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.






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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.







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The Ryerson Press Chap-Books


Some of the 200 Chap-Books published by The Ryerson Press 1931-1960

The Ryerson Press published 200 Chap-Books from 1925 to 1960. These publications gave a voice to Canadian poets – some well-known poets, many unknown writers. They were produced as slim paperback volumes of 8 pages to no more than 32 pages, many with covers designed by Group of Seven artist J.E.H. MacDonald and his son Thoreau MacDonald. The volumes were produced in runs of no more than 250 copies each and sold for less than $1.00. A complete set of hardcover editions is contained in The Ryerson Press Archive.

Chap-Books became popular during the reign of Henry VIII. They were popularized by the tales and folklore of the times. One such tale is of Henry VIII and the Cobbler. It is rumored that the King would often disguise himself and walk among his people of an evening. On one such outing he came across a cobbler, busy at work late into the night. Henry purposefully broke the heel off his shoe and asked the cobbler to mend it, which he dutifully accomplished. The cobbler then invited this customer to his cellar where they partook in some refreshment. The cobbler was subsequently invited to pay a return visit to the palace at his leisure and to ask for – Harry Tudor. Some time later, the cobbler did pay a visit to the palace and, thinking that he was to meet some kind of courtier, told the Yoeman he had been invited to see Harry Tudor. Upon being ushered into the presence of Henry VIII, the cobbler immediately bolted and, once caught, was returned to face the King. Henry offered the cobbler a handsome pension and then treated him to a visit to his own cellar. This was one of the first Chap-Books to be published.

The following is taken from a piece of Ryerson Press promotion/order form titled Some Later Chap-Book Offerings. “Back in fifteenth-century France and in England during the rollicking reign of Bluff King Hal, the Chap-Book came into its own in presenting ballads and folk-lore. The idea has been revived again during the last year or two and the Ryerson Press has had considerable satisfaction in offering a series of slim books in striking yet uniformly-bound heavy paper covers, the work of a few of the older and several of the younger Canadian poets, at a price which makes it possible for almost anyone to make himself the possessor of a goodly number.”

The Toronto Evening Telegram claimed Chap-Books to be, “Little books of lovely verse, available at trifling cost, apt mediums of compliment and good will at the holiday season. Their cost is under a dollar; their value at a later date to the collector, may be much more, for they come in strictly limited editions of not many copies.”

Saturday Night declared, “The Ryerson Poetry Chap-Books – distinctive, interesting and praiseworthy.”

The Hamilton Spectator wrote, “Through such a medium new writers make their modest bid for favour and readers come into sympathetic accord with some of those who may later be among our chief poets.”

Indeed, among the “chief poets” to be highlighted in The Ryerson Press Chap-Book series were Charles G.D. Roberts, Al Purdy and Leonard Cohen. Sculptor Florence Wyle was also published in Chap-Book form.   Purdy’s Pressed On Sand was published in 1955. Here is one of Al Purdy’s Chap-Book offerings:

al-purdy-chap-bookI SEE NO HAND

I SEE no hand in the hand shape pressed on sand;

No men in the tide-walking town of time could

Clamber from phoenix flesh, or in any way extend…

But the cupped pooled reservoir of their blood,


Freighted about by bones like a moving lake,

Frames a reference of stars and cold suns:

Beyond and past the reach of micro and telescope

Their phalanx shines.


A carried history sounds in separate parts

And sings in skeletons; dust joins their graves.

No priest pouts for souls unshriven, or starts

Red thoughts rolling through dead men’s lives.


I see them curled in caves and changed to chemic salts,

Lifting on hot grey pavements and charged with rain

You! You over there, collapsed on your awkward stilts,

We shall run together again.


wyle-chap-bookFlorence Wyle was born November 24, 1881 in Trenton, Illinois. She intended to become a doctor, but after her first year in pre-med, she met her life-long partner, Frances Loring. The two moved to Greenwich Village in 1909 and then to Toronto in 1913. They lived for nearly 50 years in a house near Mount Pleasant and St. Clair, in Toronto. The Loring-Wyle Parkette was created in their honour. Their converted church made into a studio still stands.

In 1928, Wyle helped found the Sculptors Society of Canada. For her contributions to Canadian art she was awarded the Coronation Medal. She was also the first woman to obtain full membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. Florence Wyle was regarded as one of the finest figurative sculptors in Canada of her time. She died January 14, 1968 in Newmarket, Ontario.

Wyle sculpted busts of A.Y. Jackson and F.H. Varley. Her work sits in the National Gallery in Ottawa, The Canadian War Museum and in the Art Gallery of Ontario. Wyle, along with her partner Frances Loring created several pieces for the Canadian War Memorials Fund following the First World War including On The Land and Munitions Worker. Wyle’s medical training gave her a unique perspective on human physiology and she was renowned for her depiction of the human form. Together, Wyle and Loring, also created the busts of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the Queen Elizabeth Highway outside Toronto.


GREAT barren rocks that mock at man,

The puny thing that calls the elements to aid

And comes with fire and dynamite and plough

To tear and blast and plunder,

And at last, afraid,

Creeps back to die –

Still are the ranges now;

Born in a turmoil of heat and light and thunder,

Age after age they have watched man pass

And heard his cry

Of joy and agony and wonder;

Serene they raise their mighty shoulders high

Among the wheeling stars that know the law,

In that vast universe where all things

Are as ordered and there is no flaw.


“Noon Hour” by Frances Wyle, courtesy the Canadian War Museum

Wyle’s inclusion in The Ryerson Press Chap-Book series is a testament to her ability to cross over into another art form. Ira Dilworth, former teacher, editor, conductor and CBC Radio Program Director, said of Wyle’s poems, “Miss Wyle’s poems are largely descriptive and most of her subject matter is drawn from the varying aspects of nature. To this she occasionally adds her own philosophical comment and so she takes her place in the long tradition of lyric poets of the best and most sensitive kind.”

Both Florence Wyle and Francis Loring died in 1968, in Newmarket, Ontario, only weeks apart. They donated the proceeds from the sale of their work to a fund to assist in exhibiting the works of young Canadian sculptors.





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R.L.S. published by The Ryerson Press, 1931

R.L.S. at Manasquan by Charlotte Eaton was published by The Ryerson Press in December, 1931. The copy in the Ryerson Press Collection is number 193 of only 350 copies printed. The Ryerson Press printed this edition of Robert Louis Stevenson at Manasquan “for their friends, at Christmas-tide, 1931.”

The edition is an 8 x 11 portfolio format and is protected by a spider-web glassine covering. The lettering on the blue Mayfair cover simply reads R.L.S. and is signed Charlotte Eaton. A portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by Wyatt Eaton is contained on the frontispiece.  This edition was made available to The Ryerson Press by special permission from the Queen’s Quarterly.


Charlotte Eaton was the second wife of Canadian artist Wyatt Eaton. She married Eaton in 1887 and travelled extensively with him to America and Europe. The memories of Robert Louis Stevenson, his wife and mother are captured here in this brief edition.


Robert Louis Stevenson portrait by Wyatt Eaton, 1888.

A commemorative bookmark included in this edition conveys the following message: Charlotte Eaton, now a resident of New York, is the widow of Wyatt Eaton, a distinguished Canadian Artist and a native of the Eastern Townships, Province of Quebec. The constant companion of her husband, sharing the high qualities of his mind and devoted to his work, Mrs. Eaton travelled extensively with him in America and Europe. Everywhere they met interesting and distinguished people. The memories of Robert Louis Stevenson, his wife and mother, are but a few of the many vivid recollections shepherded from other days. Mrs. Eaton is the author of Desire, a book of verses, and of many fugitive essays and poems. She is particularly successful in French verse forms.

We are indebted to Queen’s Quarterly for permission to reprint the first part of this brochure. The reproduction of the pen-and-ink drawing of R.L.S. by Wyatt Eaton, which forms the frontispiece, is made possible through the kindness of Mrs. Eaton.

This brings to you the cordial Yule-tide greetings of The Ryerson Press. We pass on to you, at this time, two hearty words which Robert Louis Stevenson loved and taught to Bliss Carman. They convey our own wish for Christmas and the New Year – to you and yours. Sursum Corda! (Lift up your Heart)”.

Charlotte Eaton donated her husband’s papers and paintings to the Museum of Art, Toronto in 1911. The works of Wyatt Eaton are now housed in the Art Gallery of Ontario. Charlotte Eaton wrote several letters to Lorne Pierce at The Ryerson Press. These are now held in the Lorne Pierce fonds at Queen’s University. Charlotte Eaton wrote a book on her husband’s work as well as a book of verse, Desire, and three works based on her acquaintance with Robert Louis Stevenson. Wyatt Eaton died in 1896; Charlotte Eaton died in 1934.

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Our Great Ones


Our Great Ones by Jack McLaren, 1932

Our Great Ones: Twelve Caricatures Cut in Linoleum by Jack McLaren with Footnotes by Merrill Denison and a Foreword by E.J.Pratt


Published in 1932 by the Ryerson Press, this is a First Edition and Number 1 of only 450 copies printed. The edition consists of 13 folios each containing a linocut caricature and footnotes accompanying each print. The prints are cut in linoleum by Jack McLaren and printed from original blocks. This edition is printed on Rolland White Antique with the portfolio on Donvale Antique. The biographical notes, which are contributed by Merrill Denison and foreword by E.J. Pratt are set in Kabel Bold (see below). The composition, presswork and binding were produced in Canada at Toronto, by Rous and Mann for the Ryerson Press.

The collection contains caricatures of George Brown, Sir Georges Etienne Cartier, Joseph Howe, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Richard Cartwright, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Rev. Egerton Ryerson, D.D., Sir Donald Smith, John Strachan, Colonel Thomas Talbot and Sir Charles Tupper.

The Foreword, by E.J. Pratt states the following: “One of the most promising signs of the cultural progress of this country is that national biography should be recorded not merely through text-books and romantic fiction, but through the medium of caricature. This Album of prints by Jack McLaren, accompanied by the incisive and entertaining sketches of Merrill Denison, is a brilliant pioneer adventure in an art which in older countries has had a long and honourable tradition. It is the mark of intellectual maturity, when comic muse is invoked to throw a bag of salt into the cauldron of romance, and it is a matter of common historical observation that any period which, out of inflated seriousness, has too stridently advertised its vogue, has been most effectually corrected by a chorus of laughter.

The function of caricature is to place on exhibit, by controlled exaggeration, the quirks and salient of human character – mannerisms, it may be, which live longer in the public mind than the more sedate and self-conscious qualities. It does happen indeed that about the only thing which posterity remembers in the life of an individual is the size and colour of his nose, when all the other features of the proprietor have disappeared in the mist. Immortality in such cases is pre-eminently the gift of the caricaturist. It must not be assumed, however, that it is just the incidental lines that comprise the specialty of his art, and much less that it is the savagely satiric role which usually finds expression. Anyone turning over the pages of this portfolio will see that kindly though trenchant fingers have been probing into the recesses of our heroes with the purpose of restoring them to our streets and our homes. For, with our tendency to idolatry, we are inclined to forget that those dynamic personalities not only thundered in Parliament and from the rostrum, but that they were known to sleep, eat, perchance to swear, to doff togas and don bathrobes, and it is therefore fitting that, in addition to striking their official gestures in oil and marble and bronze, they should be lured into giving their unguarded intimacies in linoleum. Moreover, it was an inspired judgment in selection when the Ryerson Press committed to the care of two such artistic surgeons as McLaren and Denison the task of operating on our national glands.”




McLaren’s Rev. Egerton Ryerson

Rev. Egerton Ryerson, D.D. 1803-1882. Denison’s text reads, “This celebrated divine and public servant did for Methodism in Canada what Mussolini has done for Italy in Italy. Ordinarily a well-mannered, if somewhat forceful, gentleman of the cloth, he was capable of protracted choleric moments, particularly when contemplating the Family Compact and the villainies of that celebrated divine and public servant, Dr. John Strachan. Although contemporaries, the two never seem to have been strong personal friends, and this colourful relationship of another day has been nicely recaptured by the artist in depicting the great non-conformist educator, not only thinking of Dr. Strachan, but actually telling the latter gentleman in measured tones what he thought of him. While an ardent U.E. Loyalist, a devoted shepherd of his flock, and an editor who could write editorial that blew subscribers out of their pews, the seraphic Doctor’s first and last love was education, and lots of it, as cheaply as possible. He particularly loved to educate the opponents of Responsible Government. The public school system in Ontario – conceded by most Ontarioians to be the best on earth – was founded by him, in 1846, and has suffered few changes to the present day. Victoria College (“The truth shall make you free”) was his first founding. While inclined to be explosive in debate, he was never known to use profane language, and, by some miracle, avoided fighting any duels.”




McLaren’s Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir Wilfrid Laurier 1841-1919. Denison wrote, “This dignified study of the white-plumed chieftain, presents Sir Wilfrid as he is best remembered – in one of those moments of exalted spell-binding when, across the limpid folds of the Union Jack, the golden flood of his oratory hypnotized vast audiences. He is about to say a few words to the effect that this is Canada’s century, his only known utterance with which all parties agreed. He was the great pipe organ of Canada, the mighty Wurlitzer of his day, the last of our platform orators who possessed the grand manner. He could make an evening of constitutional law as exciting as a present-day broadcast of a football match and as entertaining as an evening in the theatre. Few have risen to dim his memory** or play the keyboard upon which he so majestically performed. So great was the magic of his personality, that he was not only able to change Quebec politically from a Conservative to a Liberal Province, but to make this spiritual anomaly persist down to the present day. But it might have been the horse-shoe pin in his cravat that did it. A staunch Imperialist and free trader, he also made a hobby of railroads, building as many of these as time and the national credit allowed. Sir Wilfrid was defeated at the last attempt to increase Canada’s trade with the United States; an unfortunate mistake which all succeeding governments on both sides of the border have done their best to rectify.”


**we forget their names for the moment

Jack McLaren was born in Edinborough, Scotland in 1899 and was educated in Edinborough and Toronto. He joined the Princess Patricia Light Infantry during WWI and became a member of the famous Canadian touring group, The Dumbells, entertaining soldiers at the front. In 1921, McLaren was part of the “Biff, Bing, Bang” comedy revue, the first Canadian revue to hit the New York Broadway stage. He was a brilliant satirist and used his pen to great effect during the 40s and 50s illustrating a number of books, notably The Incompleat Canadian and The Flying Bull. His landscapes hang in The National Gallery, Ottawa.

Merrill Denison (1893 to 1975) was born in Detroit, Michigan and grew up in Ontario. He became Art Director of Hart House in 1921 and began writing comedies, many of which were produced by local theatre groups in and around Tweed, Ontario where Denison had a cottage. His pioneering radio plays were successful throughout the 1930s. A strong follower of Canadian business, Denison also wrote about Canadian corporations including Molsons, Ontario Hydro, Massey-Harris and the Bank of Montreal. Denison died in 1975.



Poet E.J. Pratt, 1930, (courtesy David Pitt, Canadian Encyclopedia)

Edwin John Pratt (1882-1964) was an ordained Methodist minister. He was also a poet, a professor and a critic. Pratt grew up in Newfoundland. His first poems were published in 1914 but he was largely unnoticed until 1923 when his book Newfoundland Verse was published. Subsequent publications gave him recognition and he was made a member of the Royal Society of Canada in 1930 and won the Lorne Pierce Medal for poetry in 1940. Pratt won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1937, 1940 and 1952 and was made Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in 1946. Several publications are represented in the Ryerson Press collection including Newfoundland Verse, 1923. E.J. Pratt taught English at Victoria College from 1920 until 1953. He died in 1964.




**The Linotype font Kabel was designed by German designer Rudolf Koch in 1928 soon after the release of Futura. It may have been named after the transatlantic telecommunications cable that had recently been laid. The font captures the modern look of the 1920s and features an Art Deco style with a low x-height and distinctive “a’, “e” and “g” along with the slanted endings on some of the tails of letters which adds to the “liveliness” of the font. A fitting typeface for McLaren’s evocative art and Denison’s witty remarks.


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C.W. Jeffreys


Dramatic Episodes in Canada’s Story, The Ryerson Press, 1931

Dramatic Episodes in Canada’s Story by Charles W. Jeffreys was published by The Ryerson Press in 1931.

The 1931 catalogue provides the following entry: “The episodes depicted are chosen from the great mine of Canadian history, and cover a span of nearly four hundred years. In a vivid manner, they suggest how rich in human interest is Canada and what a wealth of picturesque and dramatic incident it possesses. This volume by the greatest historical painter in Canada to-day is an outstanding literary and artistic achievement of our time.

 “Both from a literary and artistic standpoint, Mr. Jeffreys’ drawings constitute a rich and valuable addition to any collection of Canadiana, whether public or private” – T.W. Banton, Toronto Public Library Board.”

This rare edition by C.W. Jeffreys depicts sixteen events in the history of Canada. As Jeffreys states in the preface, “I have had no intention of attempting to present the most important or significant events in the history of Canada. This, in any case, would be a matter of opinion, of varying points of view. My aim has been merely to pick out from the great mine of Canadian history a few fragments that may suggest its richness in human interest and its wealth of picturesque and dramatic incident.

The titles of the sixteen plates are as follows: Cabot and the New Found Land, Champlain’s Fight with the Iroquois, Champlain on the Ottawa, Maisonneuve’s Fight with the Indians, St. Lusson at Sault St. Marie, Frontenac on the way to Cataraqui, Hennepin at Niagara Falls, The Brothers La Verendrye in sight of the Western Mountains, The Founding of Halifax, The Battle of Ticonderoga, Wolfe Chooses His Battleground, Captain Cook at Nootka, Loyalists Camping on the St. Lawrence, Mackenzie at the Arctic, Father Lacombe and the Blackfeet and The Battle of Batoche.


Cabot and the New Found Land

 In each of the pictorial reconstructions, Jeffreys relied on recorded facts and tried to be accurate in detail to reduce the use of artistic licence. No authentic portraits of personalities such as Cartier, Champlain, Frontenac, La Verendrye, Algonquin, Huron or Iroquois leaders existed so the artist was “compelled to construct their figures from his own conceptions, aided by his knowledge of their actions and such hints as he can gather from their words as to their characters and temperaments.” Jeffreys goes on to say that he “based his drawings on authentic data” with the hope that they “convey something of the spirit and the larger significance of the events they depict.

Jeffreys’ hope was that “If they visualize in some degree the life of our past, and arouse an interest in the common heritage of our country’s history, their main purpose will be fulfilled.”

Charles William Jeffreys was born in Rochester, England in 1869 and came to Canada in 1880 via the U.S. He was apprenticed at the York Lithography Company during which time he worked for the Toronto Globe. After a stint at the New York Herald, Jeffreys returned to Toronto and began illustrating for magazines and books.



His work is featured in several Ryerson Press publications, including The Picture Gallery of Canadian History and many more. In 1904, Jeffreys founded the Graphics Arts Club with fellow artist Ivor Lewis and others. Charles Comfort was also a member. This group later became known as the Canadian Society of Graphic Art. Jeffreys also taught painting and drawing at the U of T until 1939. Jeffreys was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Jeffreys died in 1951 leaving a remarkable legacy of Canadian pictorial history.

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The Strait of Anian



Strait of Anain was published in March, 1948 by The Ryerson Press

The Strait of Anian was published by The Ryerson Press in March, 1948. This was the new and eagerly awaited collection containing a large selection of Earle Birney’s latest poetry. This edition also contained his famous “David” along with a number of poems from the volumes David and Other Poems, 1942 and Now Is Time, 1945, included as both editions were out of print.

The Strait of Anian was a mythical passage pursued by many early explorers. It was the dream of many to find a shorter route to the vast wealth of the East. An early recounting of one such expedition is contained in a book on Sir Francis Drake: “…Sir Francis himself (as I haue heard) was of very good will to have sailed still more Northward hoping to find passage through the narrow sea Anian…and so from thence to haue taken his course Northeast, and so retourne…into England, but his Mariners finding the coast of Noua Albion to be very cold, had no good will to sayle any further Northward…” Thos. Blundeville…Of Sir Francis Drake His First Voyage into the Indies, 1594.

As we witness the impact of human activity on the global climate and as the poles warm, traffic will inevitably increase across our northern seas. Our governments will need to ensure that the vast reaches of the Arctic remain firmly under Canadian jurisdiction for future generations.


THROUGH or over the deathless feud

Of the cobra sea and the mongoose wind

You must fare to reach us,

Through hiss and throttle

Where the great ships are scattered twigs on a green


and the plane is a fugitive mote

in the stare of the sun.

Come, by a limbo of motion humbled,

Under cliffs of cloud

And over the vaulting whalehalls.

In this lymph’s abyss a billion

Years of spawning and dying have passed and will pass

Without ministration of man.

And for all the red infusions of sailors,

The veins of Vikings drained and of lascars,

Blood of Gilbert’s and Jellicoe’s,

For all haemoglobin seeping from corvette and sealer,

From the sodden hulls of Hood and Titanic –

Still do these waves when the gale snaps them

Fracture white as the narwhal’s tusk.

Come then trailing your pattern of gain or solace

and think no more than you must

of the simple unhuman truth of this ocean,

that down deep below the lowest pulsing of primal cell

tar-dark and still

lie the bleak and forever capacious tombs of the sea.

 The 1948 Ryerson Press catalogue entry for The Strait of Anian reads as follows:

Dorothy Livesay, in the Vancouver Sun, said of Earle Birney, “What makes this British Columbia writer important for Canadians is the fact that he is the only poet who sees Canada whole…If Birney rarely answers his own questions, at least he poses them in a forceful, thought-provoking way. No one can ask more of a poet.”

From the Vancouver Province, “Each line or sentence is a lash to the mind, whipping up the memory of experience or learning; each word is thought-loaded like the camel of a caravan, and the reader who lightly skips misses the weighted wealth…Earle Birney holds a degree merited by few. He is master of thought in poetry.”

Ralph Gustafson in The Canadian Forum, wrote The Strait of Anian “Presents a summation of Birney’s work to date which establishes him without doubt as one of the finest poets Canada has produced…To anyone reading this book it will be immediately evident that here is a poet affirmative, precisioned, indignant and adult. I can think of no poet more thoroughly Canadian, and Canadians instead of giving him another Governor-General’s medal should quickly put this book through a dozen editions.”

Canadian Poetry Magazine wrote, “Wider variety, greater maturity and increased competence are the marks of this new book.”


Earle Birney, The Canadian Encyclopedia

Alfred Earle Birney was born May 13, 1904 in Calgary, Alberta. He was educated at the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, Berkeley and the University of London, where he delivered a dissertation on Chaucer. Birney also taught creative writing and literature, and was a successful playwright, novelist and editor. He taught at several universities, including UBC, where he founded and directed the first Canadian creative writing program. His work at University of British Columbia led to the establishment of Canada’s first Department of Creative Writing in 1965. Later, Birney was appointed as the first writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto. Birney is regarded as one of Canada’s finest poets of the 20th century. Earle Birney died in Toronto on September 3, 1995.

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