University of Alberta Remembers Mel Hurtig

Mel Hurtig – political activist, bookseller and publisher of The Canadian Encyclopedia passes away

By Donna McKinnon on August 4, 2016

At the age of 23, Hurtig opened the city’s first independent bookstore (now known as Audreys Books) in 1956. Hurtig Books, which eventually grew to three bookstores, became an “intellectual community centre” for readers, authors, chess players and progressive thinkers across Western Canada.

In 1972, Hurtig left bookselling to concentrate on publishing, establishing his own imprint, Hurtig Publishers, which was twice named Publisher of the Year (in 1975 and 1981). Following five years of exhaustive research and collaborative effort, Hurtig published the wildly popular three-volume Canadian Encyclopedia in 1985, which featured 2,500 contributors and more than 9,000 articles. A second edition was published in 1988, followed by the Junior Encyclopedia of Canada in 1990.

Hurtig ran for the Liberal Party in the 1972 federal election, and was a founding chair of the Council of Canadians, a social justice advocacy organization. Ever the political muckraker, he established the National Party in 1992, largely in response and opposition to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Hurtig also wrote and published a number of books, including The Betrayal of Canada (1991), Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids (2000), The Vanishing Country (2002), and his autobiography, At Twilight in the Country: Memoirs of a Canadian Nationalist, published in 1996.

In 2005, the U of A launched the Hurtig Lecture Series on the Future of Canada. It was the vision of Janine Brodie, Canada Research Chair and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science, to mark Alberta’s centennial with a celebration of engaged citizenship.

Last October, the 10th Annual Hurtig Lecture focused on “Cities and the Future of Canada,” with Edmonton and Calgary mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi as featured speakers. Hurtig was in attendance, signing copies of what would prove to be his last book, The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen Harper’s Takeover of Canada. Hurtig’s political acumen and personal charisma contributed to the huge success of the lecture, which drew accolades from across the country.

“The Department of Political Science joins with the rest of the country in mourning the loss of a great Canadian and a great friend to the study of politics at the University of Alberta,” says Lois Harder, chair of political science. “His life of service to the nation provides great lessons ‎for all of us. We will miss him mightily.”

Among his accomplishments, Hurtig was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1980, had six honorary degrees (including one from the University of Alberta), received the Royal Society of Canada‘s Centenary Medal in 1986, and was the recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Man of the Year Peace Award in 1988.

Source: University of Alberta