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Mel Hurtig speaks at the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Encyclopedia in Ottawa on Oct. 6, 2010. (Mike Carroccetto/Mike Carroccetto)
Mel Hurtig speaks at the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Encyclopedia in Ottawa on Oct. 6, 2010. (Mike Carroccetto/Mike Carroccetto)

How Canada got an encyclopedia to call its own Add to ...

Official Ottawa doesn't shut down when the House of Commons adjourns for the day. It moves to bars and parties and speeches and fundraisers.

That's where we found Mel Hurtig and Peter Lougheed Wednesday night, at the old train station that is now the Government Conference Centre. Mr. Hurtig is 78 now; Mr. Lougheed is 82.

Twenty-five years ago the Canadian patriot and the Alberta premier collaborated to produce the Canadian Encyclopedia, which for a generation now has educated Canadian kids about their own history.

Wednesday night the two were together again recalling that remarkable partnership. Cabinet ministers, MPs, historians, academics and journalists helped mark the 25th anniversary of the encyclopedia with them.

Mr. Hurtig told the crowd how he went from bookseller - he opened a bookstore in Edmonton in 1956 that grew to be one of the country's largest - to book publisher. Tired of seeing libraries full of books that told history through an American lens, Mr. Hurtig had an idea to create an affordable Canadian encyclopedia but he just didn't have the money.

That's where the premier came in. Wednesday night, Mr. Lougheed remembered the serendipitous moment when he was talking to his staff about doing something to honour the 75th anniversary of Alberta becoming a province. Two days later Mr. Hurtig walked into his office.

Mr. Lougheed decided to fund the encyclopedia, ponying up $4 million as a gift to all of Canada from Alberta. It went into schools across the country; the two men presented it to prime minister Brian Mulroney on Canada Day and to Jeanne Sauve, the former governor-general. And he joked that he had an "ulterior motive" - the presentation of the volumes allowed him to talk to all of his provincial colleagues and push some of his agenda items.

"It's a really happy story. It's a happy Canadian story," Mr. Lougheed said.

 

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