Authored By: Janet Friskney
In 1906, John McClelland and Frederick Goodchild – both former employees of the Methodist Book and Publishing House – became partners in a book supply company in Toronto. They formally registered McClelland & Goodchild as a company in September 1907. In 1909, they began to publish books, as well as distribute them. From 1911, the firm served as exclusive Canadian “agent” for certain foreign publishers, which meant they marketed the publications of foreign firms in Canada for an annual commission plus profit sharing on sales of individual titles (Parker 8-9). George Stewart joined the partnership in 1913, making the firm McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart until 1918, when Goodchild departed. Thereafter, the firm was McClelland & Stewart (M&S). As M&S, this Toronto firm became a highly regarded publisher of original works of Canadiana in English.
Distribution of foreign-authored books was fundamental to the firm’s operations until mid-century, but as early as 1912 the partners exhibited concern for Canadiana by issuing a dedicated catalogue of roughly 600 titles available across its wholesale, agency or published offerings (Spadoni & Donnelly 24). In 1916, the firm issued Canadian Poets, an anthology edited by John Garvin, and L. M. Montgomery’s Watchman and Other Poems, a coup since Montgomery subsequently had the company serve as her literary agent. Public interest in Canadian-authored titles during the First World War proved encouraging, and in 1920 Donald French was hired as literary editor. Over the next decade, M&S issued some Canadiana through direct contracts with authors while producing Canadian editions of other works authored by Canadians by negotiating rights with foreign firms (Parker 11-22). Through the 1920s, Canadian authors to appear on M&S’s list included, among others, poet Bliss Carman, and novelists Charles William Gordon (under the pseudonym ‘Ralph Connor’), Martha Ostenso, Laura Goodman Salverson, and Arthur Stringer. M&S also enriched the visual impact of its books by hiring artists as designers or illustrators. During the Depression and Second World War, M&S substantially retreated from original publishing, but did begin to publish the fiction of Thomas Raddall.
M&S entered a vital new era in 1946. That year, an educational department was established, a colophon adopted, Sybil Hutchinson succeeded French (d. 1945) as literary editor, Hugh Kane returned from war service, and John G. (Jack) McClelland (son of John) joined the firm. Until her departure in 1950, Hutchinson worked closely with M&S authors like poet James Reaney and novelist Henry Kreisel, and reasserted a concern for attractively designed books (Panofsky 92-97). After working in several departments, Jack McClelland became a director in 1948, and then, in 1952, general manager and executive vice-president. Once in the latter position, he focussed on redirecting the company toward original publishing and away from agency publishing. After Stewart died in 1955, McClelland purchased the Stewart portion of M&S shares.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Jack McClelland (president from 1960) worked with Kane (a vice-president from 1955), senior editor Claire Pratt (1956-65), designer Frank Newfeld (later a vice-president), and other M&S personnel to assert M&S as a dedicated, innovative publisher of well-designed, Canadian-authored books. Through these two decades M&S published titles by, among others, Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Earle Birney, Marie-Claire Blais, Austin Clarke, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Laurence, Irving Layton, Farley Mowat, Hilda Neatby, Peter Newman, P. K. Page, Mordecai Richler, Gabrielle Roy, Sheila Watson, and Rudy Wiebe. By the early 1960s, publishing colleague Ted Browne of Longmans Canada described McClelland as “the Canadian publisher,” an appelation M&S subsequently adapted to “the Canadian Publishers” as part of its brand (Browne cited in Robert 31). Through its literary publishing activities after mid-century, M&S, alongside Macmillan of Canada, became predominant in establishing the modern Canadian literary canon. Significant series were also initiated during these decades, including, the New Canadian Library (NCL), a paperback Canadian literary reprint series under Professor Malcolm Ross’s general editorship, which facilitated post-secondary and secondary teaching of “CanLit”; the short-lived, mass-market Canadian Best-seller Library; and the historical Canadian Centenary series.
The late 1960s witnessed the onset of serious financial difficulties for M&S due to over expansion, and the hiring of Linda McKnight and Anna Porter, both of whom became influential editors in the 1970s. When Jack McClelland put M&S on the market in 1971, indicating he might have to sell to US interests, public outcry sparked the Ontario government to provide a low-interest loan. The sale was then abandoned, and McClelland carried on with M&S until the mid-1980s, with Linda McKnight serving as president between March 1982 and May 1985. During the remainder of the Jack McClelland era, M&S continued to publish many of the aforementioned authors, while also adding to its roster writers like Maria Campbell, Adrienne Clarkson, Matt Cohen, William Deverell, Marian Engel, Sylvia Fraser, Basil Johnston, Joy Kogawa, Alistair MacLeod, and John Metcalf. In 1977, M&S also returned to mass-market publishing through the creation of the subsidiary McClelland and Stewart-Bantam, which issued titles under Seal Books; Porter became president of Seal.
After Canadian businessman Avie Bennett purchased M&S in December 1985 (but not the Seal shares), M&S retained its reputation as a dedicated trade-book publisher of original Canadian works. Prominent new authors on its list included poet Lorna Crozier and fiction writers Rohinton Mistry, Alice Munro, Nino Ricci, and Jane Urquhart. Douglas Gibson’s recruitment as publisher facilitated the strength of the list, as did the ongoing editorial savvy of Ellen Seligman. In 1988, M&S also revitalized the NCL under the general editorship of Professor David Staines. In the 1990s, M&S purchased two other Canadian-owned book publishers: Hurtig and Tundra.
M&S’s devolution from Canadian ownership began in June 2000, when Bennett donated 75% of his shares to University of Toronto, but sold 25% to Random House of Canada. In 2012, University of Toronto sold its shares to Random House of Canada, making M&S 100% foreign owned. Today, M&S is an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada.
Archives and Papers
Hugh Kane Papers, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
McClelland & Stewart Papers, William Ready Division of Archives and Special Collections, McMaster University (Hamilton, ON, Canada)
John G. McClelland Papers, William Ready Division of Archives and Special Collections, McMaster University (Hamilton, ON, Canada)
Ruth Panofsky, Toronto Trailblazers: Women in Canadian Publishing. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.
Parker, George L. “The Struggle for Literary Publishing: Three Toronto Publishers Negotiate Separate Contracts for Canadian Authors 1920-1940.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 55.1 (2017): 5-50.
Robert, Marika. “What Jack McClelland Has Done to Book Publishing in Canada,” Maclean’s 76 (7 September 1963): 24, 31-35, 38.
Spadoni, Carl and Judy Donnelly, A Bibliography of McClelland and Stewart Imprints, 1909-1985: A Publisher’s Legacy. Toronto: ECW Press, 1994.