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Jack McClelland, 81; His Publishing House Cultivated Canadian Authors

June 18, 2004|From Associated Press

Jack McClelland, who headed one of Canada's most influential publishing houses and nurtured the careers of several leading writers, has died. He was 81.

McClelland died Monday of heart failure at his home in Toronto, said his friend and colleague, Elsa Franklin.

McClelland had been in failing health since suffering a stroke several years ago and had lost his sight and hearing, Franklin said.

Under his leadership, McClelland & Stewart became the biggest name in Canadian publishing. The company and its head became a strong voice for Canadian culture and national identity.

The list of authors who rose to fame under McClelland's influence reads like a Who's Who of Canadian literature and includes Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat and Leonard Cohen.

"He made an enormous push for Canadian publishing, and my career was part of that," Atwood told the New York Times on Tuesday.

Berton, who was a good friend of McClelland's, said McClelland was a strong force as Canadian literature blossomed in the 1960s and began reaching an international readership.

Berton said McClelland was prepared to publish books he believed in even if he knew they would fail financially.

"There was a big change when he came," Berton said. "The book industry became much livelier and much more aggressive and much more self-confident."

"It was fun with Jack," Berton said. "I divide the book industry into two parts -- before Jack and after Jack."

McClelland was born in Toronto. He commanded a Royal Canadian Navy torpedo boat during World War II.

The publishing firm was co-founded by McClelland's father in 1906. It was originally McClelland & Goodchild Ltd., but became McClelland & Stewart in 1918.

McClelland joined the company in 1946 and became its president in 1961, although he had been, in effect, head of the firm since 1952.

Known for his flamboyant publicity stunts, McClelland, with Sylvia Fraser, once dressed in a toga and rode up Toronto's Yonge Street in a chariot to promote Fraser's novel "The Emperor's Virgin."

In 1977, he established a competition for the best first novel. Its $36,500 purse was an enormous sum for a Canadian literary award.

But his company's aggressive publishing programs ran into problems more than once.

In early 1971, McClelland put his company up for sale and only a loan from the province of Ontario and some private investors kept it from bankruptcy. The company survived but, in 1985, McClelland was forced to sell his majority stake to real estate developer Avie Bennett. He cut his last ties to the company in 1987. The company is now owned by the University of Toronto and Random House.

McClelland is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; four daughters; a son; and several grandchildren.

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