The Macmillan Company of Canada

by Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University
Photograph of 'St Martin's House', 70 Bond Street, Toronto, home of Macmillan of Canada, [n.d.]

A flagship Canadian publisher, the Macmillan Company of Canada was a crucial catalyst in the shaping of Canada’s literary heritage from 1905 to 1986. Macmillan championed leading Canadian authors including Stephen Leacock, Mazo de la Roche, Grey Owl, W.O. Mitchell, Adele Wiseman, and many others. The company also launched some of Canada’s enduring classics, such as Donald Creighton’s John A. Macdonald (1952, 1955), Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel (1954), Hugh MacLennan’s The Watch That Ends the Night (1958), and Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie (1974).

The Macmillan Company of Canada was instrumental in fostering a culture of authorship, a literary aesthetic, and a modern literature for Canada. Established in Toronto in December 1905 as a branch plant to the London head office of Macmillan Company, the Canadian operation was mandated to market Macmillan’s English and American publications. But by the 1920s, Macmillan of Canada attained sufficient autonomy to produce Canadian books, buoyed by the firm’s acquisition of the stock and contracts of Toronto’s Morang Educational Co. Ltd. in 1912.

CP00244.jpgFirst and second presidents Frank Wise (1906-1921) and Hugh S. Eayrs (1921-1940) understood that their responsibility as publishers was to serve the interests of Canadian readers and indigenous culture as much as it was to satisfy the agency needs of the parent company and its affiliate house in New York. Throughout Wise’s tenure, particularly during in the difficult days of the First World War, the firm focused on textbooks and the importation and marketing of foreign titles.

Eayrs continued the company’s successful educational line that, during the 1920s, saw the company print 100,000 copies of its Canadian readers. He further established the firm’s reputation for making books by and for Canadians by broadening the company’s line to include important works of fiction and poetry by authors such as romance writer Mazo de la Roche, humorist Stephen Leacock, British-born naturalist Grey Owl (all three of whom achieved international acclaim), along with Morley Callaghan and Raymond Knister.

CP00180.jpgSubsequent presidents Robert Huckvale (1940-1946), John Gray (1946-1969), and Hugh Kane (1969-1972) further cultivated the growth of the company from branch-plant operation to mature publishing house. Gray, who from 1946 to 1969 consolidated the house of Macmillan as a Canadian publisher with interests separate from its parent company, brought other authors to the Macmillan roster, among them Adele Wiseman, Hugh MacLennan, W.O. Mitchell and Robertson Davies, as well as playwright and poet James Reaney and historian Donald Creighton. The company weathered the Second World War, when publishers struggled with rising production costs and personnel shortages.

CP00188.jpgThrough its continued growth, Macmillan Canada relied on the support of key editors John Cameron Saul, Ellen Elliott, Kildare Dobbs, Ramsay Derry, Douglas Gibson, as well as Gladys Neale, whose expert direction of the educational division, with such successful titles as Dominion High School Chemistry (1935), underwrote much of the firm’s trade publishing.

Macmillan Canada used the influence of its parent company to attract important authors and to establish a literary culture for Canada through a vigorously diverse publishing program that included fiction, poetry, drama, folklore, history, and literary criticism. Its success, when considered against the international backdrop of historic, economic, and cultural upheavals of the twentieth century, attests to the sustained commitment of the British parent company and early support from the affiliate American house. Macmillan Canada also exemplifies the drive and acumen of its presidents and editors, who enriched the cultural life of Canada, and won the allegiance of authors. The firm’s success is most evident in the enduring influence of its books, which include the classics mentioned earlier in this study, and such landmark works of fiction as Maria Chapdelaine (Louis Hémon, 1921), Who Has Seen the Wind (W.O. Mitchell, 1947), Such Is My Beloved (Morley Callaghan, 1958), and Fifth Business (Robertson Davies, 1970).

CP00181.jpgIn 1973, the parent company sold the Macmillan Company of Canada to Maclean-Hunter, which, unable to return the company to financial health, in turn sold the firm to Gage Educational Publishing (later merged into the Canadian Publishing Corporation). This sale considerably diminished the importance of the Macmillan imprint, and by the late 1980s the company completely ceased the publication of literary books. In 1999 Macmillan Canada became an imprint of CDG Books. Gage maintained the imprint until 2002 with a minor list of publications.

McMaster University houses the Macmillan Company of Canada archives (1905-1996) which is remarkable for its completeness in contrast with the archives of many contemporary Canadian publishers which are either dispersed among several repositories or incomplete. The Macmillan fonds includes executive and author correspondence, contracts, financial material, production and publicity files, royalty and readers’ reports, and manuscripts. It offers a rare research opportunity for readers and scholars interested in all aspects of book history and print culture.

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Further Resources

Panofsky, Ruth. “Barometers of change: Presidents Hugh Eayrs and John Gray of the Macmillan Company of Canada”. Journal of Canadian Studies, 37: 4 (Winter 2003), 92-111.

—. "'Head of the publishing side of the business’: Ellen Elliott of the Macmillan Company of Canada." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 44:2 (Fall 2006): 45-64.

Whiteman, Bruce. “The Early History of the Macmillan Company of Canada, 1905-1921.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 23 (1984): 68-81.

—. Charlotte Stewart and Catherine Funnell, A Bibliography of Macmillan of Canada Imprints 1906-1980. Dundurn Press, Toronto, 1985, xi-xv.

W. O. Mitchell Ltd. website:

Young, David. “The Macmillan Company of Canada in the 1930s.” Journal of Canadian Studies 3.3 (Autumn 1995): 117-33.

Archival Resources

Macmillan Company of Canada fonds, McMaster University