Friday, December 09, 2011

History of Canadian magazines

In the late 1980s, historian Patrick Dutil was a policy advisor to the Ontario government. In the midst of the Meech Lake Accord controversies, he was appalled by the low level of discussion and commentary he found in Canadian journalism.  He had small children, a recent Ph.D, and neither knowledge nor connections in the magazine field.

But he thought something needed to be done.

The Apple Macintosh had recently appeared. Dutil took a night school desktop-publishing course from the Toronto school board, pulled together $5000, and started cold-calling people he thought might be willing to contribute to a magazine he called The Literary Review of Canada.  By then he was working for TVO, but he didn't tell them he was also becoming a magazine editor-publisher. The LRC was a nights-and-weekends avocation.  Dutil edited and published, and did everything from soliciting unpaid contributors to schlepping packaged copies down to the post office.

Fifty-five monthly issues in, Dutil had just secured his first grant for the magazine, $10,000 from the Canada Council, when Ottawa journalist and teacher Anthony Westell wrote him out of the blue: "I like what you are doing.  Do you need help?"  In the end, Dutil handed over the magazine, its subscription lists, and the $10,000 grant to Westell and some partners in Ottawa in exchange for his original $5000 investment.

I met Patrick Dutil last night at a fairly glitzy party the LRC was throwing to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.  It's still a shoestring operation, trying to run a literature-and-policy review on a subscriber base smaller than the number of people a single commuter train takes out to the suburbs every night  -- so subscribe! -- but it now has some significant angels and lots of prominente among its writers and supporters. It's back in Toronto, and it  looks strong and secure, as much as those thing exist in Canadian publishing, and there is excellent stuff in the magazine.  So there was a deserved amount of satisfaction and congratulation in the air.

Dutil and his role went largely unmentioned last night.  He chatted with friends about such issues as, well as the fact that a terrific and important work of Canadian history like his recent Canada 1911: The Decisive Election that Shaped the Country (co-written with David MacKenzie) goes unreviewed and unnoticed in the major newspapers and magazines of the country.  There's still work to be done....
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