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A magazine’s titilation
Jan 15, 2010

On October 8, 1920, the Manitoba Free Press  announced the Hudson’s Bay Company would be publishing a “family magazine” in Winnipeg that was to be called The Beaver, a name decided upon by the Company’s employees and in keeping with the animal that brought the “adventurers into Hudson’s Bay” to the New World in 1670.

“This journal, which will be issued ‘every now and then,’ is on some respects similar to those periodicals issued for circulation among the employees of certain large firms (newsletters) in Canada and the United States — one of the most modern and effectual methods of promoting mutual interest and a ‘pull together’ spirit which benefits reciprocally the employing company and the employees. The Beaver is, however, a more generally interesting publication than most others of its type, in view of the age and the romantic associations connected with the Company of the Merchant Adventurers.”

The “family magazine” was praised by the Free Press, since the history of the Company and the West “are inseparably connected,” which makes for “instructive reading” for all Canadians.

How times have changed. The Beaver is no longer a “family magazine,” as innuendo within the domain of the World Wide Web has glossed over its historical significance to Canadians and those interested in the history of this nation. A press release from the Canada’s History Society, the publishers of The Beaver since the 1990s, announced the publication in its April 2010 issue would henceforth be known as Canada’s History  magazine.

No specific mention is made of the modern connotation of “beaver” in the press release, but during media outlet interviews, Deborah Morrison, the president and CEO of Canada’s History Society, admitted the name of the magazine was deterring sales, especially among women and people under the age of 45.

Surveys undertaken by the magazine indicated many Canadians, especially women, were more willing and more likely to read a magazine called Canada’s History  than one called The Beaver, according to editor-in-chief Mark Reid.

“Our research has shown that Canadians remain very interested in our history,” said Morrison in the press release,  “but increasingly, they are looking to the web for their information — that trend is higher among younger Canadians under the age of 25 who registered surprisingly high among those Canadians with an active interest in learning more about Canada’s history.

“This rebranding will give Canada’s History Society the tools to bring history new life for new audiences while at the same time providing even more opportunities to engage our loyal readers, teachers, and members of the history community.”

Reid was more telling when he said “we wanted to make it easier for history enthusiasts to find us.”

When interviewed by the National Post, Morrison said she didn’t “want to go into a whole lot of detail about the problems in promoting The Beaver on the Internet, but suffice to say with alarming regularity a lot of our new media efforts including our e-mails and e-newsletters to readers were getting spam filtered out because of the subject heading.”

The very fact that the CHS was forced into a position to rename its magazine attracted world-wide attention as a titilating topic. In fact, most columnists wrote about the name change in a tongue-in--cheek manner with many references to the “furry” mammal the magazine was named after.

For those unfamiliar with the publication, the only “beaver” ever found in the pages of the publication was the Castor canadensis.

The Beaver was launched in 1920 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the HBC, According to the magazine’s website, employees and their families were the first readers over the next three years, but when it underwent its first redesign, it was decided to sell the magazine to “those not in the service.” At the time, it was known as The Beaver: A Journal of Progress.

It almost ceased publication during the Great Depression, but changing the masthead to say A Magazine of the North, and making it more visually appealing, increased the magazine’s popularity  among Canadian history buffs.

In later years, “The Beaver  earned a reputation for bold opinions and insightful research. It was providing an increasingly broad perspective about the history of Canada and the HBC.”

One of the earliest editions the WREN has in its library dates to the spring of 1985, and includes a story by Winnipeg historian Randy R. Rostecki entitled Winnipeg Land Politics in the 1870s, denoting the magazine’s evolving commitment to expand the historical scope of The Beaver, although it deals in part with the bad press given to  HBC at the time of the city’s incorporation. 

When the HBC ended its involvement in the fur trade in 1987, the magazine under editor Christopher Dafoe changed from a quarterly to a bimonthly and the masthead proclaimed it was Exploring Canada’s History.

In 1994, the HBC donated its archive and artifact collection to the province of Manitoba, and used the tax savings it received to establish the HBC History Foundation, which helped to establish Canada’s National History Society. The society took over publication of the magazine, changing the masthead to The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine.

The renamed Canada’s History magazine, according to the press release, “will be complemented by a dynamic and engaging online portal featuring a wide range of interactive, online media tools, ranging from video blog entries from editor-in-chief Mark Reid, to audio podcasts with magazine authors, historians and prominent Canadians. 

“New social networking tools will provide visitors with plenty of opportunities to explore new research in history, to connect with schools and community initiatives, as well as offer reviews and ratings on history-related books, websites, and travel destinations.”

There is no doubt that new technological tools have caused the print media to rethink its direction and expand its reach to attract a greater audience, but it’s too bad the 90-year-old “family magazine” had to change its name because of the unthinking Internet.