Sunbathing in his garden one “beautiful summer day” in 1958, Gordon Trent, a stocky, ruddy-faced and prosperous Toronto businessman of 56, reflected on the “wonderful 100 years Canada has had,” and realized there was nowhere he could read about them all between two covers. Trent likes history and philosophy, so he decided to see if there was something he could do about it, even though his last and only publishing experience was with a hand-printed high-school annual many years ago.
For over a year, Trent thought about the kind of book he wanted to see, and then he wrote to an old friend, Roland Michener, the Speaker of the House of Commons. Michener explained Trent’s idea to John Hodgson, who is secretary of the government’s centennial committee, but the committee decided not to sponsor a book.
Sp Trent went to John Gray, who once was a dormitory-mate at Lakefield School in Ontario and is now president of the Macmillan Company of Canada, a Toronto publishing house. The two old friends discussed Trent’s idea with Professor Maurice Careless, head of the University of Toronto’s history department. The result: Canada 1867-1967, A Record of Achievement, will reach booksellers in 1965.
It is exactly the kind of book Trent described to Roland Michener. The first half, written by scholars, will cover Canada’s first century in 10-year periods, and the second half, written by professional writers, will describe the 100-year development of Canada’s people, natural resources and industries.
Trent says his interest in Canada’s history began with his parents, who were born before Confederation and told him stories of Canadian village life in the 1880s and 1890s, but that is about all he will say about himself. A graduate of Royal Military College (class of ’25), he went into private industry, served in the militia and was an artillery major during the war. He’d rather talk about his book than about himself.
“Most Canadian histories are dull,” he says, “but this one will be written in a flowing narrative style. I don’t even want it to have footnotes. I hate footnotes. Anything worth saying can be said in the text. We’ll put the charts in the back. But of course I can be overruled by the editor.”
Careless has become official editor and Gray is the publisher, but Trent confers regularly with them, and has a title, chairman of the Executive Committee. He doesn’t have very much to do now, but when the writers start writ-
ing the second half of the book, he’ll check their manuscripts with the people involved.
Any profits from the book will go into a trust fund. Contributors, instead of receiving royalties, will be paid only once and then be part of a committee
to decide how grants from the trust fund can do the most for historical scholarship and preservation of historical sites in Canada.
For Gordon Trent, who says “I haven’t really accomplished anything in my life; most good things that have happened to me have been just luck.” the reward for his idea will come when he sees a “final volume of first quality.”
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