The New Canadian Library is a series of paperbacks published by McClelland and Stewart (Canada’s most famous publishing house). Started in 1958*, its purpose was, and still is, to publish Canada’s best works in the categories of novels, short stories, essays and poetry, in an inexpensive form for use by students, teachers, and the general reader.
Although the library does not cover every great writer in Canada, or every great book written about Canada, it has become the most comprehensive set of books on Canadian literature ever assembled in the young country’s history.
To the best of my knowledge, pertaining to its list of books and artwork, the library has gone through six changes in its history . As I learn more about each of the six series I will update this page until it becomes the most detailed history of the library currently on the internet.
Here are book cover examples of each of the six changes the library has gone though over its history:
The library also changed its formatting and vision as it changed its appearance. The First, Second and Third Series’ books were numbered. Series One had this number on its spine, Series Two had it on its spine, front and back cover, Series Three removed the number from the spine and front cover leaving it only on the back cover. Series Four to Six removed the numbering entirely.
To go into more detail on the numbering system for Series One to Three, it was broken into three categories:
1. Novels, Short Stories, and Essays – these were the main books, they started at 1 and went up to 68 in Series One. Series Two expanded it to 152. Series Three continued to expand the library until it reached 196.
2. Poetry and Criticism – these books were listed with an “O” in front of the number which stood for the NCL originals. Series One included the first five (O1-O5). Series Two expanded it to twelve (O1-O12), and Series Three just reprinted them without expansion. When M&S chose an “O” for its numbering of the series, it was confusing for many collectors. As the O looked very similar to a zero, collectors who purchased the series first book “O1” Poets of the Confederation sometimes thought they were purchasing the first book of the main series (thinking it was a 01, zero-one). Then they would find the main series number “1” (Over Prairie Trails), see that it had a different title and wonder what was going on.
Here are the covers of two books which will demonstrate what I mean. The Left will show the Poets Between the Wars (number O5) and the right The Tin Flute (number 5):
If you look at the bottom of the image you will see and arrow pointing to a circle which is around the numbers of the two books. Here is a closer look:
As you can see, the one on the left looks like a zero-five when actually it’s the letter O followed by the number five. All the books in the main series (Novels, Short Stories and Essays) do not add zeros to their numbering system as you see on the right. It was a blunder by the series editors and not the only one (I will discuss those as the time passes on the appropriate pages).
3. Canadian Writers Series – these books, short biographies of famous Canadian Writers, were listed with a “W” in front of the series number. Series One published the first four books in the series, Series Two expanded it to seventeen, they we dropped before Series Three began.
* Although every publication I have read so far have stated the NCL started publication in 1958, I have found books with copyrights dated in 1957. This may mean that the books were copyrighted the year before being published.