A Tribute to Shelagh Rogers

I was badly shaken by the news that Shelagh Rogers has decided to end her CBC programme about books this summer.

For what seems like centuries, Shelagh’s smiling voice (yes, the smile came through the microphone, as if by magic) had enchanted listeners near and far. She even was part of the Peter Gzowski era, when CBC attention to Canada’s major books was essential to their success. I remember those days well, as a thrilled Publisher, exulting in the impact such CBC support had on our books. And Shelagh (I even learned the Irish spelling) was a major part of it all.

Miraculously, she was able to stay on long after those days ended, and her bubbling enthusiasm continued to bring many authors to our attention, year after year. For many authors she was their first contact with THE BIG TIME, yet that contact was always easy and fun.

Her move to the West Coast was interesting, since she moved along with her love, the CBC technician whom I knew well; Charlie used to record my stumbling movie reviews for Sue Anne Kelman around 1980. From her BC base Shelagh was a lively and very enthusiastic contact with authors of all sorts, and her excitement showed. Over time she became the CBC’s book person….and now those days are almost gone. But let me have the pleasure of paying tribute to the wonderful Shelagh Rogers.


Past and Present

Recently I was reminded of my life at McClelland & Stewart, which I’ll simply call M&S. Thanks to Avie Bennett, I was able to run the grand old company from 1988 till 2004, until it was time to move on, and bequeath control to Doug Pepper and his successors. But the company then was so much at the centre of Canadian publishing that it was an unforgettable time for me.

And for the men and women who worked there.

There were about a hundred of us, and we were part of a large professional family. I remember that I made a point of beginning each day by walking around our office. It took up the 9th floor of the building on the North-east corner of University and Dundas (now the subject of major renovation plans). My daily circular wander, from office to office, proved to be amazingly efficient, turning me from a remote corner office occupant, available only through carefully planned official encounters, to a guy who was ready for a chat any time. Things got done.

And many fine books were published by our team, and many prizes were won. Simply listing the books we published – by authors with names like Ondaatje, and Mistry, and Davies, and MacLennan, and Mitchell, and Atwood, and Urquhart, and Munro – looks like boasting. But it is a factual reflection of the excellence of the books we published, up to and including the major non-fiction best-sellers we brought out by Prime Ministers named Trudeau, and Mulroney, and Martin.

And there was the unforgettable John C. Crosbie. He was so determined to publicise his memoirs, at M& S’s expense, that he and I came to exchange strong words about it. On the phone his Newfoundland accent did nothing to hide his disapproval of our reluctance to spend money, on him. “You goddam poblishers” he complained. “If you walk across a nickel lying on the soidwalk…..yer arse starts snappin’”.

I was deeply shocked.

The M& S links continued at an event last week. At St James Chapel on Parliament Street, a funeral was held for an old M&S friend, Doug Kehoe. Doug worked for many years in sales, as a specialist dealing with libraries and librarians. He was greatly loved, and his funeral should have attracted dozens of his old friends. It was indeed a well-organised event, with our old colleague Pat Kennedy speaking well about him, and bringing Doug’s charming essence back to life.

But, sadly, although lovingly supported by Doug’s husband, Richard, the funeral drew very few of his old colleagues. Who knew how many other old friends would show up?  I was there, but was disappointed. It was great to see Pat there, as large as life, and to run into Jenny Brandy and Betty Quan. But so many others remained outside our grouping.

Sadly, the truth is simply that the clock is catching up with us. I look forward to meeting other members of our M&S family……before it is too late. And I pass on my good wishes to our valued colleague, Krys Ross, as she works to bring support to her beloved Ukraine.

Douglas Gibson has a new book! Great Scots: Celebrating Canadian Writers with Links to Scotland

I have a new book, illustrated by my co-author Anthony Jenkins. His superb caricatures of the 35 writers make this a magnificent book to enjoy.

Among the 35 writers included in this book is Alistair MacLeod. Famously, he once wrote that “No one has done more for Canadian Literature than this man, Douglas Gibson”

The book has been published by the Scottish Studies Foundation and I have donated my royalties to the Foundation to be used as a fundraiser for the Scottish Studies program at the University of Guelph.

Here is what others have said about my book:

“What do Alexander Mackenzie, Robert Service, and Margaret Atwood have in common with L.M. Montgomery, Mavis Gallant, and Hugh MacLennan? If you have a pretty good idea, it’s probably because of the lifework of Douglas Gibson, the legendary ex-publisher who put together this celebration of Scottish Canadian writers. Yes, the above figures are all linked to both Scotland and Canada, and all have contributed to the unrivalled Scottish tradition of Canadian writing. Great Scots is at once a labour of love and a career capstone.” KEN McGOOGAN, author of How the Scots Invented Canada.

“Doug Gibson takes us on a chatty and conversational ramble through Canadian history and literature, and his own successful career as a publisher, in this engaging volume that will make every Scots Canadian chest swell with pride.” CHARLOTTE GRAY, author of The Promise of Canada.

You can purchase a copy of Great Scots ($30 Canadian) and participate in this fundraiser by going to the Scottish Studies Foundation.

Here is the link: (Copy it into your browser)


I hope you enjoy the book.

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I was pleased to see that the lead review in Sunday’s New York Times was a new collection of stories, Life Without Children, by Ireland’s Roddy Doyle. Roddy and I became friends after he toured Canada to promote an earlier book, and visited Calgary and Banff when I was hanging around, a friendly Publisher trying to be a helpful Canadian host. I often did things like this, once stepping in to help an under-manned Calgary Authors Festival event, where I got to introduce three authors, including the remarkable James Houston. He stole the show with his opening line from the stage, “I’m a REALLY old guy! And I’ve had a hell of an interesting life!” (In the general celebration afterwards, one young woman noticed how much fun I was having, as a Publisher. She asked a shrewd question; “How do I get to do what you do?” I hope she made it.)

In one of my books I tell the story of how Roddy’s visit to the Banff Festival coincided with rutting season for the elk who roamed around the Banff Centre for the Arts, where we were all staying. I had been there a few years previously, also at rutting time.

There had been an incident.

Guy Vanderhaeghe, the brilliant novelist from Saskatoon, had come out after breakfast in the cafeteria, to find a male elk blocking the way to his residence up the hill. The elk looked frisky, so Guy, a sensible man, decided to wait until the elk and his harem moved on. Unfortunately, a young woman came out of the cafeteria and headed straight up the hill. Guy, a polite man, not inclined to issue instructions to strangers , suggested that, um, it might be smart to wait until the elk drifted away.

The woman was not impressed. “I will walk wherever I please”, she said, and began to march up the hill.

In Guy’s words, “She ended up behind a tree”. She was now keenly aware that the huge elk’s antlers, and its sharp hooves, were dangerous weapons. As Guy tells it, in order to help he took out a white handkerchief and started to wave it at the elk. Shyly.

Enter Robert Kroetsch, in Banff as a poetry instructor. Surprisingly, his poetic skills gave him the confidence to stride straight at the elk, shooing it away. The trapped woman scuttled off, not pausing to thank Bob Kroetsch or Guy Vanderhaeghe, or his white hankie.

Now, years later, Roddy Doyle was in Banff in the Fall. Rutting time is accompanied by very serious annual warnings about the dangers. Like me Roddy was staying at the Banff Centre, and we made sure that he took the elk warnings seriously. Roddy, a small, neat man (whom I later saw on a visit to Dublin, along with Colm Toibin, whose 2021 novel, The Magician, I warmly recommend) was very surprised by this threat. This was new to him, he explained to his Banff Centre audience, in his North-Dublin accent. He was prepared for most of the hazards facing a touring author, but these had never before included “the danger of being focked by an elk.”


Claude Aubry’s Agouhanna

Fifty years ago, in Spring 1972, I published a book about a young Indigenous boy, growing up in Canada “just before the coming of the white man”. It was intended to attract young readers, before the age of 12, and, at 79 illustrated pages, sold for $4.50.

Brave days!

And it was a brave book, because young Agouhanna was , as I recall from a phrase we used to promote the book, “the little Indian who was afraid”. He was terrified of the wild forest, its noise and its silences, and as a chief’s son, he was not naturally inclined to pass leadership tests with ease. Yet as a boy who would not eat meat out of respect for other living creatures he was determined to become a man without violence or warfare.

Of course, this was a book written about native life by a white man, which raises questions in our minds today . But it was written in French, a fact that gave me great pride, although I had little to do with the fine translator, Harvey Swados, or the illustrator, Julie Brinckloe. The author was the amazing Claude Aubry.

Claude was a proud Francophone. born in Morin Heights in the Laurentians in 1914. As a country boy he had to walk three kilometres through field and forest to get to school. He was a good scholar, and in due course got his B.A. from the University of Montreal. As a bilingual student with impressive knowledge of English he got his B.L.S. from McGill, and became a major figure in the Library world, eventually becoming the Director of the Ottawa Public Library and of the Eastern Ontario Regional Library System.

And he wrote! Two of his books, The King of the Thousand Islands and The Christmas Wolf, won major Canadian prizes. Meanwhile, besides Agouhanna, with its sympathetic look at another culture, he gave us all the remarkable book The Magic Fiddler and Other Legends of French Canada.

I knew him well. Somehow Claude and I developed such a friendship that distinguished publishing events would find their cocktail parties disturbed by the white-haired Claude and the long-haired Doug, sneaking around other guests, firing imaginary pistols at each other. We were both good at it, as I recall. And he was a delightful man. I’m happy to pay a tribute to him now.

An Interesting Interview with Douglas Gibson

Please see the link below, which reveals a long, and very unusual, interview with people in Edinburgh who run a site dedicated to publishing in Scotland. They conducted a very thorough interview with me, where I talk at some length about my Scottish background, and then my career in Canada.

By the way, Anthony Jenkins and I have just completed a new book, GREAT SCOTS: Major Canadian Author with Links to Scotland…….By Douglas Gibson, illustrated by Anthony Jenkins.

The search is now on for a Publisher to take on these 35 interesting writers, from Sir Alexander MacKenzie all the way through John Galt to John Buchan/Lord Tweedsmuir and Lucy Maud Montgomery and Alistair MacLeod all the way to Alice Munro, and beyond!

Publishing in Canada: Interview with Douglas Gibson

Celebrating Alice Munro’s 90th Birthday

Today’s Not-so Deliberate Mistake. Alice was born, of course, in 1931, not 1921, as I foolishly wrote here.

Douglas Gibson

On Saturday, July 10, 2021, Alice Munro will turn 90. Since she is , so far, Canada’s only Nobel Prizewinner for Literature, this will be an occasion for the country to mark with pride.

In 1921 The Wingham Advance-Times announced the birth: “Laidlaw – In Wingham General Hospital on Friday, July 10th, to Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Laidlaw, a daughter, Alice Ann.” From that simple beginning in Huron County, Ontario, Alice Laidlaw went on to a career that involved meeting and marrying a man at Western named Jim Munro. In time he became a bookseller in Victoria, with his wife Alice working in the bookstore, while producing three fine daughters and, oh yes, writing short stories on the side.

Those short stories proved to be the beginning of a major literary career, so that one important magazine, The Atlantic, stated with confidence in 2001 that “Alice Munro is the living…

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Celebrating Alice Munro’s 90th Birthday

On Saturday, July 10, 2021, Alice Munro will turn 90. Since she is , so far, Canada’s only Nobel Prizewinner for Literature, this will be an occasion for the country to mark with pride.

In 1921 The Wingham Advance-Times announced the birth: “Laidlaw – In Wingham General Hospital on Friday, July 10th, to Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Laidlaw, a daughter, Alice Ann.” From that simple beginning in Huron County, Ontario, Alice Laidlaw went on to a career that involved meeting and marrying a man at Western named Jim Munro. In time he became a bookseller in Victoria, with his wife Alice working in the bookstore, while producing three fine daughters and, oh yes, writing short stories on the side.

Those short stories proved to be the beginning of a major literary career, so that one important magazine, The Atlantic, stated with confidence in 2001 that “Alice Munro is the living writer most likely to be read in a hundred years’ time.”

Consider the list of books that she has produced over her career– all of them, please note, collections of short stories, although one of them, Lives of Girls and Women, 1971, was inaccurately presented as a novel, because of the publishing world’s belief in those days that “short stories don’t sell”. Alice Munro helped to change that.

In order of publication Alice Munro’s books are, Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, Something I’ve been Meaning to Tell You, Who Do You Think You Are? (published outside Canada with the inferior title The Beggar Maid), The Moons of Jupiter, The Progress of Love, Friend of My Youth, Open Secrets, Selected Stories, The Love of a Good Woman, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Runaway, and The View from Castle Rock. An astonishing record.

Now, sadly, Alice is not writing any new material. Instead she is living quietly at home in small town, Ontario, and is avoiding any further public engagements. But her stories live on, and her millions of admirers, like me, (and I was lucky enough to work with her from Who Do You Think You Are? onward until The View from Castle Rock) will wish to celebrate her long life.

Supporting the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

Recently I learned that this Award was in grave danger of disappearing, because the money to keep it alive was shrinking. I knew that over the years the annual Prize had played a huge role in advancing the careers of some authors. I knew, too, that in a modern world of shrinking financial returns for writers the money won by the successful author is very useful . Just think……food, drink, warm clothes!

So, encouraged by the example of my friend Terry Fallis, I made a contribution.

Then, I realized that instead of just making a financial contribution I could tell a few stories about Leacock, the Award, and me. One thing led to another, and this week David Mallinson, in charge of the fund-raising drive, published my essay.

I’m attaching it here, for your pleasure:–


When I was a boy growing up in rainy Glasgow, inside the school library I came across the work of Stephen Leacock. His Nonsense Novels and Literary Lapses had me chortling, and wanting to learn more about this very funny writer. It turned out that he was a Canadian. Aha! Obviously Canadian writers were excellent. If I were to get the chance to visit Canada….

One thing led to another, and after St. Andrews I got a scholarship that took me to Yale. After that I got a Greyhound Bus pass that took me across America, so that I entered Canada off the ferry at Victoria. Heading east I spent many hours gazing out of the bus window at lakes and trees in Northern Ontario. Then fields and farms and maple trees appeared, and soon we were approaching a sunny little town of orange brick named Orillia. Wait a minute! Surely this was the place that Leacock had….. and of course it was, and in a sense I had arrived at the Canada I was seeking.

We got to stretch our legs there, and the sun was shining, and the little town did indeed look like a scene of “deep and unbroken peace” – although I knew that, in reality, the place was “a perfect hive of activity”.

Some months later, in March 1968, I got an editorial job in Toronto. The very first book I got to edit was, of course, a biography of Stephen Leacock.

That book, a serious study by Montreal’s David M. Legate, was not a candidate for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. But I have a weakness for publishing funny books, so over the years I have been involved with many celebrations of this important Award. The winning authors included Harry J. Boyle (who enjoyed being Mariposa’s Honorary Mayor, and who changed my life by introducing me to a Huron County friend named Alice Munro). There was Robert Thomas Allen (author of Children, Wives and Other Wildlife) who at the grand Dinner was delighted, but shy. Donald Jack (after winning the Leacock Award for both Three Cheers for Me and That’s Me in The Middle ) played up to the role of his character, Bartholomew Bandy, by dressing in a cocked hat. The irrepressible W.O. Mitchell misbehaved, and to my horror got into a public spat with a cousin.

I’ve been involved with publishing many former Leacock Award winners like Eric Nicol, Pierre Berton, and Robertson Davies. But perhaps the best story involves Terry Fallis. Terry, whom I knew as a friend, had self-published a funny book called The Best Laid Plans in 2007. But its future was very limited. Until Terry read that self-published books could be entered for the Leacock Award. So he entered, and won! This brought me into the picture very fast, and I went on to publish this hidden book, which has now sold over 100,000 copies!

So the Leacock Award continues to do very good work. It deserves our support.


If you would like to help the Leacock Award Fund-raising drive, use the link here, or copy it into your browser.


TRUE ROMANCE…..A final note, which you may know if you’ve followed my book, STORIES ABOUT STORYTELLERS. There I talk about how, having lured me to Canada, Leacock is apparently still hovering over me. In the summer of 2001 I went to Geneva Park, near Orillia, to give a speech to the Couchiching Conference on globalization and publishing, or something equally grand. At the conference was a member of the board named Jane Bartram, who was to my smitten eyes clearly The Most Fascinating Woman in the World. During the first evening’s sober political conversation I attracted her attention by recounting what I had learned that day about the rules of the Jumping Frog Competition at the Sutton Fair, Leacock territory in every sense. Our first date was a canoe ride together on Lake Couchiching, where we did not quite reach Leacock’s Old Brewery Bay on the opposite shore. But having brought me to Canada he was still obviously running my life. Jane and I were married within the year, and are still going strong, 19 years later .

Keep up the good work, Professor Leacock.





These are difficult days for all of us. Imagine how hard it must be for a young author to bring out a new book. And for the gallant publisher, in this case Invisible Books, trying to give an exciting new book a virtual launch on April 1, 2020, into a world we barely recognise.

I’m glad to play my part in beating an enthusiastic drum, or ten, because I know Claire Caldwell and her work very well. She is a cousin of mine! Her grandfather, Douglas Caldwell (after whom I was named) was my mother’s first cousin. Her father, Doug Caldwell, and her mother Judy McAlpine, both CBC Radio stalwarts in their day, are good friends. And right now they’re bursting their britches with pride at Claire’s new book.

GOLD RUSH is an 80-page collection of poems. The publisher’s catalogue description is intriguing. You can read the entire description at the website invisiblepublishing.com/product/gold-rush . It begins: “From the Klondike to an all-girls summer camp to the frontier of outer space, GOLD RUSH explores what it means to be a settler woman in the wilderness.” The description ends: “Whether they’re trekking the Chilkoot Trail, exploring the frontiers of their own bodies and desires, or navigating an unstable, unfamiliar climate, the girls and women in these poems are pioneers — in all the complexities contained by the term.”

Obviously, I’m too much of a cheerleader to be totally reliable guide to the quality of Claire’s poems. So let’s turn to JOHN IRVING:    “A salute to Neil Young’s enduring prophecy “mother nature on the run”, but it’s scarier now — it’s not the 1970s. Claire Caldwell is an environmental doomsayer, but she’s also a comedic, antic storyteller, and she’s great at dark endings. Wilderness women are her storytellers; they speak with the melancholy of country music. “One day, I vanished,” says one. Another says, “To wear the moon like a breast.” From actresses fording a river: “Applause had softened us.” Nothing soft about these poems.”

Thank you, John Irving.

ABOUT CLAIRE CALDWELL. Claire is a children’s book editor at Annick Press (another fine reason to give her our support, an editor who writes!). She is also a kids’ writing workshop facilitator. Her debut poetry collection Invasive Species (Wolsak and Wynn) was named one of The National Post’s top 5 poetry books of 2014. Claire, who spent many of her early years in the Yukon, was a 2016 writer in residence at the Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon. She was the 2013 winner of The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize. She has a BA from McGill, and an MFA from the University of Guelph.