Monday, January 11, 2010
A rose by any other name would probably be something dirty
The very first article I ever sold was a description of a trans-Canada foot race that captivated the country in 1921.* I’d originally written it for my local paper, to be published roughly to coincide with the anniversary of the race’s finish.
They were interested, but in the end passed, as they’d already filled that spot in that week’s paper. I, having having already written the piece, and not wanting all those hours in the Nova Scotia Archives to have gone to waste, decided to see if there were any magazines that might take it. As it happens, I found a magazine that specialized in Canadian history. I mailed it to them, and promptly forgot about it.
At this point, I knew I was moving to Montreal to be with Amynah, but was living in a humid basement apartment with my friends Jon and Sue. One day, a letter arrived, bearing the letterhead of the magazine to which I’d sent my article. Jon had picked up the mail that day, and he passed me the thin envelope with a sympathetic expression on his face – if I’d got the commission, surely the envelope would have a contract in it?
Reluctantly, I took it from him, and opened it. I scanned the first few lines – then scanned them again. Then I let out a girlish shriek of delight: not only did they want the article, but they were going to pay me roughly three times what the newspaper would have.** I immediately called Amynah who – for reasons I cannot recall – was entertaining my friend Tim, passing through Montreal at the time. And thus I got to share with some of my best friends in the world, at the very moment when I set upon my career: I was going to be a writer. For real.
The magazine that took my commission changed my life: not only did it confirm to me that I had the chops to be a professional, but it also lit a passion in me for Canadian history. And it earned my loyalty: I went on to write several stories on odd corners of Canada’s past – Nazi librarians, forgotten Portuguese settlements on Cape Breton, draft dodgers hiding in seminaries, cannibals in Quebec , abstract artists in Saskatchewan… to name a few.***
And yet, without fail, whenever I told anyone the name of the magazine, they would titter, giggle, guffaw, and smirk. Because yes, the second-oldest magazine in Canada, and the only general interest publication solely devoted to our nation’s history is named for our national animal. The Beaver.
It is with great sorrow that I find that The Beaver is changing its name to… ergh… “Canada’s History.” A little on the nose, no? It's a little like calling "The Wizard of Oz" "Girl gets bonked on the head and has allegorical dream about the gold standard." In any case, it doesn't do justice to a magazine that's been going from strength to strength for the past decade or so.
More than being left utterly cold by the new name, I'm saddened to learn that our national rodent – the foundation of the fur trade that played such and important role in creating the country – was cast aside because, thanks to the wonders of this connected age, a few thousand dirty minded people kept washing up in the wrong place. I mean, in my mind, part of the whole point of a magazine about Canada’s history is to be above that sort of thing, and hold true to, well, Canada’s history. Most especially a magazine originally founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company which made it’s fortune selling the pelts of that proud and noble animal.
Because the magazine has such an important role in my own life, I will admit I feel the name change is a bit of a personal betrayal, and am thus probably more than a little biased. Lord knows, I was heartily sick of explaining that I was not, in fact, a pornographer when I wrote for them – I can only imagine what the full-time employees put up with.
But surely, isn’t there some chance that some sweaty-palmed 14 year old looking for nude pictures of Samantha Steele instead find an article on Canada’s most famous Mountie and realize, like I did, that there’s more to Canadian history than drunken Scots politicians and (probably also drunk) voyageurs ? Couldn’t the world use a few more educated perverts?
* The race was won by the only woman participating and – technically – her husband.
** I resold the piece a few years later to the same newspaper, so – yay me!
*** And I will name a few more, at great length, if anyone asks.