Vintage Toronto Ads: Give the Gift of Canadian History

Originally published on Torontoist on September 28, 2010.

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The Telegram, December 3, 1969.

Among the items that tied themselves into Canada’s one hundredth birthday, one of the easiest to find today are volumes of the Canadian Centennial Library. Drop into any thrift store in the city with a well-stocked book section and the odds are good you’ll come across one of the red-spined books outlined above. With enough luck, you too can give a loved one the gift of our country’s history this holiday season without breaking your bank account.

The series was a joint venture between McClelland and Stewart and Weekend Magazine (a Saturday newspaper insert that appeared locally in the Telegram) under the editorial guidance of Pierre Berton. The mix of essays and illustrations was inspired by several series produced by American Heritage and Time-Life, down to being available initially through mail order for $2.95 per book. The series more than met initial sales projections of 100,000 copies per volume, with over a million books sold by the time Coles packaged the library for its customers.

The first volume, The Making of the Nation, arrived in Toronto Star book critic Robert Fulford’s mailbox in January 1966. He praised the book as “a happy union of journalistic technique, literary style, and academic expertise.” Author William Kilbourn’s balancing of politics with the cultural and social elements that shaped the country conveyed “the Canadian quality that most historians only describe—diversity, tolerance, an openness to the world.”

Additional material from the January 5, 1966 and March 19, 1968 editions of theToronto Star.