Way more subversive than you’d expect
Canadian history and culture is being explored, challenged, and written, at the University of Regina Press. The press is a mere two and a half years old, but that has not stopped director Bruce Walsh and his team from coming out of the gate strong and establishing unprecedented success in Canada.
With three national best sellers under their belt already, The University of Regina Press continues to produce bold, risk-taking books that touch on a number of important issues in Canada. As a reincarnation of the Canadian Plains Research Centre Press, the U of R Press continues to include a focus on Canadian prairie history through the publication of both academic and trade non-fiction works. The Press has quickly and passionately created a strong brand name well known within academic, writing, publishing, and media circles in Canada.
Sitting down with Bruce Walsh, it was apparent how passionate and energetic the University of Regina Press is. Walsh animatedly detailed the past, present and future of the press, and conveyed an intensely genuine love of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina, and the work done by him and his team.
Jumping at the opportunity to take on his current role as Director and Publisher of the U of R Press in 2013, Walsh was excited by the notion of working with bold and engaging people in a province that pioneered some of Canada’s greatest programs and accomplishments, including public funding for the arts and socialized medicine, which he describes as “pillars of the Canadian identity.”
Their first book, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk, associate professor at the University of Regina, went on to become their first national best seller. Clearing the Plains won five Saskatchewan Book Awards, a Clio Award in Prairie History, the Indigenous Book Award, the Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, and the Governor General’s Award in History.
For Walsh, the job of a publisher is to look at a manuscript and see what its potential is. From there, the team gives it everything they have and works to develop it in a way that gets it to the intended audience through details like packaging, good release timing, and media promotion. It is this process that honors the author and their story by making the book the best and most successful that it can be.
The University of Regina Press and Author James Daschuck have done just that. Clearing the Plains has sold 17,000 copies out of 18,500 in print. Walsh’s background fighting censorship in the ‘80s and ‘90s had led his team to passionately pursue stories that have been ignored for far too long. In this case, they shed light on the systemic racial, economic, and social discrimination, and destruction of indigenous peoples in what is known today as the Canadian Prairies.
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste (Augie) Merasty with David Carpenter became their second national best seller last year. The memoir gives readers a chance “to walk in the shoes of a child who had a residential school experience” explains Walsh. “As you walk in those shoes you are changed by that experience, because you understand what it was that over 150,000 children in this country went through, and the damage that a colonial Canadian attitude has done to First Nations and indigenous peoples in this country.”
Gaining national critical acclaim, Walsh is optimistic that this book is an extremely valuable tool that can help with reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada.
The manuscript was originally sent to the press after contributor David Carpenter met Walsh at a Literary Festival. After hearing Walsh give a presentation at the festival, Carpenter admired how he “spoke truth to power,” and was compelled to introduce himself. The rest, as they say, is history.
Carpenter reflected on how much he enjoyed his unique experience was with the press, revealing to me that while he does believe the book would have gotten published somewhere eventually, he is doubtful that he would have found someone “that would have embraced it with the same enthusiasm as Bruce.”
Children of the Broken Treaty by Charlie Angus became another national bestseller for the press, and was inspired by Daschuk’s Clearing the Plains. Angus, an MP for Timmins-James Bay, Ontario was sent a copy of Clearing the Plains by Walsh, who insisted that as a politician, he had duty to read this book. What followed was Children of the Broken Treaty: Canada’s Lost Promise and One Girl’s Dream, which follows the story of Shannen Koostachin, a young activist fighting for safe and comfortable schools with culturally based education for First Nations on reserves.
Angus details Koostachin’s story, while also placing it within its wider historical context, revealing how systematic discrimination against Aboriginal peoples is not a thing of the past. This is especially relevant today, since the announcement by the Canadian Tribunal on Human Rights that indigenous children on reserves receive 20-40 per cent less funding for education than off-reserve children.
Angus describes the Press as “timely in rebuilding notions of certain aspects of Canadian history, especially indigenous history,” and shares that Walsh is “an extraordinary force of personality in moving the U of R Press forward.”
The University of Regina Press is passionate about rewriting Canadian-Indigenous history, revealing long-denied truths and being “a voice for many peoples.”
“We have essentially lied to ourselves about who we are as a country,” explains Walsh, who believes that shining a light on what has been censored is an important role for publishers.
But that is not all the press is doing. Their goal to publish books of over sixty indigenous languages in their Indigenous Languages Readers Series, as well as their efforts to hire as many indigenous people as possible – they currently work with twenty First Nations authors – is their way of honoring Saskatchewan and its people and giving a voice to those who have important stories to tell.
As a branch of the University of Regina, the U of R Press team is also working to foster recognition of the university across Canada and worldwide. University of Regina Press books can be found in places like the Harvard library, letting people know that the press exists, and is doing excellent work. This, Walsh notes, is a reflection of our institution – the university – and its excellence. Books published by the Press are already being used in university classrooms, and are being read by high school students Canada-wide. The success of these books enables the press to reach readers of all ages across the country, and to share vital aspects of Canada’s true, but often censored history.
Not only is the Press publishing well-respected work, but Walsh’s involvement with the environmental organization Canopy has led to the introduction of post recyclable paper into Canadian publishing, allowing them to spread their passion for the environment beyond the walls of the press.
The U of R Press continues to serve the people as they develop their Open Access Program, which Walsh describes as “an opportunity to democratize knowledge.” The program was created in response to the escalating costs of academic journals, and other scholarly works. Walsh explains how our very own library can no longer afford certain academic journals important to university resources.
Academic journals, which are a compilation of publically funded research, are essentially being privatized as prices rise and the Canadian dollar falls, restricting information from the very people it was intended for, particularly students. Similarly, textbook costs pose significant challenges to many students. Every student has felt the familiar panic at the bookstore register as they purchase those 100 level psychology or biology textbooks.
In response, the press has partnered with the University to identify the courses with the largest number of students, so that they can begin to provide open access texts where it is most beneficial. The Press hopes to relieve some financial stress for students and make information more easily available for those who want and need it.
By providing some works online for free, and printing others for sale at a more affordable price, the press is working to make information available to a broader audience, instead of just those with deep pockets. The success they have had so far with Clearing the Plains, Children of the Broken Treaty and The Education of Augie Merasty, along with funding from the provincial government allows the Press to take on an important project like Open Access that otherwise would not be economically viable.
The future of the press promises more bold, risk-taking endeavors that will undoubtedly add to the important body of work that has already had a profound effect on Canada. In the works are a number of new series’ working to expand their collection to include more women and senior authors, poetry, LGBT-content, and address themes that aim to bring taboo topics like sex and mental illness into mainstream dialogue in an attempt to humanize and normalize what often makes us uncomfortable.
If the University of Regina Press was not on your radar before, take note of them now, because these trailblazers are well on their way to becoming an undeniable force of positive change for the University of Regina and it’s students, for Saskatchewan and it’s people, in Canada and beyond.
Jennifer Marshall — Contributor
Watch the full interview below: