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.

14 comments:

headbang8 said...

I think they should call it, in your words, "The National Rodent"

Candace said...

They should at least keep beaver in the tag line .... maybe "Learning About Milestones, Yesteryear, Beavers and Other Canadian Treasures"

Travis said...

Or they could the other direction entirely and just call it...uh, never mind.

Daniel said...

I'm thinking of picking up some magazines for my weekend reading -- Penthouse, Hustler and Swank, which, I reckon from their titles, must be about urban living, entrepreneurship and luxury products respectively. I steer clear of Wired, though. I don't see the need to pay the caffeine industry for their self-serving propaganda.

Mark Reynolds said...

Thanks Daniel. That comment will draw all sorts of Google-deluded hits to the blog.

KENY said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
cath said...

A sad sad day.

aksunflour said...

How sad. Some people today, just jump to all the wrong conclusions.
the yarn that can be gotten off a beaver is exquisite stuff.

sulkycat said...

Is that a picture of a wet beaver I see on your blog? Thank goodness it is not a bald beaver, as I believe many Canucks are sneaking up on the unsuspecting beasts and shaving them to use the resulting beaver 'fur' for knitting and spinning purposes, Canuck beaver fur being second only to that of the Brits in silky softness. A little known fact ...

TwinsMama said...

well that is a shame isnt it - past long standing traditions and names falling by the wayside due to modern "minds"...
And from what I hear beaver "fur" for knitting would be such fun, but asking for such in shops only would bring on the smirks I suspect

Lynne in MI said...

That is a shame, to trade in a distinctive name that might attract luxury fiber knitters crazed for beaver fur yarn patterns for one that's awfully boring (not the history, just as a magazine name) Ah well.

KnitYoga said...

I really dislike these breaks with tradition. Why do they need to change the name of the Beaver magazine and why does Cadbury's have to sell out? Talking of which that reminds me of my two favourite things = eating chocolate and knitting with luxury yarn. Oh, yes, beaver yarn - so much more luxurious even than camel!

cath said...

and speaking of beaver yarn--I think it could make some nice pasties!

Mark Reynolds said...

Pasties? I have no idea of what you're talking about (how far did that photo go?) But I'm sure "beaver pasties" would sell like hotcakes.