"A Press with Such Traditions": Oxford University Press of Canada

Article excerpt

On Tuesday, 10 August 1904, when Oxford University Press established a branch in Canada, (2) it joined a small but significant group of publishing houses already operating in Toronto. By the turn of the century, Toronto had become a centre for Canada's burgeoning publishing industry, home to the Copp Clark Company, W.J. Gage and Company, and the Methodist Book and Publishing House (later Ryerson Press), for example. When Oxford University Press set up shop on "Booksellers' Row" (3) at 25 Richmond Street West, the company sought to consolidate its presence in the small Canadian market with a view to establishing itself as an important branch. Eight years earlier, in September 1896, Oxford had opened its first branch operation in New York. The founding of a second branch in Toronto served, in fact, to widen Oxford's presence in North America. By 1929, the Toronto branch could announce with "great pride" that it represented "a Press with such traditions, and such a record of useful and important work, not only in the development of printing but in the History of England." (4) After twenty-five years in Canada, Oxford University Press had begun to realize its hopes for expansion.

Oxford's British roots, always emphasized as a source of pride by the Canadian branch, still are celebrated today. Over the past one hundred years, and especially in the period following the Second World War when it was instrumental in developing Canadian letters and in shaping the culture of Canada, Oxford University Press Canada has retained the British tradition of publishing useful, important, and attractive books. As this essay will show, Oxford Canada developed as a largely autonomous branch of its parent company in England. Moreover, having weathered the vagaries of economic uncertainty that always have characterized the publishing industry in this country, Oxford remains committed to the production of Canadian books that reflect the "dignity of the business." (5)

Prior to the establishment of the Toronto branch, S.G. Wilkinson, representative of Oxford University Press in London, travelled across Canada as far west as Winnipeg to promote and sell Oxford books. In his capacity as Wholesale and Trade Manager of the Methodist Book and Publishing House, S.B. (Samuel Bradley) Gundy frequently purchased Oxford titles from Wilkinson. A veteran of Canadian publishing, Gundy had worked for W.J. Gage and Company before joining the Methodist Book and Publishing House. Impressed by Gundy, who was familiar with Oxford's list, Wilkinson appointed him Manager of the Toronto branch with the promise of a "free hand to develop the business" (S.B. Gundy to William Briggs, 8 January 1904), (6) a large salary, and a share of profits. From 1904 until his death in 1936, Gundy devoted himself to consolidating Oxford's place among Canadian publishing houses.

The son of a Methodist minister, S.B. Gundy was born in Aurora, Ontario, raised in Toronto, and educated at Ryerson School. A cantankerous man of legendary "wrath," (7) Gundy operated in premises that were poorly suited to the business of publishing. Prior to the Second World War, most titles available in Canada were produced either in Britain or the United States and were shipped as plates, sheets, or books to local agency or branch offices. Throughout Oxford's early years in Canada, Gundy oversaw the regular delivery from overseas of crates of books to 25 Richmond Street West, a building without an elevator. Oxford occupied the basement, the ground floor, and part of the second floor of the building. Wilfrid Ford, who worked at Oxford during Gundy's tenure as Manager, recalled that "[d]elivery of crates to the basement was taken down a slide of planks but, though we were powerless to control their rate of descent, too many books did not seem to get damaged" (16). In spite of its inadequacies--fortunately, an elevator and electric lighting soon were installed--Oxford University Press purchased 25 Richmond Street West in 1905. …