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Mel Hurtig

The Canadian Encyclopedia was a born-in-Alberta gift to Canada. Edmonton publisher and Canadian nationalist Mel Hurtig had been alarmed at the lack of Canadian content available in encyclopedias, the majority having been released for decades by American and British publishers. Not only was content lacking for the readers of Canada, but also the updates were minimal on the little content that did exist.

In 1985, the former bookseller and owner of the Edmonton-based Hurtig Publishers, released the first edition of The Canadian Encyclopedia, five years in the making. The Alberta provincial government had provided more than $3 million in funding, and each school in Canada received a set of the three-volume work. The encyclopedia proved to be an immediate best-seller, with the first 154,500 sets selling out after four days.
 Featured Audio
 

Arts Alberta #51
In this episode of Arts Alberta, broadcast on Nov. 9, 1988,
Colin Maclean speaks with Hurtig about the Canadian
Encyclopedia's four-volume second edition, and the
publishing process.
 
Listen Now!


 

 

Eventually, though, the encyclopedia would become the bane of Hurtig's existence. A junior encyclopedia in 1991 failed to draw the interest of the previous editions, and resulted in the sale of both Hurtig's publishing house and the encyclopedia to McClelland & Stewart. The Toronto-based publisher would re-conceive the book into a CD-ROM format, which could be updated annually and include the Gage Canadian Dictionary, a thesaurus adapted from the Oxford Thesaurus and Roget's II, most current edition of The Columbia Encyclopedia and Maclean's Year in Review. In 2000, M&S would publish one final single-edition volume in book form.

The encyclopedia itself has undergone further change and was donated in 2000 by McClelland & Stewart chairman and encyclopedia publisher from 1991-2000 Avie Bennett to the charitable Canadian historical education foundation, Historica. Updated in Edmonton under the tutelage of its original editor James H. Marsh, since Oct. 2001, the encyclopedia has been available in English and French on-line at www.histori.ca.

In maintaining a cutting-edge perspective, the bilingual encyclopedia could provide quick access to thousands of articles from 3,500 contributors across Canada. As well, the encyclopedia could cater to young readers through interactive learning via themes, quizzes and games.

Though now retired from the bookselling and publishing trade, Hurtig has not stopped publishing or selling books. He is the author of four works on Canadian nationalism and social issues, the latest being The Vanishing Country: Is It Too Late to Save Canada?, released in 2002. He also remains active on the speaking circuit, and still lives in Edmonton.
 

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