The Ryerson Collection



The Ryerson Collection in the Whitby offices of McGraw-Hill Education Canada


How very strange it is to think that a collection of publications from some 150 years ago could be so intriguing.

Out of the public view for decades with only the occasional remark by a few inquisitive people — those who happen to be invited into the Library for a meeting, or who happen to be passing through the halls and are drawn to the elegant display, wondering where these books came from or even why they are in this location in the first place. Too bad that more of the history of this fine collection is not known more widely.

The 3000 titles shown here date as far back as 1862 and represent a slice of Canadian publishing history. Individually, many of these books are available in digital form on-line. This came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I first  began looking them up. If you thought about actually going about creating a physical collection of even a small portion of the Ryerson Press output over their 150-year history, it would take a lifetime. Just ask one of the many rare book collectors who make it their business to deal in such antiquity. And there are some real gems here.

And here it is. If you browse through the shelves one by one, you easily come across titles that are not only beautifully printed and bound, many in their original first edition jackets, but you quickly realize that each one represents its own place in the evolution of publishing in Canada.


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A Summer in Prairie-Land



A Summer in Prairie Land, 1885

It’s about the journey. And the people. And the incredible landscape that opens up the farther North and West you travel.

A Summer in Prairie-Land was published in 1882. It is an account of an expedition led by Alexander Sutherland, a Methodist minister who was charged with visiting Mission outposts in The Great North-West and reporting on the future needs of these missions in the expanding territory.

In 1880, there were two basic routes to The Great North-West. One route was to travel from Toronto via the Great Lakes as far as Duluth at the far end of Lake Superior, then westward via the Northern Pacific Railway. If time was limited, one could travel by rail via Chicago and St. Paul and on to Brainerd or Glyndon, Minnesota. From Glyndon, one would travel north via the St.Paul and Manitoba Railway and enter Canada at Emerson, Manitoba or from Brainerd, stay on the Northern Pacific Railway and continue west through the Dakotas and Montana and enter Canada about 100 miles east of the Rocky Mountains.

The expedition travelled from Toronto to Duluth and on to Brainerd, Minnesota and then onto Bismarck, North Dakota via the Northern Pacific Railway. A steamer would then take the expedition up the Missouri River from Fort Benton and into Canada arriving eventually at Fort McLeod, Alberta. The mission party left on June 17th and returned October 3, 1880. They spent 15 weeks travelling some 6000 miles, 1300 of which by horse and wagon, 700 by open boat and the rest by rail and steamer.


First religious service at Whitefish Lake, 1885

Buffalo sightings

The group reported several accounts of spotting buffalo along the Missouri River. And in one sighting they also encountered a  “group of four Indians” who were obviously not having much luck with their hunting. They disappeared behind the timber, but soon reappeared on the river bank. All seemed to have good horses, but only one carried a rifle. They called several times to those on board, but no-one understood their tongueas we approach them one of them lifts up a small kettle, and puts his hand to his mouth, which we at once interpret as a mute request for some tea; while another poor fellow stands motionless with his hands clasped in a pathetic fashion over his stomach, as if indicating a sense of “goneness” in that region. This led some of us to the conclusion that…we would reward them with presents of food. But even as we were speculating on this point the boat swept on, leaving the noble hunters to the cheap if not always comforting reflection that “virtue is its own reward.”

Further on up the river the passengers on board estimate seeing upwards of 10 000 buffalo sighted along the river banks and as many as ten times that number within a short distance of them.

The foothills of the Rockies

Some 50 miles from Fort Benton, the scenery, during the past few days, has been more impressive. The bluffs are more lofty, and come closer to the river, rising, in many places, perpendicularly from the water’s edge to a height of two or three hundred feet. The sand clay which farther down the river were soft and friable, have been in many places hardened into stone; but the softer portions having been washed away, the cliffs have assumed all kinds of shapes – sometimes majestic, sometimes grotesque, and always impressive. Here is an ancient castle with towers and battlements; there a fortress with frowning ramparts; yonder, a massive cathedral with double tower and graceful pinnacles. Once these were shapeless masses of rock and clay, but nature has been busy with chisel and graving tool, hewing them into pillars, sharpening them into spires, rounding them into domes; while here and there she has hewn out a group of colossal human figures, who sit in majestic silence on their lofty pedestal, while the symbol of advancing civilization stems the current of the river below.


Buffalo skin lodge and Red River Carts, 1885

On reaching Fort McLeod, Alberta

McLeod is situated at the confluence of Willow Creek and Old Man’s River, the latter a powerful stream with a rapid current. There is an unlimited amount of excellent water and good pasturage; but in other respects the site did not strike me as being well chosen for a military post. It lies low by the river’s bank, and commands no view whatsoever of the surrounding country. In this respect it is in marked contrast with most of the American posts that we saw which were generally placed so as to command an extensive outlook. As we were now on the north side of Old Man’s River, and McLeod is on the south side, we had to be ferried in a boat, a task that occupied less than three minutes, and for which we paid the modest sum of fifty cents apiece each way. One wonders why, with a large police force doing little or nothing, a bridge has not been built, or a rope ferry constructed; but echo only answers, Why? (I have since been informed that a rope ferry was constructed, but washed away by a freshet, and has not been replaced)

Questions Answered

Alexander Sutherland’s report on his journey posed a number of questions which he answered with not only his own musings but also with representations of the many speculators he encountered along the way. Many of these questions are still valid today.

What is your impression of the country as a whole?

It is a country of enormous extent. This can only be realized by one who has travelled through it. It is a country of great fertility. One only needs to travel through it noting the quality of the soil, the luxuriant growth of grass and vetches, and the fields of grain and vegetables where cultivation has been tried, to be convinced of that fact.

What about the climate?

The climate is much better than has oft been reported. As a rule the rainy seasons are well defined. The winters are cold; the snowfalls are less than in Minnesota, Dakota, and Montana and I am inclined to believe the climate is better, on the whole, than in the states and territories just mentioned.

Why then do we receive so many unfavourable reports about the country?

Chiefly because of the sources from which these reports come. Often they originate with Americans who are interested in the sale of lands in Dakota and elsewhere. These men are to be found on almost every train carrying emigrants to the North-West and they are by no means particular as to the statements they make if they can induce Canadians to settle under the Stars and Stripes. They represent the North-West as a region so cold that nothing will ripen, and so unhealthy that nothing can live; and not unfrequently Canadians are deterred by these disinterested (?) representations from entering the country at all, and report back to their friends that the North-West is not fit to live in.

Would you advise me to pull up stakes and go to the North-West?

That depends on circumstances. If you are doing fairly well where you are, stay there; it is not worth your while to move for the sake of moving, or for the bare chance of doing a little better than you are doing now. Don’t go with the idea of speculating; there are too many speculators there now. And don’t go out with the idea that you can pick up a living without working – there are no livings to pick up. But if you are beginning your life and want a chance to become the owner of your own broad acres, owing no man anything, you can find as good an opportunity in the North-West as in any land beneath the sun.

What will be the future of the North-West?

That will depend largely upon three things: 1. The class of emigrants. 2. The character of the government. 3. The activity of the churches.


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10 Reasons The Ryerson Collection Matters

1. The Ryerson Collection comprises some 3000 titles. These publications range from biographies and autobiographies of early Methodist preachers in Canada to novels, poetry collections as well as art books, historical and satirical works.
2. Some of Canada’s most prominent authors are represented. Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Earle Birney, Hugh Garner, Alice Munro, as well as Canadian editions by international authors Robert Service, A.J. Cronin and Dafne Du Maurier
3. The collection represents one of Canada’s foremost publishers of the 19th and 20th century.The Ryerson Press began as the publishing arm of the Methodist Church in Canada. In 1925 when the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches combined to form the United Church the Ryerson Press continued to publish and became known as Canada’s Publishing House.
4. The publications are interesting from an historical perspective. Decade by decade, the publications chronicle a nation from before Confederation through two World Wars, the Cold War and the tumultuous fifties and sixties.
5. The collection has been maintained for over 45 years by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. In 1969, the United Church no longer wanted to be a publisher and The Ryerson Press was subsequently put up for sale. No other Canadian publisher wanted The Ryerson Press. McGraw-Hill Canada took over the press, renamed the company McGraw-Hill Ryerson and continued the publishing tradition which included overseeing the Ryerson Collection.
6. Many of the editions are first edition copies. This makes the collection unique and worth studying further.
7. The collection has been maintained by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. MHR ceased to exist in 2014 after the McGraw-Hill Companies sold the publishing arm of their enterprise.
8. The Ryerson Press is named after Egerton Ryerson, a man whose accomplishments include the creation of a model for public education in Canada, still in use today.
9. The collection needs to be kept intact. As a collection, there is value in keeping the Ryerson Collection together as a unit. From an historical perspective it makes sense when viewed from start to finish — it is truly a snapshot of Canadian history from 1862-1970.
10. A suitable home must be found where the collection may made available for scholarly research and review and for the general public to pursue at their leisure.

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The History of Methodism in Canada

There are some 3000 books in the Ryerson Press Collection. The first, by George Playter (1811-1866), is The History of Methodism in Canada. Published in 1862 by Anson Green at the Wesleyan Printing Establishment located on King Street East in Toronto, the book is an account of the “rise and progress of the work of God in Canada and among the Canadian Indian tribes, and occasional notices of the civil affairs of the province.”

Playter documents the rise of Methodism in Canada from the late 1700s to 1828. He notes that in 1777, an influx of those loyal to Britain following the American revolution began to move north and settled along the Bay of Quinte, the Niagara River and on the banks of the Detroit River.

But the first Methodist preacher in Canada was a Commissary of the 44th British Regiment named Tuffey who was posted to Quebec, Lower Canada, in 1780. And he was followed by Mr. Neal at Niagara in Upper Canada in 1788.

During this period, soldiers were granted land parcels and many remained to take up farming. The population in Lower Canada at this time was approximately 120 000; Upper Canada’s population numbered about 10 000. Loyalists moved north and while some belonged to the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Luther or Baptist Church, a few were Methodist. These religious sects were scattered over Upper Canada.

Many emigrants had been stripped of property during the American revolution. The Government of the day assisted many with provisions, farming utensils and clothing for up to two years: “families lived for days on the drink of boiled beech leaves, slippery elm bark or on wild leeks…”

During the early 1800s circuit preachers began visiting many communities as well as many native tribes to spread the Methodist gospel. 

  • 1780 Commissar Tuffey preaches at Quebec
  • 1784 Settlement of Upper Canada begins
  • 1788 George Neal preaches at Niagara
  • 1792 Col. John Simcoe becomes first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
  • 1812 United States declares war against Great Britain
  • 1815 General Isaac Brock dies
  • 1817 First Methodist Conference in Canada
  • 1826 Canadian Wesleyan Methodist Church established
  • 1827 Dr. Strachan publishes a Chart of the Religion of Upper Canada
  • 1828 10 Indian missions in Upper Canada established, 1200 baptized
  • 1828 Canadian Methodist body becomes independent of United States
  • 1829 Egerton Ryerson begins his circuit preaching

The History of Methodism in Canada, 1862


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The Ryerson Press Collection

For the past 18 months I have been involved in a challenging and rewarding project — cataloguing a collection of publications from The Ryerson Press.

This collection has been maintained for the past 45 years under the careful supervision of the editorial managers of McGraw-Hill Ryerson following the sale of The Ryerson Press to McGraw-Hill in 1970.

The purpose of my involvement in this project was to create a formal record of these books. In addition, I was to find a suitable home for the 3000 titles, many of which are first editions dating back as far as 1862.

The Ryerson Press began operation in Toronto in 1829 when Egerton Ryerson, a Methodist Preacher, obtained a license to obtain a printing press. He set about publishing sermons along with his political views in a publication that later became known as the Christian Guardian, the forerunner of the United Church Observer.

Egerton Ryerson became known in political circles and was well respected for his views on public education. By the 1840s Ryerson had established Victoria College (now part of University of Toronto) and was soon to become Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada in 1844. His views of public education became the standard for the rest of Canada.

He established the Toronto Normal School at St. James Square in Toronto where teacher training could take place. This establishment also became known as a cultural centre with the creation of the Museum of Natural History and Fine Art (know today as the ROM) and the Toronto School of Art (now OCAD). The Toronto Normal School also promoted experiments in botany and horticulture which led to the formation of the Ontario Agriculture School and University of Guelph.

In 1948, the need for a technical institution was met with the founding of Ryerson Institute of Technology.

Egerton Ryerson died in 1882 but his legacy lives on. The Ryerson Press took on his name in 1920. It is hoped that a suitable location will soon be found for the 3000 publications of  McGraw-Hill Education’s Ryerson Collection. 




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The Mentors

Early on in my publishing career, I encountered two individuals who were very savvy in the ways of educational publishing. Growing up quickly under their wings taught me a great deal about how to best deal with people, both internally and externally, and how to face situations that were not always pleasant. They taught me how to deliver the bad news as well as the good.

My mentors, Rachel Mansfield and Wendy Thomas, not only taught me about the publishing industry; they showed me how you can make a contribution every day.

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My First Book

The first Trade book I worked on as a copy editor was North Pole or Bust by Canadian author and film-maker Frank Rasky. I had been with the company for all of one day. The book was a series of vignettes of Arctic explorers (subsequently made into an NFB film by Rasky.) That was in 1977.

It’s interesting because as I recall it, I was given a first set of “galleys” to proofread. On my second day the Managing Editor took me in to meet the VP Editorial at the time. She was perceived as the dragon-lady who sat in a darkened corner office, smoking her lungs out. She asked me what I was working on and I told her I was proofreading the Rasky galleys and that I had almost finished them. She then asked if I was finding many typos and I said no, they looked pretty clean.

She then said, “Oh, the typesetter must have hired a new compositor.”

That’s all she needed to say. I immediately went back to my desk and started proofreading the galleys from scratch!

That one comment was enough to send you slinking back to your cubicle knowing that your work was being scrutinized, even though no-one was actually looking over your shoulder.

It was my introduction to the world of copyediting.

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