“We had no business plan. Any accountant or businessperson would have just laughed,” recalls Ken Epps, a founding member of Between the Lines. “Those of us who considered ourselves a little more towards the logical end of the spectrum would occasionally ask if there was any kind of plan at all. And usually we’d be ignored.” Indeed, several of the planning meetings were held outside Kitchener in a co-op called the House of Zonk. That was in 1977 when the big disco hit of the day was “Stayin’ Alive.”
Workers in the Dumont Press Graphix shop in Kitchener, a typesetting collective.
Between the Lines was established in 1977 as a joint project of the Development Education Centre of Toronto and Dumont Press Graphix of Kitchener. After more than thirty-five years of operating, with what Quill and Quire recently called an “outsider advantage,” we have published more than 300 titles and we maintain a high proportion of these in print.
Our mandate–to publish Canadian-authored non-fiction on a broad range of social and cultural issues, to present new ideas and challenge readers to rethink the world around them, and to offer analysis of historical events and contemporary issues from an alternate viewpoint–is as relevant now as it was when BTL published its first book in 1977.
Launch of “The Big Nickel: Inco at Home and Abroad,” United Steelworkers Hall, Sudbury, 1977. Author Jamie Swift (right) presents the book to hard rock miner and veteran union activist Roy Scranton. Inco had just laid off several thousand workers.
Our first book, The Big Nickel: Inco at Home and Abroad, was a muckraking attack on Inco. Since then we’ve published titles ranging from early warnings about acid rain and Canada’s role in Central America to more recent books on critical race, culture, history, identity, politics, labour, and activism and social movements.
Along the way, we moved from Kitchener to Toronto. There have been changes of office, changes of staff, but the commitment of a number of founding members of the collective has been unwavering. We have weathered vast and sweeping changes to the book industry, technology, copyright. We’ve received awards and accolades, most recently for titles that have seriously challenged the academic presses’ primacy over scholarly excellence in publishing by publishing trade books that are widely recognized by academic journals and professional associations for their contributions to the field.
Long-time BTL editor Robert Clarke was shortlisted for the Editor’s Association of Canada’s 2008 Tom Fairley Award for his work on the book Gold Dust on His Shirt: The True Story of an Immigrant Mining Family. BTL titles Gatekeepers and Reasoning Otherwise were awarded the Canadian Historical Association (CHA)’s Sir John A. Macdonald Prize in 2008 and 2009 respectively. In 2010 Gatekeepers was shortlisted for the most prestigious of the CHA prizes, the François-Xavier Garneau Medal, given out every five years to honour an outstanding Canadian contribution to historical research. Committing Theatre won the Canadian Association for Theatre Research’s 2012 Ann Saddlemyer Award and was a finalist for the Canadian and Quebec Literatures’ Gabrielle Roy Prize. BTL was honoured to be named the 2012 winner of the prestigious Wilson Prize for Publishing Canadian History.
We introduced our current gadfly logo for our 30th anniversary, in 2007. In modern political terms, a gadfly is someone who persistently challenges people or institutions of power. This is the role our books and authors play. They ask uncomfortable questions, challenge the status quo, amplify the voices of marginalized peoples, and help us to rethink Canada’s history and place in the world.
Between the Lines marked its 35th anniversary in 2012 and fittingly that milestone year was one of celebrations and of reflections on history (ours and others’). Our books and authors were honoured with several prestigious awards, our provocative book about the misuse of Canadian history— Warrior Nation—met wide acclaim, and we made BTL history by publishing our first graphic non-fiction book and our first cookbook.
And now, in Toronto, Ottawa, and across Canada, it seems more and more Canadians are asking questions about how our governments work and how we might mend what appear to be broken democratic systems. It seems apt, then, that our most recent books include titles that offer information and inspiration for ordinary Canadians who are ready to take political action. From practical pointers about copyright law to suggestions for progressive tax reforms, and from radical 1960s Montreal to unlikely radicals in Northern Ontario, the newest BTL books call on readers to arm themselves with knowledge and to challenge the powerful.
From left: 1) Bell workers demonstrating in Kitchener. “The Phone Book: Working at the Bell” by Joan Kuyek was published in 1979. 2) Doing paste-up at a light table, 1977, at Dumont Press Graphix, where early BTL books were typeset.