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Magazines Challenge Us, and Give Voice to Our Very Best

Matthew Holmes
Matthew Holmes

I was honoured this week to attend the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Awards at Rideau Hall. It’s always a moving ceremony; and for me the Ballroom’s high walls carry the gravity and echoes of other major events this room has witnessed: citizenship ceremonies, the swearing-in of new governments.

For many of us attending “ggbooks,” the evening resonates with a national significance similar to these other moments. Like nationhood—whether at the personal-citizen level or at the moment our country’s government is formed—the memories we unearth, the histories we keep, and the stories we share are fundamental pieces of the Canadian experience. This year’s awards honoured stories that touch some of our deepest scars from the residential school period, explore the vagaries of our languages in translation, or grapple with how we as Canadians understand and respond to today’s geopolitical crises.

Afterwards, a colleague from the Canada Council for the Arts surprised me by describing how essential magazines are to making this award possible—what she meant was that whether it’s journalism on current affairs, poetry or fiction, or a new piece of historical research, magazines often provide the place that these stories are first discovered, developed and shared with audiences. Magazines are the “pipelines” and “platforms” for our very best writers and creators.

Thankfully, the Canadian government has long recognized the importance our magazines play in cultivating and amplifying Canadian voices, through grants and support programs provided through the Canada Council and the Canada Periodical Fund at the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The day after the event at Rideau Hall, I took part in an update from representatives of Canada’s delegation to the NAFTA talks, just back from Mexico. Again, and in a totally different way, I was struck by how important our magazines are to the country’s farming, trade and professional sectors. As NAFTA and Brexit signal profound shifts in the rules and customs of global trade, our industries and farmers need strong Canadian perspectives on the challenges that their businesses grapple with. Whether it’s new protectionist impulses in the U.S. around steel or softwood lumber, or the specificity of our legal, medical and accounting practices—Canadian professionals depend on the technical and timely information only their journals and magazines provide them with.

Sure, our titles also carry the same light news, gossip and entertainment you can find in newsprint and free street-corner broadsides: Canadians still want these things and often choose a magazine to take a “time-out” moment for themselves. But our magazines are so much more than that: they are an important part of the cultural and business fabric of the country, where we confront and question important social issues, solve technical problems, and discover homegrown artists who may one day captivate the world.

It was with this in mind that last week we hosted an event on Parliament Hill to showcase the diversity of Canada’s magazines. Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly gave a speech touching on her own background with magazines, and other MPs shared with me their personal backgrounds as journalists, writers, and readers of magazines. It was a proud moment to see a few hundred of our members’ titles on display in a pop-up newsstand in the halls of our government: from coast to coast to coast, and showcasing every aspect of our society.

We did this to provide Members of Parliament with a visual example of the sheer diversity of voices and interests supported by the Canada Periodical Fund, and how important it is to maintain and modernize this critical support for our periodical industry. With magazines produced in every province and territory and published in 34 different languages, these really are a mirror of our nation.

Whether it was the bold cover of Canadian Art magazine translated into Cree and showcasing some of our incredible visual artists, or the interview in L’actualité with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland against the backdrop of an uncertain future for NAFTA, Canadian Geographic‘s debate on Canada’s national bird that drew global attention, The Western Producer covering the price of bison in Regina, or Saltscapes and Canadian Living helping us plan the coming holiday season—our Canadian magazine brands touch on every aspect of Canadians’ lives and businesses—in print, online and via social media—and provide perspectives that simply do not exist in the same way anywhere else.

As the holidays approach, our gift to you will be something new for Magazines Canada: we’re going to do more to showcase our successes as an industry, and profile some of our amazing members and the incredible work they create every day across all platforms, and supported by the government’s investments, including the Canada Periodical Fund.

In the coming weeks Magazines Canada will share brief profiles of some of our country’s magazines to illustrate the things that set our sector apart—from marquee brands to niche publications. In the meantime, check out a few of these great examples below, or sign up for our free newsletter that shares some of the latest content from our members with you every month!

Canada’s History
“Canada’s Great Women,” January 2016

In 2018, Canada’s History will mark the occasion of the first Canadian women to get the federal vote—one of many moments in the long struggle for universal suffrage. Last year, in conjunction with the “Great Women” issue of Canada’s History, a distinguished panel of female historians rose to the challenge of narrowing down our shortlist. Some of the names were famous; others were obscure. An online campaign invited Canadians to nominate their own great women. The inspiring result was that more than 100 individual names were nominated! Stories of Canada’s great women reached hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

“The Lonely Death of Chanie Wenjack,” October 2016

Maclean’s profiled the release of a new and unexpected solo project by the late Tragically Hip singer, Gord Downie, in October 2016. The Secret Path tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. Maclean’s augmented the story by linking readers to a 1967 cover story reporting on Chanie’s ordeal.

Québec Science
“Trump: Une Anomalie qui Nargue les Politologues,” October 2016

Published days before the 2016 American Presidential election, Québec Science examines American pollsters’ predictions for the election’s outcome, and observes that the reality of Donald Trump’s rise in influence just doesn’t seem to square with the polls, which were, at the time, predicting a victory for Hillary Clinton. An especially interesting read, given the election’s results and the year that has since gone by.