular as the books. The encyclopedia text was a natural on CD-ROM and offered great advantages over the book versions, with hypertext hot links to related articles, swift and sophisticated searches and, increasingly, multimedia. (Kaufman was naturally most interested in using the encyclopedia to showcase his search engine and resisted my plans to integrate more multimedia and later my insistence that we institute online updates.) We were also able to integrate the Gage Canadian Dictionary with the text of the encyclopedia, along with some 3000 pictures, maps, drawings and videos. In an ever more frustrating attempt to keep up with competing international encyclopedias, particularly Microsoft’s Encarta, we added Roget’s Thesaurus and even the text of the Columbia Encyclopedia!

Posing for the Ottawa Citizen with the single, print edition in 1999. I loved that we were back in print and had a successful media tour across the country, at one time holding 14 interviews in one day, but I feared that the volume would not be a commercial success.

The 1998-99 Canadian Encyclopedia on CD-ROM featured three separate versions, including an updated World Edition with a new interactive quiz called Canucklehead, and introducing a Student Edition with the updated and revised text of the Junior Encyclopedia of Canada. (The latter was a huge disappointment to me as I wanted to create a disk entirely redesigned for younger users. M&S decided for financial reasons simply to use the same interface as TCE.) A Deluxe version included all the material on “World” and five additional disks. A massive project to translate the text into French was completed with the help of a grant from Heritage Canada and The Canadian Encyclopedia was now fully bilingual. (The complex project of translating over 4 million words was co-ordinated by Debra MacGregor out of yet another aging brick house at the University of Alberta.)

By the year 2000 marketing and the attempt to outflank Encarta had gotten out of hand and there were now four electronic versions: World, Student, Deluxe and “National.”

The production and marketing of electronic products proved perplexing to a traditional book publisher. While the launch of the print versions sparked hundreds of reviews in newspapers and magazines and dozens of interviews coast to coast, the appearance of electronic versions did not interest the traditional media. We were competing with the billion-dollar software and gaming industries. We got mentions in the give-away computer papers but no play on the broadcast computer shows which were focused on the advertising money from Microsoft.

Versions of the CD-ROM grew like topsy as M&S tried to solve a market dominated by Microsoft.

While the tensions in the print versions were generally confined to internal editorial spats, relations between editors and programmers and between programmers and graphic designers proved a great challenge in the brave new electronic world. Software developers treated the content as a mere showcase for technology or design and they considered editors as being technologically naive. In any event, the CD-ROM era, which seemed so promising, was fleeting. The little disk that seemed to contain so much could not keep up with increasing expectations for video and sound. DVD, which has proven perhaps the most successful technology in the history of video, never emerged as a delivery platform for multimedia and in any event has been completely superseded by the internet in the delivery of content such as dictionaries and encyclopedias.

A Nostalgic Gesture and the Future

In a last, nostalgic fin de siècle gesture McClelland & Stewart produced a single-volume print edition of the encyclopedia in 1999. Doug Gibson, the editor in chief of M&S had always had great respect for the encyclopedia and longed to see it in print again. The move back into print provided a great opportunity for a thorough edit and verification, long overdue, but the volume was not a commercial success. Despite its bulk, it seemed somehow smaller and less imposing than the multi-volume sets and it was colourless without its illustrations. (Stanké brought out his own single-volume version in French a year later.) Although we generated much greater interest in the press than we had enjoyed in the CD-ROM years and I undertook yet another cross-country press tour, we were never able to recreate the marketing fervour of the mid-1980s. Perhaps the nationalistic ardour in the country had been cooled by years of bickering with Quebec and the provinces. More likely, the world was growing used to finding its information in a completely new way. The Internet had arrived.

With students at the opening of the new children's library in Toronto. The photographer asked us to show how much print information could appear on a single CD. That day, supervising a quiz between two teams of students from downtown Toronto, was one of the most enjoyable I ever had as editor of the encyclopedia.For all its revolutionary character, the CD-ROM business still followed the old book-publishing paradigm, selling individual units to customers through retail or in bulk to departments of education. The Internet changed all that. Unfortunately the idea that money would now be generated by people paying to access databases on the Internet has not proven successful in the encyclopedia or dictionary business. There is too much “free” information out there and Internet users do not expect to pay, unless they are being entertained. The paradigm is unfortunately shifting towards that of television whereby free content is accompanied by advertising. Fortunately, The Canadian Encyclopedia has been able so far to avoid that odious shift by its move in 2000 to the non-profit Historica Foundation (later the Historica-Dominion Institute) and by the continued financial support of Heritage Canada.

The Internet is now not only our means of delivering the encyclopedia but our primary means of working, as I have a disparate staff of editors working across Canada and communicating with one another and contributors by email. Laura Bonikowsky now acts as associate editor continuing to move articles through the editorial process as well as answering the many emails we now receive in place of letters. The editorial team’s experience with the encyclopedia has made them invaluable to other projects with Historica-Dominion, including the creation of web sites and the publication of historical calendars

Avie Bennett (right), chairman of M&S, presents a copy of the CD-ROM to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Trying to show Chrétien the power of the search engine and how his name appeared on the same search list as Chrétien de Troyes and courtly love, the press reported that we had searched for the prime minister and turned up Courtney Love!

The Internet version of TCE was programmed by Netcentrics in Edmonton, with an interface designed by 7th Floor Media in Vancouver. It was launched in Edmonton in October 2001 and remains free of charge and free of advertising for the use of all Canadians (and people worldwide), the realization of the ultimate goal of any reference work. The hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site each month confirm the encyclopedia’s value not only as an authoritative resource in an unstable world but also as a critical cultural expression of that ever elusive chimera, the Canadian identity.

Note: This is a personal memoir drawn from my own experience and recollections, as well as from the Encyclopedia archives now held at the University of Alberta Archive. Mel Hurtig gives his version in his own published memoir and I am certain that the others involved in this great enterprise could add different perspectives. The Canadian Encyclopedia is an important cultural document. It has already been the topic of a number graduate theses and I felt that the 20th anniversary of publication of the first edition was an opportune time to put down my own story. “As you from crimes would pardoned be. / Let your indulgence set me free.” Prospero


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