Urban Landscape

Judy Mappin and the Double Hook
Celebrating Judy Mappin at the Centaur Theatre, October 24, 2005

I am deeply sorry that family illness in Scotland makes it impossible for me to be with you in Montreal tonight. I am especially sorry since your celebration of Judy Mappin and The Double Hook is an important one, and I was proud to be invited to be part of it.

Many speakers tonight will no doubt, rightly, concentrate on the impact that The Double Hook had on the local Montreal community, as an integral, treasured part of the city and of the immediate neighbourhood. The impact on any community lucky enough to have a bookstore like The Double Hook is huge. And, sadly, that impact is often only fully recognized when it disappears.

By contrast I would like to speak as a national publisher for some 25 years–first as the publisher of Macmillan of Canada, then, since 1988 until last year, as the publisher of McClelland & Stewart and now of Douglas Gibson Books–about the national impact of The Double Hook and Judy Mappin.

First, a little history. Alice Munro tells me that as late as the 1960s, it was still possible for apparently intelligent, well-read people to say aloud at parties, “Of course, I never read Canadian books!” Today, of course, such a statement would be a joke, or the speaker would be revealing himself to be a joke. If the Alice Munro example is too anecdotal for you, consider these facts. In 1965 no Canadian work of fiction was published that was considered worthy of the Governor General’s Award. Not one. (Contrast that with the 100 fiction titles in contention for the Giller Prize this year.)

The same thing happened in 1967, of all years. Because 1967, Centennial Year, Expo year, was in so many ways a watershed, the year when Canada woke up and realized that we could do things for ourselves in this country. Things like write and publish our own books, instead of doing what most Canadian so-called publishers had done in the past, which was to distribute ready-made books from the UK or from the United States. And to give you some idea of the size of the river of books in English that come out each year–leaving Canadian titles to swim upstream–in 2004 almost 400,000 new titles were published in the English language.

The late 1960s and the early seventies saw an explosion of Canadian writing backed by the mushroom-like growth of small Canadian publishers keen to publish real live Canadian authors. Established publishers like John Gray at Macmillan and, most notably, Jack McClelland at M&S were delighted to take advantage of the new Canadian interest in our own books, and increased their publishing program, matched by scores of smaller companies that sprang up from coast to coast.

So we had the publishers, we had the authors, we even, it was suspected, had the readers (and the creation of the cheap paperback series the New Canadian Library in the late 1950s had created the possibility for the first time of universities offering courses in something called “Canadian Literature,” which was creating over time a generation of potential readers). But what we lacked were good bookstores to join up all of the dots in this picture.

That was why it was so important for Canada when in 1974 Judy Mappin and her partners Hélène Holden and Joan Blake opened The Double Hook Book Shop on Montreal’s Ste. Catherine Street. Significantly named after the Canadian classic by Sheila Watson, the shop’s mission was to promote Canadian authors and their works—not around the world but to Canadians themselves. Today, when Canadian authors find the limelight on the international stage, it’s hard to imagine that only three decades ago Canadians remained largely unaware of our own literature. But so it was. And, with The Double Hook, Judy decided to change that in Montreal, just as the founders of The Longhouse Bookstore in Toronto had done in that city just a few months earlier.

The very creation of this store was an inspiration to the Canadian book world. And very soon–and for the next 31 years, as colleagues and staff came and went–the Double Hook was established as an important part of that world of books.

For book people visiting Montreal, it was always worth making the trip west along Sherbrooke to Greene Avenue and climbing the stairs (for a visitor, it’s a very Montreal entrance) to The Double Hook. Because you knew that inside you would find a fine, warm, well-stocked store with keen, knowledgeable staff (glad on one occasion to accept my help when as a totally objective source I persuaded an undecided browser to buy not one, but three copies of the latest Robertson Davies novel in hardcover). The lively group of customers if you were lucky, might include authors like Roch Carrier or Mordecai Richler or even Bill Weintraub, for instance.

And while the store has become a fixture of Montreal’s arts community—a welcoming literary oasis for authors and readers alike—Judy’s contribution to Canadian literature and culture has always extended far beyond its walls. A past winner of the Ontario Book Publisher’s Organization’s Janice E. Handford Award, offered in recognition of an individual who has advanced the cause of small and literary Canadian publishing, she was also a founding member and director of the Quebec Society for the Promotion of English Language Literature (QSPELL). She served on the National Poetry Month Committee, as well as several jury panels, including the aforementioned Janice E. Handford Award and the 1999 Giller Prize Jury Panel. And, of course she is also a Trustee for The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction—a splendid and prestigious prize commemorating the life of her brother, Charles Taylor.

A keen supporter of the Quebec Writers Federation, the Blue Metropolis/Metropole Bleu Literary Festival and various Quebec librarian and teaching associations, Judy represents the very best of Canadian independent bookselling, a fact which was recognized in 2001 when she won the Booksellers’ Association Libris Award for Bookseller of the Year.

While it’s encouraging to know that there are other independent booksellers across the country who believe passionately in Canadian authors and tirelessly promote their works, I fear there will never be another quite like The Double Hook. Judy Mappin’s pioneering vision of promoting national literary pride (leading, not coincidentally, to international recognition for Canadian works) has been realised, and, for that, those of us working in today’s book industry today will always be grateful to her. That was why it was a special pleasure–and a special honour–to be asked in June at the great annual bookselling gathering in Toronto called Book Expo to present Judy with a Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Lifetime Achievement awarded by her admiring colleagues from coast to coast. I am proud to be a part of tonight’s celebration in Montreal, which is, of course, for Judy Mappin’s Lifetime Achievement.

Douglas Gibson, publisher of Douglas Gibson Books, McClelland & Stewart [Douglas Gibson’s speach was read by Simon Dardick]

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