In 1908, William Briggs published the first volume of the Canadian Heroes Series, The Story of Isaac Brock by Walter R. Nursey. This edition is 192 pages, clothbound with a four-colour image of The Death of Sir Isaac Brock by Charles W. Jeffreys depicting Brock falling after being struck by an Ohio rifleman while leading the charge in an attempt to recapture the redan (fortification).
While these books were written as “stories” a note at the front of each edition indicates that the volumes are for children, published under the auspices of the Ontario Library Association, and recommended by the Inspector of Public Libraries.
The preface for The Story of Isaac Brock reads in part,” The story of Sir Isaac Brock’s life should convey to the youth of Canada a significance similar to that which the bugle-call of the trumpeter, sounding the advance, conveys to the soldier in the ranks. Reiteration of Brock’s deeds should help to develop a better appreciation of his work, a truer conception of heroism, a wiser understanding of his sacrifice…. Many a famous man owes a debt of inspiration to some other great life that went before him. Not until every boy in Canada is thoroughly familiar with “Master Isaac’s” achievements will he be qualified to exclaim with the Indian warrior, Tecumseh, “This was a man.”
This book went into multiple printings, exceeding 5000 copies. In the preface to the second edition, Nursey says, “It is gratifying to know that, incomplete as this “story” necessarily is, it has met with a kindly reception from grown-ups as well as young people, and is achieving the purpose for which it was written.”
The second volume in the series is The Story of Tecumseh by Norman S. Gurd, William Briggs, 1912. Similar in style, this edition is 192 pages, clothbound and jacketed. The cover shows another Charles W. Jeffreys’ colour image Tecumseh at the Battle of Moraviantown.
The preface to this 1912 edition reads, “Less than a century has elapsed since the death of Tecumseh, but in that short period of time the figure of the great Shawnee chief has become shadowy and unreal. The place and date of his birth are uncertain, his burial place is unknown. No authentic portrait has come down to us, and the descriptions of his appearance are varied and contradictory.…He is remembered by Canadians as the leader of the Indian allies of the Crown in the War of 1812, but few realize the extent of his services to Canada in her hour of need.”
William Briggs also published Heroines of Canadian History in 1910 by W.S. Herrington. In this slim, 80-page, clothbound volume several Canadian women are profiled. They include Marguerite de Roberval, Madame de la Tour, The Founders of the Ursuline Convent, Mademoiselle Mance to name a few. In addition, there are profiles of people such as Madeleine de Vercheres, who, as a child of 14, staved off an attack by natives for seven days in 1692; Sarah Defield who fought off an American soldier to spare the life of Liuetenant FitzGibbon during a skirmish in the spring of 1813; Laura Secord who, upon overhearing a U.S. plan to march against the British commander Lieutenant FitzGibbon, successfully warned him of the impending attack; Abigail Becker, who saved eight sailors from a shipwreck off Lake Erie in 1854; Sarah Maxwell a Montreal School Principal who saved her students from a burning building, 1907.
There were only two volumes in the Canadian Heroes Series published by William Briggs between 1908 and 1912, despite announcements that subsequent volumes would be forthcoming. Whether the outbreak of the First World War interrupted the publication of further editions is not clear. No subsequent volumes appeared.
William Briggs retired from the Methodist Book and Publishing House in 1918. In 1919, at the request of Dr. Samuel Fallis, the House changed its name to The Ryerson Press and hired a new editor, Lorne Pierce. In his first 10 years, Pierce carried on the publishing plan of his predecessor and published over 100 profiles of prominent Canadians in his Canadian History Readers series.