Mel Hurtig Finding Aid
Mel Hurtig
Mel Hurtig Fonds
1930-2004
212 m of textual records, 335 photographs, 161 audio-visual items, 21 posters/artwork and ephemera.
Acc. #91-62, 91-63, 91-64, 95-34, 95-101, 95-200, 96-27, 2004-74

Biography of Mel Hurtig

Mel Hurtig

Mel Hurtig was born in Edmonton on June 24, 1932 to parents of East European descent. He attended schools in Edmonton, but began his career at an early age, working in retail for a family business, A. and M. Hurtig Furs in Winnipeg. Returning to Edmonton in 1956, he founded a bookstore, Hurtig’s Books, in a small downtown shop. Within five years, Hurtig expanded his shop and introduced innovative ideas such as staging plays in the book store, hosting poetry and book readings and setting up areas in the shop for patrons to play chess, drink coffee and socialize. His business grew into one of the largest retail book operations in Canada, with three stores operating in Edmonton and total sales rising to just under $700, 000 a year.

Hurtig sold his book operations in 1972, and established Hurtig Publishers, with a plan to publish Canadian titles. The publishing company published many books, including such titles as: The Unjust Society, An Idiot Joy, and Alberta: A Natural History. Mel Hurtig was twice named Canadian Book Publisher of the Year. In 1980, Hurtig launched the largest and most ambitious project of his publishing career with a plan to publish a comprehensive Canadian Encyclopedia. The Canadian Encyclopedia was published in 1985, a revised and expanded second edition published in 1988, and The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada published in 1990. Mel Hurtig sold his publishing company to McClelland and Stewart in May of 1991; many of his titles remain in print and The Canadian Encyclopedia is available as a CD-ROM, as an online version on the Internet, and a special one-volume Encyclopedia was published to mark the millennium in 2000.

Alongside his career in book selling and publishing, Mel Hurtig was and remains a passionate nationalist and activist. His early political activities included leading a small Alberta group in supporting the 1967 candidacy of Pierre Trudeau for the Liberal leadership. He ran unsuccessfully for Parliament for the Liberals in 1972, but left the party in 1973. With a group of like-minded nationalists, including Walter Gordon, Jack McClelland, and Claude Ryan, Hurtig attended the founding of the Committee for an Independent Canada (CIC), and acted as its chair in 1973-74. The CIC founders were concerned about the high degree of foreign ownership in Canada and its persuasive influence on the lives of Canadians in the domains of politics, economics and culture. The CIC went on to raise a petition of over 170,000 names against foreign economic and cultural domination of Canada, and remained active until 1980. In 1985, Mel Hurtig founded a new national organization: The Council of Canadians (COC). Its focus was to raise public awareness and lobby against the “free trade” initiative in order to preserve and reinforce Canadian sovereignty. The COC, still in existence, develops policies, lobbies government, and strives to create public awareness around issues of Canadian nationalism and sovereignty.

Mel Hurtig announced his resignation from the Council of Canadians at its 1992 Annual General Meeting and his intention to launch a new political party: “The National Party of Canada”. He was elected leader of the party in November 1992, and the party’s policy book: A New and Better Canada was published in December 1992. The party grew quickly and managed to field 171 candidates in ridings across the country in the 1993 federal election. Less than a year later, the party was dissolved by its council amid allegations of financial mismanagement and other internal problems.

After leaving publishing, Hurtig became an author with the publishing of Betrayal of Canada (1991), a passionate appeal for Canada’s survival, and then a memoir, At Twilight in the Country: Memoirs of a Canadian Nationalist (1996). His three latest books include Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids (2000), The Vanishing Country: Is It Too Late to Save Canada? (2002), and the recent Rushing to Armageddon (2004). The high profile Mel Hurtig enjoys with his many involvements, professional career, and writing ensures his demand for public speaking engagements across the country. He has actively volunteered on numerous boards and committees, and his commitments and passions have been recognized with the bestowing of many awards and honorary degrees. Mel Hurtig is an Officer of the Order of Canada and received the Lester B. Pearson Man of the Year Peace Award (1988). Recently, he was named an ‘Edmontonian of the Century’, honoring individuals who contributed significantly to Edmonton’s growth in the past 100 years.

Mel Hurtig has four grown daughters; he continues with his political and social activities.


Scope and Content

The Mel Hurtig fonds encompass a wide range of records, documenting the many areas of interest and pursuits Mr. Hurtig enjoyed in the professional, personal and political arenas of his life.

In the first series, Hurtig Business Records, only a few files concern Hurtig’s Bookstore; most of the files relate instead to his publishing concerns. The series includes correspondence with authors and a series of files Hurtig called “Possible Future Books”, where book proposals and potential publishing projects were considered. The correspondence with authors is very interesting and the Hurtig Business records series provides the researcher with some sense of the complexity involved in the publishing world. There is extensive business correspondence files located in Series 1 and they have been arranged in date order by day, month and year. It is perhaps a misnomer to label Hurtig’s correspondence as business or personal or CIC/COC etc., because such tidy separations do not actually exist in his correspondence. All these ‘boundaries’ blend together. His letters to authors, for example, often contain information related to his CIC and COC initiatives, and the hundreds of invitations he receives for speaking engagements invite him to speak on topics encompassing his many interests and expertise. In the end, the letter-head the letters were sent on determined what series the correspondence was filed with; the letters located in this series were written on various Hurtig business logo stationery. The CIC and COC correspondence are likewise filed because of the letter-head or titles typed on the retained flimsy file copies. In more recent dates, the correspondence often consists of printed e-mails, again on numerous issues and topics, but is filed in the ‘Personal Records’ series because of when they were written in relation to Mel Hurtig’s stage of life and career. Separate finding-aids are available to the records of The Canadian Encyclopedia and The Junior Encyclopedia of Canada

Mel Hurtig’s involvement with the Committee for an Independent Canada and with the Council of Canadians is well-documented in Series 2 and Series 3 of the fonds, particularly in regard to the issues both groups were involved with. Hurtig was a central figure in both organizations, and his correspondence files provide a valuable record of the day-to-day operations of these national bodies, as well as a more global view of the organizations and the public personas they presented. There are copies of board meeting documents and executive correspondence, as well as policy documentation, issue-oriented presentations, news releases and related clipping files. A major issue the COC, in particular, rallied against was the Free Trade Agreement and there is an extensive collection of research material and documents gathered for background reference and research purposes. The COC corresponded with federal politicians, well-known Canadians, and other action bodies (such as the Pro-Canada Network) in assembling their issues information library, as evidenced in the Series 3 files. Peace and disarmament issues are also extensively documented in the COC files.

Series 4, consisting of Mel Hurtig’s political files, contains files related to his membership in and candidacy for the Federal Liberal Party and more extensively, his founding and leading of the National Party of Canada. The National Party records are fascinating in that they clearly document a unique event in the Canadian political landscape. In a time frame of about two years, a party was formed, ran a national election campaign, and was dissolved, with the records in this series documenting the dramatic unfolding of events.

Mel Hurtig’s book writing files are retained in Series 5. There are complete drafts of the following Hurtig books: The Betrayal of Canada, At Twilight in the Country, The Vanishing Country, and Rushing to Armageddon. Chapter drafts contain editing comments, corrections and additions and deletions. There are also related clipping and publicity files that document the book signing and speaking tours post publication.

Series 6 is broadly defined as personal records, and includes textual files, published material and photographs. While the files contain references to family and personal concerns, again there is the blurring of boundaries with a lot of the e-mail correspondence focusing on political and issue-oriented topics. Hurtig corresponds with well-known Canadians in campaigns designed to oppose missile defense, call attention to issues of Canadian sovereignty and affect political change. The photographs span a period of some sixty years, and also included in this series is a collection of books given to Hurtig by their authors, with Hurtig usually referenced in the book.

The final series, Series 7, contains audio-visual records including video-tapes, cassette tapes, and compact discs. The subject matter of this material references all the previous series topics, and is listed in date order.

The records are in excellent physical shape and provide a very complete documentation of the activities and passions of a well-known Canadian.


Arrangement

The fonds contains 7 series:

1. Business
2. Committee for an Independent Canada (CIC)
3. Council of Canadians (COC)
4. Politics
5. Writing
6. Personal Papers
7. AV Recordings


Restrictions

Restrictions on Access

Access to the Mel Hurtig Fonds is restricted until 2010. Until then all access is by written permission of Mel Hurtig.


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

"Field Notes: Vol XXXIV," January 22 - June 19, 1957. 91-62-1, Mel Hurtig Fonds, University of Alberta Archives.

Acquisition Information

Mel Hutig donated his record to the University of Alberta Archives in a series of 8 donations.

Processing Information

The Mel Hurtig finding aid was written in 2004-2005. The finding aid was encoded in March 2005