Magazines | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Magazines are paper-covered publications issued at regular intervals, at least 4 times a year.


Magazines are paper-covered publications issued at regular intervals, at least 4 times a year. Paid magazines are sold on the newsstands or delivered through the mail to subscribers; unpaid or controlled-circulation magazines are deposited free of charge at the homes or offices of specific groups of people defined as a target audience. These 2 groups incorporate consumer, literary, academic, trade and professional journals and are designed to entertain, inform, educate and provoke commentary. With rare exception, all of them carry ADVERTISING, usually in the proportion of 60% advertisements to 40% editorial. In the last decade, magazine supplements in newspapers have all but disappeared while regional (particularly city) and specialty magazines (eg, those dealing exclusively with fashion, travel or women's issues) have flourished.

The history of magazines in Canada is not a story of ideas or particular writers. Canadian innovations in form and content have been slight, contributions to belles lettres competent but not dazzling, and association with trends affirmative rather than provocative. The story of magazines in Canada is a political saga of small independent interests struggling to survive in an environment dominated by foreign interests. The struggle has always been between preserving cultural autonomy and permitting the free flow of ideas. The Canadian market is small, divided into 2 linguistic camps, and stretched through a narrow corridor that makes distribution awkward and expensive.

The First Periodicals

Canadian periodicals were first established in Nova Scotia by transplanted New Englanders. The first Canadian magazine, edited by the Rev William Cochran and printed by John Howe, father of reformer Joseph HOWE, was The Nova Scotia Magazine and Comprehensive Review of Literature, Politics, and News. It commenced publication in 1789, lasted 3 years, and was concerned more with British than colonial affairs. The bilingual Le Magasin de Québec was established by Samuel Neilson in Lower Canada's capital and published from 1792 to 1794. It marked the first attempt at drawing the 2 cultures together through a printed medium.

Until the late 19th century, high production costs, poor distribution and low circulation meant that most attempts at magazine publication in British North America were short-lived and derivative. Various efforts were made to launch literary magazines for select audiences, but they were largely overwhelmed by the newspaper boom of the 1820s. Some notable productions were J.S. Cunnabell's Acadian Magazine and Halifax Monthly Magazine, John Gibson's Literary Garland from Montréal, and Michel Bibaud's various efforts: La Bibliothèque canadienne, l'Observateur, Le Magasin du Bas-Canada and the important l'Encyclopédie canadienne. Many eminent Canadians were published in these outlets, including Susanna MOODIE and John RICHARDSON in the Literary Garland.

By mid-century, Toronto had become an important centre for English-language production with magazines such as The Canadian Journal, Anglo-American and British Colonial. All were consciously literary and all soon failed. The introduction of regular train service, the electric telegraph, and the coming of Confederation gave great impetus to the Canadian magazine industry. American magazines such as Harper's were freely circulating in the country and many people felt Canadian counterparts were necessary to help give substance to the newly minted nationality. Montréal was also an influential centre, with magazines such as John Dougall's New Dominion Monthly, which pursued an aggressive national bias and achieved in only a few years a circulation of 8000.

The Introduction of Photoengraving

The technique of photoengraving was pioneered in Canada and used first in the immensely successful Canadian Illustrated News, which began operations in 1869 and gained a large following principally because of its vivid portrayal of scenery and its stirring images of the NORTH-WEST REBELLION. Its French counterpart was the technically more accomplished, but generally less commercially successful, L'Opinion publique illustré. Other significant magazines of the period were religious in orientation. Particularly important were the Northern Messenger and Methodist Magazine and Review, a magazine of opinion on Canadian affairs. Goldwin SMITH'sCanadian Monthly, National Review, Nation and The Bystander contributed to serious discussion, as did La Revue canadienne and 2 university-based journals, QUEEN'S QUARTERLY (1893) and University Magazine (edited by Sir Andrew MACPHAIL at McGill). Toronto's satirical Grip flourished from 1873 to 1894 and a number of national cultural magazines appeared, such as Canadian Monthly and The Week. Interest in a definitive national cultural expression dimmed after the turn of the century, however, and was only revived in magazine format after WWI with the launching in 1920 of the CANADIAN FORUM.

National news and politics found an outlet in Toronto Saturday Night (1887), which dropped the city name in 1889 (seeSATURDAY NIGHT). This consumer magazine, a feisty combination of social news and political crusades against issues such as divorce or the exploitation of labour, soon developed a highbrow following, and circulation reached 10 000. The Canadian Magazine, launched in Toronto in 1893, was another attempt at a national organ, although this time the object was to challenge quality American competition such as Scribner's and The Atlantic. The Canadian was a mouthpiece for "Wasp" Ontario; it did not often stretch its definition to include French Québec, the Maritimes or even the West, except as an Ontario fief.

The mid-1890s saw yet another attempt to stem the flood of American consumer magazines with the publication of what would become Maclean's magazine. Called the Busy Man's Magazine, 1896-1911, it was at first no more than a digest of previously published pieces. The magazine was successful in attracting advertisers, both from overseas markets and the US, especially after the adoption of American trim size. Maclean's expressed the Canadian national voice of the time - decidedly British and imperial - but it also frequently published such local writers as Lucy Maud MONTGOMERY and Robert SERVICE.

Appearance of Regional Magazines

As the Canadian population stretched westward, magazines of regional and specialized interest began to appear. The Manitoban was launched in 1891 and the British Columbian followed 2 decades later. Busy East (eventually Atlantic Advocate) appeared in 1910, as did the Canadian Home Journal. The latter catered to the growing awareness of women as an important segment in society, although its content focused on recipes and housework. The market for trade and business magazines led J.B. MACLEAN to launch a series that included Canadian Grocer and Dry Goods Review. From the end of the 19th century, farm weeklies also increased in popularity, for example, Montréal's Family Herald and Weekly Star.

Circulation of Canada's top half dozen magazines never amounted to more than 300 000 during WWI, though American magazines flooded the country. In 1927 some foreign materials, mainly fiction, were denied free entry, but this had no appreciable effect on the home industry, and talent continued to drain south. However, Mayfair and Chatelaine, both modelled on American formats, were launched in the late 1920s, with Chatelaine gaining almost 60 000 readers in its first year (1928). Government was finally beginning to listen to the woes of industry, which had greatly increased with the advent of commercially sponsored radio programs in 1928. "The world is listening, not reading" was the slogan that wooed many advertisers, at least temporarily, away from print and into broadcast. In 1931 R.B. BENNETT's Conservative government imposed a content tax on US magazines devoting more than 20% of their space to advertising, with the result that some 50 American magazines began printing in Canada. Mackenzie KING removed the tax when his Liberals regained power in 1935, arguing that it was a tax on thought and literary art. The American magazines immediately returned home and Canadians returned to importing them.

The Influence of American Magazines

The coming of WWII caused magazine circulations, particularly of opinion and information magazines, to increase considerably. Maclean's, for example, reached a circulation of 275 000 in 1940. Canadian editions of American magazines were introduced as well - Time Canada appeared in 1943 - and the American Liberty magazine increasingly used Canadian content.

The influence and sheer presence of American magazines was felt even more after the war. B.K. SANDWELL, editor of Saturday Night, complained that Canada was the only country in the world in which the largest percentage of reading matter was foreign controlled; 86 489 copies of US-owned magazines were bought by Canadians in 1948. A year before Mackenzie King had banned the importation of pulp magazines and comic books, but had exempted supplements distributed with newspapers. The STAR WEEKLY in Toronto became the exclusive carrier of the most popular comics from the US, thus playing havoc with the circulation of the Montreal Star's rotogravure supplement, the MONTREAL STANDARD. In retaliation, the Montreal Star launched WEEKEND MAGAZINE as a supplement in 1951, with an initial circulation of 900 000. In 1952 the combined circulation of Weekend and Star Weekly was almost 2 million - 300 000 more than the total circulation of the 4 leading Canadian magazines of the time.

Television advertising began in 1952 and within one year it accounted for $1 335 000 in sales. The combined threat of weekend supplements, television and American magazines seemed unbreachable, until in 1956 the Liberal government imposed an advertising tax on Canadian editions of US magazines. The following year, however, the Conservatives repealed it.

The O'Leary Commission

In 1960 Grattan O'LEARY, editor of the OTTAWA JOURNAL, was appointed chairman of a 3-member Royal Commission on Publications to study the "position and prospects of Canadian magazines and other periodicals with special attention to foreign competition." The commission found that 75% of the general-interest magazines bought in Canada were American publications, that Time and Reader's Digest took 40 cents out of every dollar of magazine advertising, and that there were only 5 Canadian general-interest consumer magazines, of which Maclean's and Liberty were in poor financial shape (Liberty ceased publication in 1964). When the commission tabled its report in June 1961, its major recommendations were that expenditures made for advertisements in imported publications aimed at the Canadian market be disallowed as income tax deductions and that foreign periodicals containing Canadian domestic advertising be banned from entering Canada.

The DIEFENBAKER government accepted the recommendations but made special reservations for foreign periodicals already established in the country, specifically Time and Reader's Digest. Before these changes could be implemented, the Liberals under Lester PEARSON came into office and the magazine question was shelved until the Special Senate Committee on the Mass Media was struck (1969) under the chairmanship of Liberal Senator Keith DAVEY. The Davey Committee recommended in its report, "The Uncertain Mirror," in 1970 that the O'Leary Commission findings be implemented. Between the time of the O'Leary Commission and the Davey Report, Reader's Digest circulation had climbed from 1 million to nearly 1.5 million, Time's circulation had increased from 215 000 to 444 000 and its advertising revenue had nearly tripled from $3.9 million to $9.5 million. At the same time, television attracted an increasing proportion of brand-name advertising and destroyed the economic base of mass consumer magazines.

Matters continued to drift until yet another official investigation was launched. The Ontario Royal Commission on Book Publishing delivered its final report with some 70 recommendations on 22 Feb 1973. On 7 Oct 1974 Saturday Night, the country's oldest surviving magazine, suspended publication. That same year a group of Canadian magazine publishers, headed by Michael de Pencier, publisher of Toronto Life (founded in 1966 and premier publication of Key Publishers), banded together to form the Canadian Periodical Publishers' Association to foster a Canadian-owned and -controlled magazine publishing industry. Incorporated in 1974, the group offers promotion and distribution services, professional development and lobbying. In 1987 the group had 260 members.

Bill C-58

On 18 Apr 1975 the Liberal government introduced Bill C-58 to eliminate, among other things, the tax concessions enjoyed by Canadian editions of foreign-owned publications such as Time and Reader's Digest. Four days later Saturday Night resumed publication. After the bill passed in Feb 1976, Time announced the end of its Canadian edition and the last issue appeared on 1 March 1976.

One of the greatest beneficiaries of Bill C-58 was MACLEAN HUNTER (with 109 magazines, the largest magazine publisher in Canada), which had long wanted to revamp Maclean's into a newsmagazine. The launch of such a publication, which Secretary of State Hugh Faulkner had informed the Commons was a major purpose behind the bill, occurred on the 18th of September, 1978 under the editorship of Peter C. NEWMAN.

The most obvious contemporary trend in magazine publishing (other than the continuing and overwhelming presence of foreign publications) is the emergence of life-style and specialty magazines, some of which, such as Toronto Life or Western Living, are regional in nature. Sophisticated market research techniques have meant that target audiences - career women, homemakers, travellers, lawyers, or even smaller groupings such as lawyers who travel - can be identified readily and an editorial product designed to deliver appropriate advertising material to the designated consumer. The Kent Commission (1981), discovered that slightly over three-quarters of the population were magazine readers, and that readership was higher among the young and better educated.

The term "general-interest magazine" has little relevance in the contemporary market. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the increasing prominence of controlled-circulation magazines. The largest publisher of such magazines is COMAC, which was founded in 1966 and has 8 magazines including Homemaker's / Madame à foyer, Quest (which folded in late 1984) and Western Living. In late 1983 a rival company launched the largest circulation Canadian magazine, Recipes Only, which has a controlled circulation of 2 million readers and is a prime example of the current trend toward publishing for a narrow and specific market. All these magazines endorse doctrines of affluence and have a clear middle- and upper-middle-class consumer bias. They reflect a glistening internationalism rather than a parochial nationalism and, in that sense, are a mirror of contemporary Canadian middle-class aspirations. See alsoLITERARY MAGAZINES IN ENGLISH; LITERARY PERIODICALS IN ENGLISH.


Magazines in French

Early magazines aimed not simply to inform their readers but to instruct them and entertain them. This vision guided Samuel Neilson when he launched The Quebec Magazine/Le magasin de Québec (1792-94), a 64-page bilingual monthly, containing excerpts from European and American publications, and illustrated by what may have been the first engravings ever published in a magazine. Two similar publications - Le Courrier de Québec (1807-08) and L'Abeille canadienne (1818-19) - met with less success. The Bibliothéque canadienne (1825-30) of Michel Bibaud contained selected excerpts from journals, poetry, anecdotes and local events, as well as a unit of Bibaud's Histoire du Canada. Though the magazine had readers from Québec to Detroit, it was a semi-success at best, for it reached only the élite. La Bibliothéque thus gave way to L'Observateur (1830-31) a weekly which could report local news and thus interest the larger public. But in his Magasin du Bas-Canada (1832) and L'Encyclopédie canadienne (1842-43), Bibaud returned to the Bibliothéque format, concentrating once again on culture.

At this time magazines began a battle which was to prove decisive for their future, against the Roman Catholic Church, all-powerful in Québec in the 19th century. One of the first major conflicts occurred in 1851 when Narcisse Cyr revealed abuses committed by church officials in Semeur canadien, a magazine declared to be heretical and dangerous, whose readers were threatened with excommunication by the archbishop of Montréal. The battle escalated in 1864 when Pope Pius IX published his Syllabus, banning certain books. Monseigneur Ignace BOURGET then threw himself into a crusade aimed at preventing the appearance of any new publications in Québec. The Index included about 20 000 titles and more than 8000 authors, causing the eventual disappearance of a number of publications, including Le Canada (1889-1909), which had denounced the Catholic school system and abuses of authority committed by the church. It quickly found its place in The Index and sales plummeted from more than $350 a month to a bare $25 in Dec 1893.

Purely literary publications, such as Les Soirées canadiennes (1861-65), felt less pressure from the church. In fact, this extremely popular monthly - with prestigious contributors such as François-Xavier GARNEAU, Antoine GÉRIN-LAJOIE and Abbé Henri-Raymond CASGRAIN - caused its own demise when an administrative quarrel split the editorial group. Le Foyer canadien (1863-66), a monthly publishing poetry and critiques, is considered by many as the best literary Canadian magazine of the 19th century, with a press run of 2075 copies and readers from Chicoutimi to Detroit.

At the end of the 19th century, the lack of money made life even riskier for francophone magazines. It was under these circumstances that Georges Desbarats had to cease publication after 3 years of Le Foyer canadien, and of L'Opinion publique illustrée (1870-83), a francophone counterpart to the Canadian Illustrated News. Les Nouvelles Soirées canadiennes (1882-88) said farewell in very similar circumstances.

In 1888, Frédéric Poirier launched Le Samedi (1888-1963), a little magazine which, along with Trefflé Berthiaume's Le Monde illustré (1884-1907), quickly became one of the most important periodicals of the first decade of the 20th century. At first a humour magazine, Le Samedi became general-interest after WWII and turned to sensationalism in 1963, known from then on as Le Nouveau samedi. Le Monde illustré, for its part, carried on from L'Opinion publique. It held, along with Le Revue canadienne (1863-1922), a major place in the life of francophone intellectuals early in the century.

Growing urban concentration and more widespread education meant that traditional magazines no longer met the needs of their readers, who were increasingly drawn from the masses. These readers wanted popularization, variety and light entertainment, as found in American and French magazines. And so La Revue populaire was born (1907-63), whose circulation rose in less than 50 years from 5000 to more than 125 000. Aimed at the whole family, it published short stories, a family column, various pieces of information and, during WWI, news from the Front. But the postwar period was fatal both for it and the austere Canada français (1918-46): faced with ever more competitors, magazines fought for survival by attracting readers with a tempting layout, winning advertisers and, above all, by specializing. La Revue populaire tried to attract a female readership, but they remained faithful to La Revue moderne (1818-1960), one of the first magazines to be run by a woman (Madeleine Huguenin). Very visual, and financed as much by advertising as by sales, this magazine caught the attention of Maclean Hunter Ltd. In October 1960, La Revue moderne merged with a French version of CHATELAINE. Five months later, Châtelaine printed 125 000 copies; the age of modern magazines had definitely come to French Canada.

The specialization which began after WWII increased in the second half of the 20th century. Professional publications appeared on the market and consumer magazines became increasingly important. According to a study by Statistics Canada, in 1984 there were more than 270 francophone magazines, aimed at numerous special interests among the public, from arts, agriculture and astrology to computers and data processing, youth, literature, leisure and sports, fashion and health. While literary magazines are much less prominent, rising educational levels have led to the success of general-interest magazines such as Sélection du Reader's Digest and have caused the explosion of newsmagazines such as L' ACTUALITÉ (270 000 copies in 1986). Other social trends are evident in magazines such as Age d'or/Vie nouvelle (35 000 copies in 1986); La Vie en rose (25 000 copies in 1986); the immutable Châtelaine (300 000 copies in 1986); and Super Ecran (180 000 copies in 1986) for pay-TV subscribers.

Another phenomenon seems both characteristic of the present and a guarantor of the future: concentration of ownership. Survival in the world of magazine competition increasingly depends on access to huge financial resources, more often to be found in corporations' pockets than in private ones. That is why such different groups as Nordais, Maclean Hunter Ltée, QUE BECOR Inc, Télémédia Publishing and Québecmag (1984) have all specialized in magazine publishing, or have at least developed a magazine section. All this suggests that even in our computerized age, this particular media genre is still in demand. It allows the reader to learn more about a whole variety of subjects and delivers a target demographic group to the advertiser. In short, far from being outdated, the francophone magazine in Canada has entered its golden age. See alsoLITERARY PERIODICALS IN FRENCH.


Authors contributing to this article:

Further Reading

External Links