On Books & Reading

On Books & Reading

On Books & Reading was published by The Ryerson Press, December, 1954

The booklet On Books & Reading: The address by His Excellency The Right Honourable Vincent Massey, Governor-General of Canada at the 125th Anniversary Dinner of The United Church Publishing House and the Ryerson Press, October 19, 1954, was published by The Ryerson Press in December, 1954. Only 1600 copies of this booklet were printed and distributed to “Their Friends at Christmastide, 1954”.

Vincent Massey was a career diplomat and served as Governor-General of Canada from 1952-1959. His 1951 report, The Massey Report, was the basis for the formation the National Library of Canada and the Canadian Council of the Arts. He also founded Massey College at the University of Toronto and The Massey Lectures.

In his address on the occasion of Ryerson Press’s 125th anniversary, Massey paid tribute to Book Steward C.H. Dickinson for his leadership and to Book Editor Lorne Pierce for his creative editorial work over the past several decades.

Massey admitted to knowing very little about the business of publishers and publishing, save to point out that once having accepted the invitation to address the group he turned his hand to familiarizing himself with terms such as “cast-offs, cross-heads, captions and cases”.

Massey offered sympathy and to understanding the dilemma of publishers and the publishing community. He quoted a German writer as follow:

“To write books is easy. It requires only pen and ink and the ever patient paper. To print books is a little more difficult, because genius so often rejoices in illegible handwriting. To read books is more difficult still, because of the tendency to go to sleep. But the most difficult task of all that a mortal man can embark upon is to sell a book.

Massey contemplated, in 1954, the fact that “there are many today who are ready to proclaim that books will find little or no place in this age of mass media. It has even been claimed…that, “Radio and TV have books on the ropes.”’

He pointed out that civilization endured for thousands of years before the appearance of the printed book. “We must also remember that printed books have been circulating only for some five centuries, and our society has known general literacy for little more than a hundred years. One might conclude that a widespread and constant use of books may only be a slight interlude, a transition, shall we say, between natural and scientific forms of communication. Books, it may be argued, will remain with us, but once again will be confined to libraries for the use of the cloistered scholar. The world will pass them by, securing its information through more attractive, more convenient, more striking, and broader channels.”

Massey went on to say that he believed books were obviously still the obvious means for recording and communication of facts in ample, precise and coherent form. He said, “In our age, marked by a progressive revelation of new and significant knowledge, there is a constant demand for information which cannot be met by a series of ‘radio talks,’ however good. On the contrary, as we all know, the usual response to a satisfying series on addresses on the air, is the demand that they be printed. As a means of serious communication there may be supplements to, but there is no substitute for the clear, adequate, permanent and portable book.”

Of publishers, Massey had this quote to offer: “The feeling that one may be building with permanent materials, the knowledge that one’s name is associated with books that enshrine profound thought and the triumphs of the creative imagination add a fascination to the best publishing. To offer the public what it wants, to pander to the worst prejudices of the moment, may be the speediest way to profits, here as elsewhere; but it is a dull road to follow. Publishing has far more thrilling adventures to offer the man who is ready to accompany pioneers along fresh paths; eager to help overcome apathy, ignorance, and prejudice; anxious that, above all, the lamp of truth should be kept burning. It may not yield the same monetary reward, but it will afford a satisfaction no money can buy. If you are a student and lover of human nature in all its amazing variety, where will you have such an opportunity of gratifying your desire as in publishing? Among authors, you will meet the very perfect gentleman and his exact reverse; you will encounter the colossal egotist who acclaims his manuscript as opening a new era, and the learned man of humble spirit, and all shades and patterns between.”

While Massey was not far off in predicting the onslaught of newer forms of communication such as the TV, the tablet or other portable listening and viewing devices, it is interesting to note, 60 years on from this celebratory address, that books remain a stable communication device.

The Right Honourable Vincent Massey died December 30, 1967.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Breastplate and Buckskin

Breastplate and Buckskin

Breastplate and Buckskin, The Ryerson Press, 1953

Breastplate and Buckskin, by George E. Tait, was published by The Ryerson Press in 1953. The book went through 31 printings and was also published in the US by Chas. A. Bennett Co., Peoria, Illinois. Breastplate and Buckskin is the story of the conquistadores, the explorers, the fur traders and the earliest settlers of the Americas. The 1953 Fall Catalogue of Ryerson Books states, “Told in the easy style of a man who knows what children expect of a story, each chapter is full of drama and adventure. A time chart and suggestions for activities are included. There are over fifty illustrations and ten maps printed in two-colours – all of which have been prepared by a specialist in the field of children’s art – Vernon Mould, Art Master, Upper Canada College.”

The book is a model of how to present educational material. Breastplate and Buckskin was used by three generations of students in many Canadian Provinces and American States. A note at the beginning of the book states, “To the Boys and Girls who Read this Book: From time to time you will find words which may be new to you underlined like this. So that you may learn what they mean, you will find these words listed under “Things to Know” on pages 225 to 234 with a full explanation.”

George E. Tait was born in Sarnia, Ontario in 1910. He was educated in Ontario Schools at St.Catharines and Watford, and later graduated from the Universities of Western Ontario and Toronto. He began teaching soon after graduation. In 1941, during the Second World War,  Tait and his wife Reginae, also a teacher, were asked by Canadian External Affairs to open the Anglo-American School in Bogota, Columbia. They stayed for three years. Upon their return in 1944, Tait was appointed Inspector of Public Schools in Huntsville and Welland, Ontario. In 1950 George Tait became Associate Professor of Elementary Education, University of Toronto, and remained at the U of T until his retirement as Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

George Tait produced over 20 books including The Saddle of Carlos Perez, The Silent Gulls, Wake of the West Wind, The Eagle and the Snake, The World was Wide, One Dominion and Fair Domain.  The Silent Gulls was dramatized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Tait travelled widely and on one trip to the Arctic, his team came across a stash of food left by the men of the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1845.

In 1978, George Tait received the McGraw-Hill Ryerson Special Book Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian education. He was presented to the Queen on two occasions, once at Buckingham Palace and once at St. James’ Palace. George Tait was also an accomplished amateur painter.

George Tait died in 2000 and is buried in his home town of Watford, Ontario.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Mother the Judge

my mother the judge

My Mother the Judge, published by The Ryerson Press, 1955

My Mother the Judge, by Elsie Gregory MacGill, was published by The Ryerson Press in 1955. It is the remarkable story of a woman, Judge Helen Gregory MacGill, who successfully “asserted the freedom of women to apply their talents in a day when this was a solely male prerogative.”

Helen MacGill was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1864. She was the first woman undergraduate of Trinity College, University of Toronto, receiving both a BA and an MA. She was also the first female in the British Empire to receive a Music Degree.

Helen MacGill was no stranger to politics or advocacy. Her maternal grandfather, also a judge, successfully represented participants in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. Upon graduation, MacGill turned to journalism and wrote for Cosmopolitan, the Toronto Globe, San Francisco Morning Call and the St. Paul Globe. This led her to social advocacy and she spent much of the rest of her life pursuing better laws for women and children, notably in British Columbia. In 1917, she was appointed British Columbia’s first woman jurist and helped to establish standards in Juvenile Court. By 1947, MacGill had seen most of her personally-urged reforms become law.

From the flap copy of My Mother the Judge: “The story credits women with being the instigators of modern social legislation, and details this development in British Columbia. It treats the movement for women suffrage as part of the general social revolution, and the logical sequence to the struggle for manhood suffrage.” She served as a judge of the Juvenile Court of British Columbia for 23 years. Helen Gregory MacGill died on February 27, 1947.

Elsie Gregory MacGill, 1905-1980, grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was the first woman to graduate in engineering at the University of Toronto (1929) and the first to take an MA in aeronautics at the University of Michigan. She became the chief aeronautical engineer of The Canadian Car and Foundry company of Montreal where she carried through the design, testing and certification of a primary training aircraft in 1939. She was also in charge of all engineering work of the Hawker Hurricane fighter (Battle of Britain) where she gained the title Queen of the Hurricanes. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Elsie MacGill was also an active feminist and was a member of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 1967-1970. Elsie Gregory MacGill died November 4, 1980.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pauline Johnson and Walter McRaye


Pauline Johnson and Her Friends by Walter McRaye, published by The Ryerson Press, 1947.

Emily Pauline Johnson was a Canadian poet and entertainer. She was born March 10, 1861, the daughter of a Mohawk chief. Her Mohawk name, Tekahionwake, means “double-life.” Pauline Johnson and Her Friends by Walter McRaye, was published in 1947 by The Ryerson Press. The 1945 catalogue reads as follows: “This is the story of Pauline Johnson, that everyone has eagerly awaited. The writing of this book is the fulfillment of a promise made her as she lay dying. “Tell them something of the real me, of my father’s people, my hopes, my dreams, and my aspirations.” Friend and fellow-artist for many years, Walter McRaye here sets down in simple and sincere form the story of the Mohawk poet, her rise to fame, and the tours they shared together, across Canada, and into almost every hamlet and city, from the Cariboo Trail to Halifax, and from Ottawa to London, England.”

The catalogue copy for 1945 reads in part, “This biography is much more than a formal life of the almost legendary Mohawk princess. It is a living likeness of the poet, and it is placed over against her time, the time they both knew best, people, growing towns, a pioneer country growing up, with side glances at the romantic world of London, its great houses, celebrated writers, Steinway Hall, the Watts-Duntons, Swinburne, and a world far removed from the Grand River Reserve – and now all but dissolved away and become history, legend, a lovely vanished dream.”

Pauline Johnson lived before Canadian authors had come into their own, as they have today. There were no book drives or “Canadian Book Weeks” or “Book Fairs” given by associations, no authors speaking before Canadian or other clubs in an effort to arouse Canadian enthusiasm for Canadian literature.


Pauline Johnson and Walter McRaye at Banff, 1901

As Pauline Johnson travelled across the country, reciting and entertaining the Canadian  public, she was inspired by its vastly changing landscapes as depicted in this stanza of her poem The Sleeping Giant:

You have locked your past, and you keep the key

In your heart ‘neath the westing sun,

Where the mighty sea

And its shores will be

Storm-swept till the world is done

Pauline Johnson died in Vancouver, March 7, 1913.



Walter McRaye

Walter McRaye was born in Merrickville, Onatrio, 1876. While on a tour in Winnipeg in 1897, he met Pauline Johnson, at the height of her career. By 1901 they were touring together, McRaye acting as her business manager, and sharing the billing with her. They toured together for nine years and gave their final performance together in Kamloops, B.C. in 1909. They shared fame together.

Following service in the First World War, McRaye resumed his entertainment touring and billed his tours as “entertainment with a punch.” McRaye, a staunch Canadian, deplored the fact that most of Canada’s pulp went to the Hearst empire and other American papers, but he was even more concerned by the fact that “the children of today have but a superficial knowledge of any of the great epochs in Canadian history that should never die.”

His book, Town Hall Tonight, was published by The Ryerson Press in 1929. The 1929 Fall Announcements states that “This Odyssey of the well-known entertainer, Walter McRaye, sets forth in sprightly fashion the colourful incidents of some thirty years’ wandering across Canada, with an occaisional excursion elsewhere – the United States, Great Britain and France. Thirty years ago “Town Hall Tonight” was the usual heading for all concert and lecture programmes and Mr. McRaye has chosen this as an appropriate for his book of reminiscences.”

Town Hall Tonight W. McRayeJPG.JPG

Town Hall Tonight by Walter McRaye, published by The Ryerson Press, 1929

In the introduction to McRaye’s book, Town Hall Tonight, Lorne Pierce, Managing Editor of The Ryerson Press from 1920 to 1960, quotes McRaye as saying, “The main work has to be done in our schools, if we are to become a nation of thinkers and executors, rather than a conglomeration of dumb followers.” He goes on to say, “ Teach citizenship.” “Boost Canadian literature.” We should say “Not Canada for Canadians, but Canadians for Canada.” These were sentiments akin to Lorne Pierce’s own heart. Pierce played a huge role in support of Canadian literature and Canadian culture throughout his life.

Walter McRaye died in 1946, just after his manuscript Pauline Johnson and Her Friends was delivered to The Ryerson Press.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I Brought The Ages Home


I Brought The Ages Home, C.T. Currelly, The Ryerson Press, 1956

I Brought The Ages Home was published by The Ryerson Press, in 1956. Northrop Frye, Professor of English at Victoria College, was the editor. Professor Frye commented, “When this manuscript came to me for editing, it was immediately clear that my editorial duties were to be of the most unobtrusive kind. They have been confined to minor re-arrangements and to some smoothing of the reader’s path.” He let the author tell the “most amazing tale ever to come out of Ontario” to be told in the “author’s accomplished raconteur’s skill.

Charles T. Currelly (1876-1957) was born in Exeter, Ontario, and educated at Harbord Collegiate and Victoria College, Toronto. Upon graduation, Currelly was posted to a Methodist missionary site in northern Manitoba where he served from 1898 until 1901. In 1902, Currelly travelled to England, working his way across on a cattle boat, the Manchester Commerce. A chance meeting with Flinders Petrie, renowned Egyptologist, occurred after Currelly paid a visit to the British Museum in London. This landed Currelly a position helping Petrie set up an exhibition of ancient artifacts: “The marvel of seeing and touching these wonders of the past was so great that I had a feeling that one ought to fast, or make some peculiar preparation before handling such precious objects. I am glad to say that I never lost this feeling, and the careless handling or breaking of an antiquity has always been a nightmare to me.”

While in England, Currelly also met Nathanael Burwash, then Chancellor of Victoria College who, upon hearing of Currelly’s interest in antiquities and his planned excursion to Egypt with Petrie, concurred with the young collector’s desire to establish a museum in Toronto. This chance meeting in 1902 was the beginning of what was to become The Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology which now stands on the grounds of the University of Toronto. Upon his return to Toronto, Burwash set about establishing funding for the new venture.


Charles T. Currelly

Currelly was also very well-connected himself and was soon advocating the establishment of a museum with the likes of Pelham Edgar, English Professor at Victoria College (and winner of the 1936 Lorne Pierce Medal for distinguished service to Canadian Literature), Sir Edmund Walker, President of The Bank of Commerce, Sir Edmund Osler, President of The Dominion Bank to name a few. Currelly was able to convince his potential benefactors that it was entirely possible to procure antiquities at reasonable prices through his own experiences and dealings in Egypt, Crete and Asia Minor. He felt sure that these items would be of great value to the public.

The jacket copy of I Brought The Ages Home reads as follows: “I Brought The Ages Home is the story of how the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology developed from a dream in one man’s mind into one of the world’s great collections. Dr. Charles T. Currelly describes his life, first in Canada, then as an excavator in Egypt before the First World War, and finally as director of the museum he had created. The book is a museum in itself: an inexhaustible treasure house of history, anecdote, and of curious bits of information gathered from all over the world, together with one of the most amazing life-stories ever to come out of Canada, told with great wit and charm.”


Enter a Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, circa 1956

A plaque outside the Royal Ontario Museum recognizes the contribution to Canada made by Charles T. Currelly. It reads in part: “His work in various parts of the Mediterranean world inspired him with the idea of establishing an archaeological museum in Ontario. With the aid of the University of Toronto, he worked toward this goal and when the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology was created in 1912, Currelly became its first director. He retained this post, as well as his professorship in archaeology at the University, until his retirement in 1946.” Dr. Currelly spent his retirement years near Port Hope, Ontario and died after a brief illness during a trip to Florida in 1957.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Canadian Heroes Series


The Story of Isaac Brock, William Briggs, 1908

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.

brock-portraitThe 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 Story of Tecumseh, William Briggs, 1912

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.


Heroines of Canadian History, William Briggs, 1910

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.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mother Goose’s Bicycle Tour


Mother Goose’s Bicycle Tour, 1901, William Briggs

Mother Goose’s Bicycle Tour was published by William Briggs in 1901. The 96-page hardcover edition contains popular Mother Goose nursery rhymes presented in a unique fashion introducing French words. The cover is a two-colour, stamped illustration of Mother Goose with gilt-edged pages and a sturdy, sewn binding. The 71/2 by 10 trim size is a handy size for young hands. The paper stock is glossy and able to withstand many readings.






The Departure

The book begins with an illustration of Mother Goose setting out in a small boat with her companion goose on board. The black and white illustrations throughout are simple pen and ink sketches depicting all manner of characters of the Mother Goose rhymes. Upon a treacherous crossing of the English Channel, Mother Goose and her trusted feathered friend embark on a return journey to France to renew old friendships.




Long years ago dear Mother Goose

For little people made, you see,

Of merry rhymes and odd conceits

A veritable pot pourri.


Some riddles hard the brain to puzzle,

Tales that really seemed quite true,

Rhymes with fun just brimming o’er,

For each one something à son goût.




Said Mother Goose: “My faithful bird,

Our friends neglect us, to be sure;

But never mind, we’ll just prepare

And take a pleasant little tour.


Some evenings spent in brushing up

The foreign words we used to know,

Ere setting out upon a trip,

Would now be very à propos.

The story continues across the land and includes many of the favourite rhymes such as:


High Diddle, Diddle


High diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the moon.

Regardez donc cette vache agile,

Qui saute par-dessus la lune


and progressively increases the French usage to include:


Les valets des cartes


Les dames des cartes,

Elles firent des tartes

All on a summer’s day

Les valets des cartes,

Volèrent ces tartes,

And took them clean away.



The book contains a Glossary of Terms and Expressions translated from French into English as well as a helpful pronunciation guide. In addition, the Apple-Pie Party is a rhyming alphabet poem to help young people learn their ABC’s in both languages. Considering the fact that this book was published in 1901, it is a lively and entertaining expression of popular nursery rhymes in our two official languages.







Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment