Association of Canadian Publishers: A Brief History

Canadian arts and culture entered a new age in the late 1960s. Along with music, theatre, dance, and visual arts, Canadian writing blossomed in every region of the country, achieving new heights in artistic accomplishment and unprecedented popular success. Canadian Studies programs sprang up at universities across the country, “CanLit” entered the nation’s vocabulary, and new publishing houses emerged to bring Canada’s vibrant new body of literature to the reading public. Those companies shared a commitment to Canadian authors and readers, and believed in the importance of literature in developing a strong and independent nation.

In 1970 Canada’s oldest independent publisher, the venerable Ryerson Press, was sold to New York-based McGraw Hill; for the next forty-five years it operated as a Canadian subsidiary of the US parent company, under the name McGraw-Hill Ryerson. This transaction galvanized the burgeoning community of independent Canadian-owned publishers, who recognized the need to ensure the viability of a Canadian-owned industry, in which all editorial, production, marketing, and financial decisions would be in Canadian hands. In 1971 they joined forces to establish the Independent Publishers’ Association, which incorporated in 1976 as the Association of Canadian Publishers.

From the beginning, the ACP maintained a national perspective. The signers of its incorporating documents included Patricia Aldana, founder of Toronto children’s publisher Groundwood Books; Harald Bohne, longtime Director of University of Toronto Press; James Douglas, co-founder of Vancouver-based Douglas & McIntyre; William Clarke, second-generation co-owner of educational and trade publisher Clarke-Irwin, of Toronto; and James Lorimer, publisher, then as now, of James Lorimer and Co., in Toronto, and now also publisher of Formac Books, based in Halifax.

Over the years, the ACP developed strong working relationships with regional associations across the country, and with the Literary Press Group (LPG). Born as a committee of the ACP, the LPG has evolved into an independent body, which provides sales and distribution services to small presses, and works with the ACP on professional development and advocacy initiatives.

Other initiatives of the ACP have also evolved into major operations, under the auspices of the ACP. Incorporated in 2011, eBOUND Canada supports publishers in their engagement with the digital marketplace. The largest online collection of Canadian books ever assembled, 49th Shelf was launched in 2012; today it provides a rich body of content, curated by independent book professionals, through a discoverability platform for all Canadian-authored print and ebook titles. Top Grade, a semi-annual promotion of Canadian-authored books for K-12 readers, directed to education decision-makers across the country.

From its earliest days, the association has been committed to the conviction that an independent, Canadian-owned and -controlled publishing sector is integral to the health of Canadian literature and Canadian culture generally. For such a sector to be effective, it needs strong public policies and stable public investment; professional practices that support competitive performance; and the ability for industry participants to work together, across many kinds of diversity and vast distances, to achieve its goals. For the past forty years, the ACP has provided support for all of those activities.