For any journalist, Maclean's in the Fifties was the place to be. Every writer in the country wanted to have his byline in Canada’s National Magazine, even though the fees were not great, and the editing was so tough that many aspirants were forced to rewrite their submissions three or more times. The magazine had undergone a sea change in the mid-Forties when Arthur Irwin became editor and determined to hire the best staff in the country, and to fulfil the magazine’s mandate, in his words, of “interpreting Canada to Canadians.”
Everything from Franklin Arbuckle’s cover paintings to Yousuf Karsh’s photography reflected this credo. Maclean’s spoke to Canadians—and only to Canadians. Articles from foreign climes were written from a Canadian point of view by such luminaries as Bruce Hutchison, Blair Fraser and Lionel Shapiro. Hollywood stars were profiled only if they had a Canadian background.
Although our creaky presses made it impossible to get anything into print in less than two months, the magazine was successful in staying in the forefront of the news. Maclean’s reported on the social trends of the day, such as the rise of the supermarkets and the suburban shopping centres, and the great discoveries of oil at Leduc, and iron in Labrador. It profiled every up-and-coming politician, business tycoon and artist. Maclean’s looked at both the future and, through its Flashback series, at Canada’s past. A Maclean’s editor, sociologist Sidney Katz, was the first journalist to take LSD and also to report on
the phenomenon of multiple personality. In those days, Canadians did not move around as they do now; there was no TransCanada Highway; the jet airplane was in the future; and so Maclean’s gave Canadians a geography lesson: profiling every major city (and several minor ones), describing the rivers, mountains and Shield, concentrating on the North in a special issue, and devoting whole sections to the regions of the country.
We were an unruly gang, as I remember, shouting and screaming at each other (but always in good humor) in the regular Friday editorial meetings, because we cared—we all loved the magazine and we were committed to it. We were unashamedly nationalistic; we absorbed a pride in country first from Irwin, then from his successor, Ralph Allen. We did not try to compete with American magazines on their turf; but we knew they could not compete with us on ours. These were ebullient years for Canada and the pages of Maclean’s reflected the yeasty self-confidence that was then a Canadian trait. I have in my library a set of bound volumes of the magazine for the years 1947-1960. I sometimes leaf through them, and when I do, I recapture some of the spirit of those times. I like to think that a century from now historians will find in these volumes an invaluable insight into the way we were when all of us were convinced that the 20th century belonged to Canada.
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