The Canadian Encyclopedia
The story of the Canadian Encyclopedia
This version of The Canadian Encyclopedia, released in enhanced digital interactive form in October 2013, represents the latest incarnation of a project with a unique history. Since the first edition arrived in 1985, Canadians have held a claim few others can make: we have our own national encyclopedia. The idea of covering all branches of knowledge or aspects of a subject in one body of work dates back to 1728 in England. However, a bilingual national edition produced by, for and about the people of a single country, charting its events, culture, history and landscape, remains rare.
The Canadian Encyclopedia plays an essential role in providing Canadians and others with accurate, updated information about our people and country. This has been the case even as the Encyclopedia has made the transition from print to CD-ROM, to its present online format. The first edition, led by Publisher Mel Hurtig and Editor-in-Chief James Marsh, was accurately described by Hurtig as “the biggest publishing project in Canadian history.” It carried close to three million words in three separate volumes, featured more than 2,500 contributors and included more than 9,000 articles. It was an immediate, impressive success: the already-ambitious original print run of 154,000 copies had to be increased to 463,500 copies to meet demand. A second edition in 1988 included 500,000 new words; two years later, a five-volume Junior Encyclopedia was published. In 1991, Toronto-based publisher McClelland & Stewart acquired the Encyclopedia and eight years later, Avie Bennett, the M&S chair and prominent philanthropist, transferred ownership to the Historica Foundation, of which he was also chair. (The Foundation was one of the forerunners of the current organization operating the Encyclopedia, now known as Historica Canada.) In 2003, the Encyclopedia incorporated the content of the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, which included some 3,000 articles and 500 illustrations.
Today, the number of articles in the Encyclopedia – more than 19,500 bilingual – is roughly four times the original total and growing (about 60 articles are revised or created every month). The list of more than 5,000 contributors includes David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Piers Handling, Daniel Latouche, the late Pierre Berton and Marc Laurendeau.
The move to digital, made in 2001, means the Encyclopedia is available free to anyone with Internet access; it now receives more than eleven million unique visitors annually for 25 million page views. The Encyclopedia contains more than 30,000 multimedia items including images, maps, games, audio and video. Multimedia is augmented through acquisition and partnerships with Maclean’s magazine and The Canadian Press. The new interactive features include curated content exhibits, interactive timelines, immediate updates of important events and a user-generated content map that invites Canadians to share their stories. The site also offers a new learning centre for teachers and parents that contains classroom resources, quizzes and themed study guides.
The Encyclopedia belongs, in a sense, to all Canadians. Nevertheless, its enduring success is particularly due to several people and institutions, including: its publisher, Mel Hurtig; the generosity and commitment of Avie Bennett; the editorial leadership of James Marsh until his March 2013 retirement (he is now editor emeritus); the Alberta government of Peter Lougheed, which provided financial backing for the first edition; and the present support of the federal Canadian Heritage department, now led by Steven Guilbeault. Enhanced features and content in the present edition are the work of staff and contributors led by Director of Branding & Digital Media Chantal Gagnon and Managing Editor Eli Yarhi. We welcome your thoughts, ideas and contributions.
Anthony Wilson-Smith, Publisher