What's it with Canada and Typography?

writingdesigning's picture

Canada seems to have a disproportionately large number of interesting people and projects connected with typography.

This seems to be reflected in Typophile memberships too. When you read an interesting post and want to know the author's profile, something like 3 out of 5 times, it's somebody in Canada!

Is there a background to this? Does Canada indeed have a particularly strong typographic tradition? If yes, how did it come about?

While one reads so much about typography and the Netherlands, I really haven't seen much about Canada. Would love to know more.

If this ground has been covered already in an earlier thread, I'd be grateful if anybody can point me to it.

Artur Schmal's picture

Is there a background to this?

Maybe due to the high amount of post WWII Dutch immigrants in Canada? ;)

metalfoot's picture

It's really cold here in the winter, and we all value a warm fire and a good book to curl up with. As such, we take great pride in our books looking good, as well as being good.

{/tongue in cheek}

mili's picture

"It’s really cold here in the winter, and we all value a warm fire and a good book to curl up with. As such, we take great pride in our books looking good, as well as being good.

{/tongue in cheek}"

If cold climate was the only reason for having a rich typographic life, Scandinavia should be well up there, too. I know there's some life in Sweden, and even budding typelife in Finland, where the art has been almost non-existant until fairly recently.

I've been wondering about the Canadian angle, too. The Canadians here have definately made me more interested in their country.

blank's picture

1. It gives them something to do in-between hockey seasons.
2. In the rest of the world we come home, have a few drinks, and go to bed. Who could stomach that much LaBatt?
3. Have you tried watching the CBC? It’s no wonder they prefer the internet.

I could go on all day, but truth be told, I would have left the US for Canada years ago if my SO’s career didn’t keep us attached to Washington.

Si_Daniels's picture

Deja Vu... :-)

What is it about Canadians and Type Design?
http://typophile.com/node/15466

writingdesigning's picture

Thanks sii. There were some really delightful posts in that thread.

writingdesigning's picture

"Maybe due to the high amount of post WWII Dutch immigrants in Canada?"

If that's true, I wish the Dutch East India Company were a little more succesful in this part of the world!

"As such, we take great pride in our books looking good, as well as being good."

Which is great considering one of those books was written by a Mr. Bringhurst

"I could go on all day..."

Ever grateful to you guys for having such a great time that the Canadians feel sorry in comparison and turn to typography ;)

dezcom's picture

Thanks Si! Now I don't have to find that thread :-) I was looking for it when I saw your post.
Great minds think alike, Arun :-)

ChrisL

joeclark's picture

If there are so many of us here, why does type in Canada suck?


Joe Clark
http://joeclark.org/

James Arboghast's picture

Are you sure it sucks? Maybe it just blows ;^)

But seriously, what's wrong with type in Canada Joe?

j a m e s

Linda Cunningham's picture

I'm not sure I'd say it sucks, but there is certainly a lot of people who don't know about type who control what we see, both in print and electronically: Global/CanWest graphics and typography are horrid.

And I suspect that one reason there are so many of us on Typophile is that, on a per capita basis, Canada has one of the highest populations with good internet service. Whether that's because we're hibernating from the weather in winter or we're technically literate (or both, I guess) is moot.

(I mean, as I write this, there are 30 users on line, and three of us are from Calgary. It ain't that bad a day out!)

jason's picture

I'm not sure about the various reasons one might begin an interest in typography, but for my part a big influence and source of inspiration is the community here in western Canada, and how generous and enthusiastic that community is (despite the fact that I rarely see any/many of these folks in person). In British Columbia, for instance, there's a handful of people who have had a major impact on my work and interests, including Jan & Crispin Elsted (of Barbarian Press in Mission, BC - likely one of the finest letterpress printer/publishers out there), Bringhurst in the Gulf Islands, Jim Rimmer and Robert Reid in Vancouver, and then there's the Alcuin Society in Vancouver as well, which puts on Canada's national book design awards along with various other book-related events such as the Wayzgoose fine-press book fair which just happened on November 17th at the Vancouver Public Library. There are also a lot of small, fine-press publishers around here who have formed a fairly tight sense of community, largely over the wire, but it keeps things interesting to swap stories with others wrestling with font choice and tricky Vandercooks.

And as for the crack about the CBC, I'm pretty sure that CBC Radio 2 is a contributing factor to much of the book work coming out of Canada: almost everyone I know who makes books has that station on in the background 18 hours a day.

And the weather probably does play a certain role: here in the Okanagan it's 40 degrees in the summer, so all you can do is sit in the shade and read in the afternoons, and in the winter it's minus 30, so you'd best find a cozy chair and a good book in the evenings.

Aside from that, maybe we can haul up the stereotypes and talk about our (self-perceived) reserved and quiet temperaments, combined with a romantic taste for the simple and understated: typography certainly fits the bill.

writingdesigning's picture

"If there are so many of us here, why does type in Canada suck?"

I've not been there so I couldn't tell, but it perhaps sucks a lot less out there compared to other places.

Which may partly be so thanks to your sort of self-critical approach :)

dezcom's picture

Compare the use of type in Canada to the U.S. and you will see that American use of type sucks more than Canadian. We have no excuse other than that those who make the decisions don't listen to those who know about type. I don't know if the Netherlands has a better respect for type people than we Americans but they seem to make a better show of it there at least.

ChrisL

Si_Daniels's picture

>If there are so many of us here, why does type in Canada suck?

The good stuff is being done for export - the Dutch keep their good stuff for use at home.

Cheers, Si

blank's picture

We have no excuse other than that those who make the decisions don’t listen to those who know about type.

And why is that, anyway? Why don’t American designers just stand up in a meeting more often and say “I’m sorry Mary, but deciding what typeface to use is my job, not yours, and I am NOT using Papyrus.”

writingdesigning's picture

"Great minds think alike..."

If the size of that inverted 'C' on your thumbnail is any indication, it must be quite a great mind in there ;)

"The good stuff is being done for export - the Dutch keep their good stuff for use at home"

Are you sure? You hear so much about Dutch typography while Canadian typographic excellence is almost a secret. Shouldn't it have been the reverse if it were all for export?

Jason, loved your post in the earlier thread too. Thanks for mentioning all those names that I will now look up. Of that list I knew of only Bringhurst.

Linda Cunningham's picture

And as for the crack about the CBC, I’m pretty sure that CBC Radio 2 is a contributing factor to much of the book work coming out of Canada: almost everyone I know who makes books has that station on in the background 18 hours a day.

Guilty as charged. Maybe they should use that as their next promotion campaign: "be even more creative, listen to CBC Radio 2....". ;-)

Si_Daniels's picture

>Are you sure?

No, just personal experience. I've imported a bunch of Canadian type and expertise in recent years, but perhaps that because I'm practically in Canada.

Cheers, Si

russellm's picture

A couple theories on why reading Typophile could give the impression that there are a disproportionate designers working with here:

1 Canadian type designers aren't all that busy, so they have oodles of time to post on Typophile (doubt that holds up very well)

1.2 Canadian type designers are very busy, but very efficient so they have oodles of time to post on Typophile

2 Canadians are just so much more sociable and out-going than everyone else (you KNOW that ain't so)

Joe, I think mediocrity thrives everywhere.

-=®=-

Si_Daniels's picture

>A couple theories on why reading Typophile could give the impression that there are a disproportionate designers working with here:

Might also be a time-zone thing (is it quieter here during the North American night-time hours?), or maybe related to typophile feeling like an online extension to TypeCon/SoTA which is a North American organization.

dezcom's picture

"Why don’t American designers just stand up in a meeting more often and say “I’m sorry Mary, but deciding what typeface to use is my job, not yours..."

James,
What makes you think they don't? We have done it many many times. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. Sometimes the client says "It's my money, not yours so we are using Papyrus". Sometimes a VP for marketing is trying to show the boss he is worth his 6-figure salary and has to "save the day" by changing the typeface to something with more "pizzaz". This is the real world where most designers struggle to do good work despite the overlord's need for control.

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

Arun, "that inverted ’C’" only looks large because there is no hair to cover it :-)

ChrisL

Si_Daniels's picture

>If the size of that inverted ’C’ on your thumbnail is any indication, it must be quite a great mind in there ;)

We should think ourselves lucky that the icon doesn't include his R's* :-)

Cheers, Si

*Need to have an English accent for this one

dezcom's picture

LOL!!!

ChrisL

HaleyFiege's picture

Actually it's not just typography. Canada has been on a steady increase in terms of good design work for a few years now. Toronto is actually one of the top ten cities in the world for award winning advertising right now.

Also have you tried living here? How can you not be continually inspired?
:)

Linda Cunningham's picture

Also have you tried living here? How can you not be continually inspired? :)

ROFL! I could have taken a transfer to Toronto from Ottawa, but turned it down (and ended up in NYC: I think I got the better end of that deal).

The only thing Tranna continually inspires me to do is leave once I'm finished doing whatever I end up having to do there....

HaleyFiege's picture

Haha yeah I know. I've been in Toronto for 5 years now and I'm about ready to skip town.

Before Toronto I lived in Vancouver which is definitely beautiful and inspiring and scenic. East coast not so much...

jselig's picture

East coast not so much...

Bite your tongue. :P

Toronto is neither eastern Canada or a real coast. And if you're referring to NB/NS/PEI/NFLD, you really ought to spend more time there. Halifax is one of my top 5 places in the world I love.

The only thing Tranna continually inspires me to do is leave once I’m finished doing whatever I end up having to do there....

I used to think I'd like it until I had to constantly be in the city last year. Maybe I'd like it more if i was working there, but probably only for the convenience of catching flights out. :)

HaleyFiege's picture

Haha I don't want to fight with you about this. I'm a Vancouver supporter for life.

And Toronto isn't THAT bad. There's great culture and people here. And now that the lake is swimmable again it's actually pretty decent in the summer.

Linda Cunningham's picture

East coast not so much...

Bite your tongue. :P

I'll second that: St. John's is fabulous, and if you want a real adventure, I heartily recommend Iqaluit. (For the Canadian geographically-impaired, the capital of Nunavut is due west of Greenland, on Baffin Island).

Maybe I’d like it more if i was working there, but probably only for the convenience of catching flights out. :)

We now have Calgary-Nassau direct flights, thanks to WestJet. 6.5 hours, but we can be at my sister-in-law's place way faster than going through Tranna.... ;-)

HaleyFiege's picture

Have you guys lived in Vancouver?

Nick Shinn's picture

Canada has a tradition in the graphic arts, especially in Montreal and Toronto, back into the 19th century.
But no type design until 1967 (Cartier, by Carl Dair.)

"...had MacDonald chosen to turn his talents to typography he might have made a name for himself in Canada comparable to that of Frederick W. Goudy or T.M. Cleland in the United States" -- art critic William Colgate, 1940.

He's referring to graphic designer J.E.H. MacDonald, better known as a painter and founder of the Group of Seven. MacDonald's iconic landscapes now sell in the multi-millions, but in the days before the Canada Council supported artists, in a small country like Canada, the Group of Seven worked as graphic designers, at studio Grip Ltd. Among his many talents, MacDonald was an accomplished lettering artist, and had there been any type foundries in Canada in the early 20th century, no doubt he would have designed some typefaces that would be well-known today.

So it wasn't so much that he didn't chose typography, but type design wasn't really an option available to him.

Linda Cunningham's picture

Have you guys lived in Vancouver?

Back in the late 70s-early 80s: nice place to visit when the sun shines (as it mostly did two weekends ago), but don't want to move back, especially in winter.

Si_Daniels's picture

>But no type design until 1967

Where does this fit in? http://www.tiro.com/syllabics/Edmund_Peck/Edmund_Peck.html

dezcom's picture

Si,
Please explain your green Leprechaun visage? Is that Seattle's newest pro team?

ChrisL

Linda Cunningham's picture

But no type design until 1967 (Cartier, by Carl Dair.)

Cartier was done in 1967 by Rod McDonald.

http://www.stepinsidedesign.com/STEPMagazine/Article/28572

Nick Shinn's picture

Where does this fit in?

Somewhat outside the main tradition!

Cartier was done in 1967 by Rod McDonald.

My, what a precocious fellow.

Gary Long's picture

Dair did Cartier, though he didn't quite finish it. Rod McDonald revamped it more recently as Cartier Book, making it less quirky. First book I wrote that was published was set in the original Cartier. Didn't really suit the subject matter, and the italics were horrible for the lengthy photo captions. I've seen Cartier book used in some Canadian art books. Looks great there.

Si_Daniels's picture

>Please explain your green Leprechaun visage?

That's Snufkin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snufkin) I'm keeping him around until the Hawks win a play-off game...

dezcom's picture

I knew there was a sporting reasoning in there somewhere, Si;-)

ChrisL

Si_Daniels's picture

There's always a sporting connection - for example I find it ironic that the spacing between the 9 and 7 is bad on this jersey... http://www.seahawks.com/Espanol/Espanol.aspx?id=48624

dezcom's picture

"I find it ironic that the spacing between the 9 and 7 is bad on this jersey"

LOL!!! Thanks, Si! I needed that just now :-)

ChrisL

John Hudson's picture

Nick: But no type design until 1967 (Cartier, by Carl Dair.)

Unless you count the work of missionaries creating types -- indeed, whole writing systems -- for native languages, the first of which predates Cartier by more than a hundred years. Dair's work was the first type design by someone who identified himself as a designer.

Si_Daniels's picture

>LOL!!! Thanks, Si! I needed that just now :-)

Back on topic - congratulations to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on their Grey Cup win!

Nick Shinn's picture

missionaries creating types

Yes, I debated mentioning that in my first post, but decided it wasn't important.
However, on reflection, and considering the work of SIL up to the present day, it may be considered a significant part of the big picture, which isn't only about the commercial world of typography.

Linda Cunningham's picture

Back on topic - congratulations to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on their Grey Cup win!

They didn't win pretty -- in fact, it wasn't a great game at all -- but they did win. And with windchills of -35C, today's parade will be an interesting one. ;-)

Don McCahill's picture

Compared to the Monday night NFL match, Linda, it was a Great game. (And as a long-suffering Riders fan, well deserved.)

dezcom's picture

Even though I am a life-long Steelers fan, I have to agree that last night's mud fest was not the best game I ever watched. When a punt comes down from 50 yards up in the sky and sticks into the mud half a ball deep without the hint of a bounce, you know it is not a good day for football. They should have played the game on water skis.

ChrisL

Si_Daniels's picture

>I have to agree that last night’s mud fest was not the best game I ever watched.

My favorite bit - with the score at zero-zero and time running down in the 4th quarter one of the commentators said - “I feel like I’m watching a soccer game”

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