"True Facts from Official Files"
Library and Archives Canada's English Pulp Literature Collection
The English-language pulp literature collection of Library and Archives Canada has been nicknamed the "Valentine Collection" by employees. That's Valentine as in Al Valentine, perhaps the most prominent publisher of the golden age of English-Canadian pulp magazines.
Valentine had made his living as a printer until he was asked by publishers Lou and Moe Ruby to produce an issue of one of their titles, a scandal sheet called The Tattler, while they were facing indecency charges (Strange and Loo 2004, p. 5). Valentine did them the favour. It could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Instead, it was the beginning of an equally beautiful rivalry.
Quickly recognizing the lucrative potential of publishing in general, and of publishing pulp magazines in particular, Valentine began producing his own books, with titles such as Confessions of a Gorgeous Hussy. He then worked on expanding his business by buying up titles from other publishers.
Following the passage of the War Exchange Conservation Act in 1940, a number of publishers had sprung up, all based in Toronto. A quick scan of the covers of pulps published between 1940 and 1948 offers up a roll call of opportunistic companies eager to fill the void left by the disappearance of the American pulps. Adam Publishing, Daring Publishing, Laff Publishing, the Norman Book Company, Pastime Publications Ltd., Al White Publications and Merchants House all blazed onto the scene. They brought with them titles such as Bill Wayne's Western Magazine, College Sports, Dare-Devil Detective Stories, Daring Confessions, Dynamic Action Tales, Stag, Startling Crime Cases and Uncanny Tales.
They were a diverse and colourful group. Some thrived. Some withered. But by early 1948, most of the pulps that survived had been brought under the control of a single company: Al Valentine's Alval Publishers of Canada Ltd.
His dominance would prove to be relatively short lived, however, as by the mid-1950s the glory days of the Canadian pulp industry were over. 1 Decades would pass before pulps again came to public attention -- or, more accurately, to the attention of a public servant.
In 1996 a Toronto book dealer first uncovered what would become known as the Pulp Art and Fiction Collection. The dealer contacted Michel Brisebois, who was the rare books curator for the National Library of Canada (now part of Library and Archives Canada). Upon viewing the collection, he knew he'd stumbled on something special: "I'd been in this business a long time and I hadn't seen them. So, I knew this must be pretty rare" (Rynor 2004, online). Over the polite reservations and raised eyebrows of his colleagues, Brisebois made a case for acquiring the collection, saying, "We are swimming in American culture… It's important that we explore our own popular culture. Even if it's seedy" (Rynor 2004, online).
At present, the collection acquired in 1997 by the former National Library of Canada comprises over 20 boxes of pulp magazines, running the gamut of genres including true crime and detective, romance, westerns and northerns, humour, bachelor magazines, horror, science fiction and sport. It also includes dozens of original story manuscripts, newspaper clippings and photographs.
The pulps represented in Library and Archives Canada's collection are worthy of every adjective applied to them by their writers. They are daring, dynamic, worldly, uncanny and sensational. They are also uniquely Canadian. And that makes them significant -- even if they are seedy.
1. For more information, visit the section of this site entitled "The Corpse Had One Shoe: The Decline of the Pulps. "
Rynor, Becky. "Criminal Treasures Buried in National Archives." Capital News Online. Volume 15, no. 1 (2004). Carleton University School of Journalism. http://temagami.carleton.ca/jmc/cnews/01102004/n2.shtml. (accessed January 12, 2005).
Strange, Carolyn, and Tina Loo. True Crime, True North: the Golden Age of Canadian Pulp Magazines. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2004.