A PIECE OF BOOK HISTORY BITES THE DUST

On the north side of Dupont Street in Toronto, just east of Bathurst Street, stood an old red-brick factory.
Until this week.
Now the former printing shop has been torn down, to make way for what is promised will be attractive “Condos”. So what once was part of a sturdy old industrial part of the central city is swallowed up by the advancing residential Annex from the south.
Why should this matter to people outside Toronto, or to those who are not city planners? Because that old, anonymous red-brick building played a huge part in transforming the world of Canadian books.
The man behind this shift was Barry Broadfoot. He was the former Book Review Editor at the Vancouver Sun who had quit his job in the hope of writing a new kind of book that would transform Canadian History. With a tiny tape recorder in his hand he had criss-crossed the country in his Volkswagen Beetle, asking ordinary people “What happened to you in The Depression?”
Their extraordinary answers became TEN LOST YEARS, 1929-1939: Memories of Canadians Who Survived The Depression.
Along the way, however, there was a major transcribing and typing challenge for Barry, and a major editing challenge for me. In STORIES ABOUT STORYTELLERS I talk about how the ratio of stories we cut out, messily, was about 40 to1. I also explain that Barry “was a fast, inelegant typist who resented conventions like using upper-case letters at the start of sentences, and his typewriter sometimes made holes in the cheap paper, so the pages were arguably the ugliest ever submitted in the history of Canadian publishing,”
This led to major problems when the manuscript went off to the typesetters in their sturdy red-brick building on Dupont Street.

I go on to explain the process. “In those days, children, people typed manuscripts, then they were edited with marks in pen or usually pencil, and then they went to people called “typesetters, WHO RETYPED THE WHOLE MANUSCRIPT, from beginning to end. In this case, the ill-typed, heavily edited manuscript was so illegible that the typesetter-printer (Bob Hamilton, whom I worked with later) pleaded with me to set up shop in their building so that I could translate the constant tricky words right on the spot.
“And there — if I had any doubt about the power of the stories in the book — I received inspiring confirmation of the book’s appeal. The typesetters — hardened old pros — simply could not get enough of Barry’s stories, and talked excitedly about them over coffee and lunch. It was clear that we were on to a winner.”

And what a winner TEN LOST YEARS proved to be. It sold over 200,000 copies, in hard-cover. It established oral history as an exciting new form of Canadian non-fiction. It made Barry Broadfoot a major new author. And, to be to selfish, it helped to launch my publishing career.
And it left me nostalgic about that old building on Dupont Street, and wanting to honour its passing.

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4 comments on “A PIECE OF BOOK HISTORY BITES THE DUST

  1. Carolyn Gossage says:

    Hi Doug.. Ignoramous that I am .. your piece was most enlightening. Sad to think another piece of Toronto’s past has fallen victim to the ever-increasing tear-down trend. I also very much enjoyed your take on the latest plagiarism issue involving Mavis Gallant. BTW .. will be driving right past you ( well almost) on Thursday afternoon @ 3:30 on my way home from downtown. If you are going to be in residence, could I stop in and pick up the copy of ‘The Saboteur’ ? Hope you & Jane are enjoying arelaxing Labour Day weekend. All best, Carolyn

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Nice to hear from you about this Carolyn. Sadly, I was not around on Labour Day, and am just catching up. But try us by phone to pick up The Saboteur, which awaits you.
      Doug

  2. audrey says:

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Having lived in Toronto many
    years ago I can appreciate the significance of one of its historic buildings.
    Please continue to inform us about our Canadian publishing and literary history.
    AW

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Douglas Gibson says:

    Audrey, I’m glad that this piece of publishing history caught your eye. I have more to tell! doug

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