Off the Page: Terence Byrnes

Terence Byrnes (Photo: Patricia Woodburn)

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. In this interview, we chat with Montreal-based writer and photographer Terence Byrnes. Last year at the NMAs, Terence was awarded the gold medal in the category of Photography: Photojournalism & Photo Essay for “South of Buck Creek.” Byrnes succinctly captures the premise of the photo essay by way of a subheading: “A Canadian memoir of black and white in America’s unhappiest city.”  Read on for Terence’s thoughts on maintaining sympathetic neutrality towards the residents of Springfield, Ohio; smart phones and the democratization of photography; and his advice for emerging photographers.

First, congratulations on winning gold at the NMAs for “South of Buck Creek,” published in Geist. Your photo essay describes Buck Creek as a “cabinet of wonders.” In your career as a photographer, have you found other subjects, or places, that could be described as such?

I shot for a while in Buffalo when that city was among the rustiest of rust-belt towns. The industrial desolation, abandonment, and sense of fallen empire were awe-inspiring. In a residential area, I saw a man, wearing only dirty white briefs, roasting a wiener in a hubcap where he had built a fire with twigs. This was at the end of a street of McMansions protected with black iron grillwork over every door and window. Is that a wonder? I don’t know.


The essay portion of your piece notes that you took approximately 10,000 photos of Buck Creek, over a span of 45 years. How do you organize all of your photos?

Ten thousand was a guess. It’s more than that. Many are negatives, with some chromes. I worked from proof sheets to produce scans on a Nikon scanner. I moved to digital capture in 2003. Lightroom keeps track of it for me.

Do you have an absolute favourite from those 10,000 photos?

One day, I was photographing an oddly shaped building—it may even have been a skinny parallelogram—that housed a bar. “Bob City” was painted on one end of it. Railroad tracks, a sidewalk, and several streets converged and diverged behind the building, and dandelions had popped up in a patch of grass in front of it. I spent about 45 minutes finding the right position and height to put these elements into proper relation with each other. When I processed the film (this was probably 30 years ago) air bubbles had stuck to the best frame in the series, rendering it unusable. Wanting to salvage that frame eventually led me to early digital scanning of negatives and moved me out of the darkroom to the screen, where I patched the bubbles. I can’t say if this image was an “absolute favourite,” but it’s got a lot of history stored in it.


Within the first few pages of the photo essay, we jump from the sixties with “Terria (1966)” to the early 2000s with “South of Buck Creek” (2001), then to the 90s, with “Joy (1999).” What were your intentions behind the non-chronological organization of this photo essay?

“Intuitions” is probably a better word that “intentions.” When you establish an order for a photographic series, some arrangements just look better. I suppose I want the eye to re-orient itself to the formal elements of each image so the photograph is actually seen. Also, ordering by year suggests development of some sort, or it implies a narrative. As it was, the images themselves were my first priority.

Very early on in the photo essay, you state that your role in Buck Creek shifted from spectator to participant. Certainly, that theme—of your enmeshment in the Buck Creek community—runs throughout: there’s the “crazy moment” when you “fantasized about adopting” one of the boys from the Vision for Youth residence; you carried the “Friends (1977)” photo around for years, hoping to eventually deliver it to one of the photo’s subjects, “scary guy.” What challenges came along with crossing that line from spectator to participant?

Great question. I had to maintain sympathetic neutrality toward everyone and to learn—more than once— that folks who looked down-and-out could be as smart, respectful, and as deserving of respect, as anyone else. Honesty and openness were crucially important. A subject might say, “Take my picture, but don’t ever use it,” and my agreement would have to be as good as gold.  People were blown away when I would come back a year later with free photographs. That’s how the street cred developed. Of course, there were rough spots and challenges that were both emotional and physical. I saw families living in misery and stripped of dignity thanks to bad luck, fear of gang activity, and profound physical and emotional disability (with no health care or institutional support). You want to help, but you can’t.


“Marriage (1998)” features a woman in her bikini, with her two twin daughters. The narrative portion states, “In the later years of this project, women wouldn’t so easily agree to have their pictures taken. They were afraid, as one told me, that their faces would appear atop a nude body on the Internet.” It seems that while the Internet has encouraged people to document their lives—via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram—it’s also made it more difficult for photographers to act as the documentarian. Are there other ways in which the growth of social media and the shift to digital have impacted your career as a photographer?

Camera phones have, in a sense, radically democratized photography and, for many people, have done away with the cachet of the physical print. Academic criticism and identity politics have also had a less than salutary effect on the documentary form. Some months ago, I glanced outside my window here in the Point-Saint-Charles district of Montreal and saw an 11-year-old boy got up in a home-made superhero costume, holding a garbage can lid as a shield. I knew it was pure Arbus, but couldn’t resist. When I asked the boy if I could take a photograph, a teenage girl ran up and began shouting at me. Her assumption—thanks to her familiarity with internet images—was that I was about to do something that was immoral as well as illegal.

Your first camera was an Agfa Ambi Silette loaded with Tri-X film. These days, what’s your camera of choice?

Actually, before the Agfa, there was a Kodak “Pony,” which I had forgotten. You’ve caught me at a crossroads now, though. Should I move up from my Nikon D810 to the new D850 or switch to the mirrorless Sony A7R III? Probably the new Nikon.

In 2008, you published Closer to Home: The Author and the Author Portrait, which you had worked on for 10 years. That means that there was some crossover between the literary portraits and Buck Creek. What similarities were there between these two seemingly very different projects?

Both were closer to the subjects’ homes than to the studio. I tend to shoot on-site and to make it up as I go along. This can produce really banal results, but also great surprises in lighting, posture, expression, and mood.

What was the impact—personally and/or professionally—of winning a National Magazine Award?

I think it makes me an easier sell to editors who don’t know me. And if I pitch an idea, I’m more likely to be listened to.

What advice would you offer to a young photographer?

The advice I give myself is often so disastrous that I should keep my own counsel. That said, I think of current work that catches my eye. I love the work of Tamas Deszo, Sebastián Liste, and Ruth Kaplan. Or Michel Huneault’s photographs of Lac Mégantic after the train disaster. There are some wonderful documentarians out there who do far more than record event. I would have been interested in photographing the refugees/migrants who streamed across the border in Quebec’s Eastern Townships in the belief they would find a home in Canada. Good projects don’t have to be topical, but they do have to be fresh.

Previous to Byrnes’ NMA gold award, he received two NMA honourable mentions. The first was in 2009, for “The Imagined Portrait” published in Queen’s Quarterly. The second was in 2012 for “The Missing Piece,” published in The Walrus. For more information on Byrnes’ photography and writing projects, please visit his website

Interview conducted by Leah Edwards.

The call for entries for the 2018 National Magazine Awards is open now until January 22. 

Off the Page: Daniel Fish


Michael Bryant is a polarizing figure to people both in the legal community and outside and we knew that people really didn’t know what had happened to him. We knew that it was going to make a certain amount of a spl (1).png
Photo Credit: Ian Patterson


Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Daniel Fish, the senior editor of Precedent, a quarterly magazine curated for Toronto lawyers. Fish won the Gold medal for best professional article for his exclusive feature on former attorney general Michael Bryant. Precedent last won gold in 2014 for Raymond Biesinger’s illustration A Well-Oiled Machine.

How did it feel to be the first reporter at Precedent to win a National Magazine Award for writing?

It was super satisfying! We’d been recognized at the Canadian Business Media awards and the KRWs before but to have a piece of writing given some recognition by the best people in the business was huge. It’s not something that happens to everyone and there’s no guarantee that it will happen again. It wasn’t something that I expected, so it really was just a huge treat.

Can you tell me a bit about how your first got the Bryant story?
Sure! I guess that’s going back to the winter of 2015. Sean Robichaud, a criminal lawyer who runs his own law chambers, had mentioned to Melissa Kluger (editor and publisher of Precedent) that she might be interested to know that a high profile person just joined his new chambers—it was Michael Bryant. When she told me, I didn’t immediately know the story was going to have the kind of richness that would be required for a long cover story. But it was interesting enough, even just the fact that he was getting back into the game after people hadn’t seen him in so long would’ve at least justified a short front of book news piece.Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.57.44 AM

Tell me about your reporting process.

I got in touch with him fairly quickly but didn’t hear anything for months. In the spring he responded to my initial email and said he’d be happy to chat about what the story might be about. After I met with him for the first time, I had an inkling of what the story might be: the attorney general who ran the justice system is becoming a criminal lawyer and starting to see some of the injustices in the criminal justice system that he was oblivious to when he ran it. That was what sold me and made me think that there might be more to the story. When I took it back to Melissa to talk to her about it I could say that there was something here that’s richer than just “here’s Michael Bryant becoming a criminal lawyer.” There was a kind of poetry to the story that we could pack in and make it a cover story.

Bryant published an autobiographical book called 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope in 2012, how did it influence your story?

The big blockbuster revelation in his book which I think people knew but he hadn’t spoken publicly about, was the fact that he’d struggled with alcoholism. He also talked about what happened on the day of the accident (1) and going through that experience. I think in that book he was pretty proud of his tenure as attorney general. So we had to think… the accident is old news, we certainly don’t want to re-litigate what happened, the fact that he struggled with alcoholism is also old news and so much had been written about him already. We really had to think what could we add to the story, what we could add to the next chapter in that book. I would also say that it’s a huge advantage to write about someone who has a published autobiography because an enormous amount of the work is done for you. I had not ever done that before, or since, and I wish every one of my sources would provide a full biography.

Did anything stand out to you while reporting?

I remember I interviewed his pastor because a big part of Bryant’s narrative was that after the accident and after he’d fallen away from politics, he started going to a non-denominational Christian charity in downtown Toronto. His pastor revealed to me that Byrant had considered becoming a minister and that he thought that maybe religion was going to fuel meaning in his life. The story only got richer the more that things went on.

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 12.46.00 PM

How was it to interview him? He’s known to be a bit gregarious.

He was a fun interview. There’s no question that he’s a very seasoned politician. But also as a politician he was sort of a straight shooter. I think journalists enjoyed talking to him because he didn’t necessarily stick to party line talking points. He was happy to sound off on what he thought was wrong with the justice system, he wasn’t mincing words.He had no problem saying that the presumption of innocence was a joke. He was a fairly easy interview subject.

How is this story different from others that you’ve worked on?

I guess we knew how much attention it was going to get from our audience and we knew that it was probably going to get more of a focus from the wider world as well. You know the next piece that I wrote on document review did well in the legal community, but I don’t think that people outside of it really picked it up which is fine, that’s not our goal. But I think we were aware that Michael Bryant is a bit of a lightning rod for controversy. We know that he is a polarizing figure to people both in the legal community and outside and we knew that people really didn’t know what had happened to him. We knew that it was going to make a certain amount of a splash upon publication.

What sort of feedback did you get when the piece came out?

The feedback was fairly positive, which was also gratifying. Overall both readers and people from outside of the legal world seemed to be inspired, which wasn’t necessarily the goal of the piece, but they were inspired nonetheless by him trying to make the most meaningful second half of his career as he could. I think people read it and were pleased to hear someone who once perched atop the justice system speak candidly about its flaws. I think people who are in the trenches (so to speak) of defense law—prosecutors and crowns—they know that the system has its problems and so to hear someone like Michael Bryant give voice to that was somewhat satisfying. And I think people just enjoyed the yarn. We don’t write that many 4500 word single profiles.

Fish recently wrote the cover story for Precedent JD (Precedent’s law student magazine) called Are There Too Many Lawyers? He is working on a project now that is exploring the link between mental health problems and the practice of law. You can follow Precedent on twitter here.

Interview conducted by Stephanie Philp.

The call for entries for the 2018 National Magazine Awards is open now until January 22.

(1) Bryant was charged with dangerous driving causing death and criminal negligence causing the death of cyclist Darcy Sheppard in 2009. The charges were eventually dropped.


Thank You! From the 40th Anniversary National Magazine Awards

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala, 26 May 2017, Arcadian Court, Toronto (Photo by Steven Goetz for the NMAF)

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are in the books, and the NMAF would like to thank all of the amazing contributors, sponsors, partners, and everyone else who helped make this year’s awards program a successful and poignant celebration of Canadian magazine creators.

Thank you to Vanessa Wyse, Nicola Hamilton, and their team at Studio Wyse for creating and executing the look and feel of this year’s National Magazine Awards–including the gala program (right), tickets, stage design, and our social media design. We loved working with you!

Thank you to our three wonderful co-hosts–Kim Pittaway, Michael de Pencier, and D.B. Scott–for leading the show and delighting the audience with their wit and honouring the nominees and winners with such grace.

Thank you to Alicia Elliott for delivering a bold and timely keynote address on the issue of cultural appropriation and the role of magazines in educating Canadians.

Thank you to our Special Guests at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala and those who sent special video messages to our nominees and winners:

  • Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada;
  • His Worship John Tory, Mayor of Toronto;
  • Sally Armstrong, UNICEF Special Representative to Afghanistan, Amnesty International-recognized human rights journalist, and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner;
  • James Ireland, legend of Canadian magazine design and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner;
  • Ken Rodmell, legend of Canadian magazine design and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner;
  • Lynn Cunningham, Ryerson University Journalism School instructor and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner;
  • Stephen Trumper, Ryerson University Journalism School instructor and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner (and his daughter Hannah);
  • Al Zikovitz, CEO of Cottage Life Media and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner;
  • Paul Jones, long-time Maclean-Hunter and Rogers publisher, and former Outstanding Achievement Award winner;
  • Desmond Cole, 3-time National Magazine Award winner and Newstalk 1010 host;
  • Jennifer Varkonyi, publisher of Maisonneuve;
  • Peter McNeill, national director of KPMG Enterprise;
  • Hon Lu, National Magazine Award-winning writer;
  • Min Gyo Chung, National Magazine Award-winning illustrator;
  • Gilbert Li, award-winning art director and NMA judge;
  • Arjun Basu, senior vice president of Bookmark Content, NMA judge, and former NMAF president;
  • Marcel Courville, senior vice president of marketing at TC Transcontinental Printing;
  • Anna Principe, business development manager at Rolland Enterprises;
  • Jack Illingworth, literature officer at the Ontario Arts Council;
  • Laurie Smith, customer marketing manager at CNW, a Cision Company.

Thank you to our Judges–the 112 individuals who volunteered their time as peer experts in Canadian magazines, serving on our juries for the 40th anniversary awards.

Thank you to the 40 National Magazine Award winners who participated in our #40at40 anniversary story, where we asked 40 people to tell us about a magazine, a creator, or a magazine story that has had a big impact on their careers. [ See Twitter version | Download PDF version ]

Thank you to our Table Patrons who generously provided discounted tickets for nominated freelance creators:

Thank you to all our Sponsors and Partners for their enthusiastic support of the National Magazine Awards and Canadian magazine creators.

Thank you to the team at CCR Solutions for their production of the gala multimedia show.

Thank you to the team at Very Good Studios for their production of the nominees video.

Thank you to our wonderful staff and our Board of Directors for their hard work and guidance.

Thank you to Steven Goetz, our event photographer for this year’s National Magazine Awards. Check out the 2017 NMA photo gallery on our Facebook Page.

Check out all the photos here

Thank you to all our contributors to the 40th anniversary gala:

Program Editor: Richard A. Johnson
Program & Gala Art Direction & Design: Studio Wyse
Printing: Transcontinental Printing
Paper: Rolland Enterprises
Translation: Sophie Lecomte, Émilie Pontbriand
Copy Editing: Leah Edwards, Krista Robinson
Volunteer Coordination: Leah Jensen
Audiovisual Production: CCR Solutions
Nominees Montage: Very Good Studios
Production Interns: Eny Kuen, Leah Edwards
Outstanding Achievement Award Photography: Daniel Ehrenworth
Event Photography: Steven Goetz
News Release Distribution: CNW, a Cision Company
Chartered Accountants: Beckett Lowden Read, LLP
Caterer: Oliver & Bonacini
Venue: The Arcadian Court, Toronto

Special Thanks:

  • To our 40th anniversary Program Advisory Committee: Curtis Gillespie, Danielle Groen, and Kim Pittaway
  • To the Town of Huntsville, where Roy MacGregor’s original 1978 NMAF President’s Medal is now on display at the Canada Summit Centre Sports Memorabilia Collection.
  • To our hardworking event volunteers.

Congratulations to the participants, nominees and winners of the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards. We look forward to seeing you next year!

Penny Caldwell’s speech at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards

Penny Caldwell, publisher of Cottage Life, accepts the 2017 Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala in Toronto, 26 May 2017 (Photo by Steven Goetz / NMAF)

At last Friday’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala, the NMAF presented Penny Caldwell, publisher and vice-president of Cottage Life Media, with the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, the highest individual honour presented in Canadian magazines.

We asked Penny to compose a message to the industry, which was presented in the 40th anniversary NMA gala program and comprised the basis of her acceptance speech at the gala. Here are Penny Caldwell’s complete remarks.

The Space Between

Our urgent need for innovative ideas and talented creators
by Penny Caldwell

I am honoured to receive this award and extend my sincere thanks to the National Magazine Awards Foundation, to my colleagues who nominated me, and to the many people who have contacted me since the news was announced.

Recently, a student at Cottage Life asked me what I have learned over the nearly forty years that I have worked in publishing. The best advice, I told her, was to manage your expectations but keep dreaming, work hard, be patient, and be adaptable.

That advice came to me from Doug Creighton, the founding publisher of the Toronto Sun when, fresh out of university, I was looking for a job. A family friend had arranged the interview, and Doug said he could probably get me a job on the copy desk working the night shift. What a thrill to imagine being part of a big daily newspaper, even as a proofreader on the night shift. Then he advised me not to take the job. Go out, he said, and find a place at a small newspaper where you will learn to do everything. So I went home and applied to every community newspaper across Canada, and I got a job as a sports reporter and columnist at the Whitby News Advertiser in Ajax.

The newspaper’s editor and senior reporters taught me a lot about crafting compelling stories. When one of the girls on the basketball team was fatally attacked by another student, I even covered a murder. But I recall the day I heard some surprising news: that the purpose of the stories we poured our hearts into was to fill the space between the ads.

If only it were that simple.

Fast forward. Most of us here tonight are still inescapably seduced by the power of storytelling. And while we can’t lose sight of the reality that, yes, in our legacy business the stories have traditionally been what fill up the spaces between the ads, we comfort ourselves that good content comes out on top. Content is king. Our readers pay for the content. Our advertisers pay to be close to the content. How close? Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

Ads are no longer simply adjacent to content,. Now they pop up in the middle of the stories—online and on our TV screens. Not that this is new. Who here remembers the issue of Saturday Night magazine in the late ‘90s, in which an excerpt of Mordecai’s Richler’s “Barney’s Version” was typeset to wrap around a vodka bottle? “Absolut Mordecai.”

While the business model for paid advertising evolves, so does our distribution method. Our world now includes an audience that doesn’t expect to have to shell out for content. And so, in an effort to attract the big numbers—not to mention big data—we give away our valuable content for free on our websites, on other digital channels, and in e-newsletters. Our advertising partners, who in the past clamoured to be close to the content, now want to be the content. Our industry has survived the inventions of radio and television, but I don’t know of a time in which magazines have been under more pressure to reinvent themselves—because with new technology we can, and because with new technology we have to. We now compete in more places and in more ways than ever for our customers’ time and money.

My twenty-year-old, idealistic, sports-reporter self says, what has the world come to? My present, practical business self says disruption happens, get on with it. The magazine industry must adapt—all of us here—in order to keep growing. We are going to have to find new sources of revenue, new innovative ways to engage our audiences that they will pay for. And that means learning everything possible about our customers. We’re going to have to find out what’s important to them, and tap into that passion.

My optimistic self says, we can do this. Yes, because we don’t have a choice if we want to survive. But also because as magazine creators we are very, very good at captivating audiences with compelling stories. Magazines are still a highly authentic, trusted platform whose halo has already enabled our industry to expand far beyond print into mega media brands comprising digital, social, video, audio, events, stores, merchandise, and even restaurants. If we continue to tell compelling, relevant stories, in whatever form, the audience will be there and they will pay. We still need good, high-quality content and the talented creators behind it. We still need to recognize its value in our business.

Tonight, we celebrate excellence. Tonight, we celebrate the creators. And tonight, I offer congratulations to those of you—editors, art directors, writers, photographers, illustrators, and publishers—who know how to tell the powerful Canadian stories that have such a profound influence on our society.

Finally, I would like to end with a thank you to Cottage Life, and particularly to Al Zikovitz, my mentor, friend, and long-time boss, who every day teaches me something new about hard work, being adaptable, and chasing your dreams.

Thank you.

Penny Caldwell (@PennyCaldwell) is the publisher and vice-president of Cottage Life Media. At this year’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards she was presented with the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement. Read her complete National Magazine Awards bio here

The NMAF’s most prestigious individual prize  is the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, an award that recognizes an individual’s innovation and creativity through contributions to the magazine industry.

The award is open to circulation experts, editors, marketing, sales and promotion professionals, publishers, creators, designers, production managers – in short, to everyone in the industry. It cannot be given posthumously. The annual deadline for nominations is March 1.

For more information and previous winners, visit

Alicia Elliott’s speech at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards

Host Kim Pittaway (right) greets Alicia Elliott on the stage of the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards in Toronto, 26 May 2017 (photo by Steven Goetz / NMAF)

At last Friday’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala, the NMAF invited Tuscarora First Nations writer Alicia Elliott to deliver a keynote address, reflecting on the recent controversy in the Canadian magazine industry surrounding cultural appropriation and the roles that magazine media and creators play in contextualizing the debate and educating Canadians.

The NMAF is very grateful to Ms. Elliott for accepting this invitation and addressing the 300 guests gathered at the NMA gala on Friday.  Here are Alicia Elliott’s complete remarks, published with her permission:


Don’t worry, everybody. I promise I’m not here to take away your free speech. I’ve got maybe a handful and a half of publications, so I’m pretty sure I don’t have that kind of power. But you’re all writers, editors and publishers with some of the most prestigious publications in Canada. You have considerable power: to say what you want and know people will listen, to amplify any voice or perspective you want, to edit out or repress any voice or perspective you want. I hope after the past few weeks, you’ve all been reflecting on that responsibility.

This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Once a citizen reaches adulthood, Canada officially washes its hands of educating them. Your magazines are what fill that void. Each and every page of your publications are like classrooms: sometimes teaching readers new ideas, sometimes reinforcing old ones. Take a moment and think about that. What are you teaching Canadians? What are you refusing to teach Canadians? And who are you letting do that teaching?

The fact is many marginalized communities do not feel you’re doing a good enough job telling their stories. I know there have been efforts at diversifying the workplace to counteract this. People from many more identities and cultures are part of newsrooms and magazines than twenty years ago. There’s some progress. But are they in leadership positions? Are they listened to by their leaders? Are they supported by those leaders when fighting for their right to speak, to exist?

I’m sure many of you would like to think the establishments you work at are safe havens for marginalized writers. Otherwise, why would they work there, right? But I’d like to share with you a quote from journalist, activist, novelist and all-around bad ass James Baldwin. In his introduction to his essay collection Nobody Knows My Name, he wrote, “Havens are high-priced. The price exacted of the haven-dweller is that he contrive to delude himself into believing that he has found a haven.”

As many have pointed out, and as the continued ignorance displayed in national political cartoons and columns have shown, the media and literary communities in Canada are not havens. We are collectively deluding ourselves to believe otherwise. It only took the smallest pushback from indigenous people for those who have always had access to free speech to derail conversation, shake off all accountability and put us back in our place. When you exalt their voices by publishing their articles and columns, what are you teaching Canada? What are you saying to marginalized communities about their issues and your coverage of them? What are you saying about yourself?

Because it’s not just the marginalized who are searching for havens. Those in power are searching, too. Sometimes they want a haven from criticism and accountability, from hard questions and harder answers. And for some, when that haven is snatched away and the full extent of their responsibilities is made crushingly apparent, it’s too much. They don’t reflect and make real change. They search out the closest haven and run.

I’m here tonight to ask you NOT to run. I’m asking you to do hard work, to examine your own complicity in perpetuating these problems, to be vulnerable with us, to have difficult conversations with us, to offer us a hand up instead of another push down. I’m here tonight to ask you to admit you don’t know it all, to ask questions, to learn and to do better.

We’re currently creating the world our children and grandchildren will grow up in, which means all of our actions and our inaction carry immense weight. Are you going to make future generations proud? Or are you going to make their work harder? Ultimately, that decision is your responsibility. There is no haven from that.


Alicia Elliott is a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations currently living in Brantford, Ontario. Her writing has most recently been published by CBC Arts, Room, Grain, The New Quarterly and The Malahat Review. She’s on Twitter @WordsandGuitar

Read Alicia Elliott’s short essay on about why “The cultural appropriation debate isn’t about free speech — it’s about context.”

Read Alicia Elliott’s National Magazine Award-winning essay “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” (The Malahat Review).

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Award winners were announced on Friday, 26 May at the Arcadian Court in Toronto. Catch up on all the news and winners here.

Announcing the Winners of the 40th Anniversary National Magazine Awards

The National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) has presented the winners of the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards at a gala this evening in Toronto at the Arcadian Court. Nearly 300 of Canada’s top magazine writers, artists, editors, art directors, publishers, and other guests representing 75 nominated magazines gathered to recognize and celebrate excellence in the content and creation of Canadian magazines in 2016. Gold and Silver medals were presented in 25 categories recognizing Canada’s best in magazine writing, art, and design.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a welcome message to the audience via video, congratulating the nominees and winners and praising the important work of Canada’s magazine creators.

The Foundation presented Gold and Silver Medal awards in 25 categories at a ceremony co-hosted by Kim Pittaway, Michael de Pencier, and D.B. Scott—three of Canada’s most respected journalists and publishers, and all former winners of the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement. Indigenous writer and Gold Medalist in the Essays category, Alicia Elliott, delivered the keynote address, urging all Canadian magazine creators and publishers to recognize their role in educating and informing the public about the complex social and cultural issues of our time, including empowering Indigenous voices and perspectives in the media.

Penny Caldwell, publisher and vice-president of Cottage Life Media, was presented with the 2017 Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, the highest individual honour in the Canadian magazine industry, which recognizes an individual’s innovation and creativity through contributions to the magazine industry.

For a complete list of winners, see below or download the PDF list.


Canada’s 2017 Magazine of the Year is Cottage Life. The award for magazine of the year goes to the publication that most consistently engages, surprises, and serves the needs of its readers. The award is judged according to four criteria—overall quality, impact, innovation, and brand awareness—and success relative to the magazine’s editorial mandate.

Honourable Mention for Magazine of the Year went to Explore, Nouveau Projet, Ricardo, and The Kit Compact.

With a clear and creative editorial strategy that is loyal to their brand, audience, and business, Cottage Life continues to diversify its mandate, grow its readership, and excel at publishing. The magazine’s tone is perfectly playful, its stories educate and delight, and its story packaging is alluring. Cottage Life has demonstrated creativity and excellence in evolving its brand through events, shows, and multimedia—reinventing itself again and again. And throughout its evolution, the magazine itself remains fresh and fascinating.
The National Magazine Awards Jury


Best Magazine Cover

GOLD MEDAL: “General Dynamics” (Report on Business)
Domenic Macri, art director
Gary Salewicz, editor
Brennan Higginbotham, contributor

This is a beautiful execution of a well-thought-out idea, from its concept right down to the smallest detail. Report on Business’s “General Dynamics” cover is a masterful example of having graphics work harmoniously with type to create the impression of a must-read story within. It’s engaging and unexpected—the forbidden, blacked-out words suck you in immediately. A truly remarkable and successful magazine cover.
The National Magazine Awards Jury

SILVER MEDAL: “Why Design Matters” (Canadian Business)

Best Editorial Package

GOLD MEDAL: « Nordicité » (Caribou)
Tania Jiménez, directrice artistique
Audrey Lavoie, Véronique Leduc, Geneviève Vezina-Montplaisir, rédactrices en chef

This Editorial Package from Caribou is a delicious invitation to the table set around the concept of Nordicité, where a meal of uniquely Québécois flavour is served. On the menu are cozy stories and tasteful photography of matsutake mushrooms, maple syrup, boreal spices, and wild berries. The package has the benefit of relying almost wholly on the support of readers and presents them with a carefully thought out series of articles that complement the topic and each other—all editorially handpicked and beautifully plated for our enjoyment.
The National Magazine Awards Jury

SILVER MEDAL: “Swim or Sink” (New Trail)

Best Service Editorial Package

GOLD MEDAL: “Breast of Luck” (Today’s Parent)
Ariel Brewster, editor
Stephanie Han Kim, art director
Contributors: Vivian Rosas, Katie Dupuis, Karen Robock, Louise Gleeson, Kara Aaserud, Sasha Emmons, Kate Lunau

“Breast of Luck” from Today’s Parent epitomizes service journalism. The team approached the issue from various perspectives, offering up multiple entry points. It feels exceptionally relevant—these are the real questions people ask about breastfeeding. It’s beautifully designed, very well written, funny, informative—the practical information is hands-on and useful. Whether you read it closely or simply skim, it has something for every reader.
The National Magazine Awards Jury

SILVER MEDAL: “How to Travel like a Boss” (Report on Business)

Best Words & Pictures

GOLD MEDAL: “Rosemont Petite-Syrie” (Nouveau Projet)
Judith Oliver, rédactrice en chef adjointe
Jean-François Proulx, directeur artistique
Félix Beaudry-Vigneux, auteur
Maxime Roy de Roy, illustrateur

Beautifully drawn, informative, and concisely written, “Rosemont Petite-Syrie” is a powerful and graphic way to show the response of two families to the Syrian refugee crisis. The piece seamlessly weaves text and illustrations that speak to one another and the reader without seeming redundant. It’s an exemplar of the comic-book genre—and bilingual, to boot.
The National Magazine Awards Jury

SILVER MEDAL: “Love Your Body” (NOW Magazine)

Forty years ago the NMAF set about building a coalition of institutions to form the foundation of what would become the National Magazine Awards. The goal was to create a truly national program that would recognize individual excellence in the many aspects of the magazine industry. Forty years later that legacy has endured. Tonight we have recognized the outstanding work of Canada’s magazine creators. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners—you have truly inspired the future of great journalism in this country.
Nino Di Cara, President, NMAF


The Questionable Science of Vancouver’s Port Expansion
Hakai Magazine
Amorina Kingdon, writer
Heather Pringle, handling editor

Honourable Mention: Eternity Martis, Kyle Edwards, Sharon J. Riley, Viviane Fairbank


Long-Form Feature Writing

Growing Up Trans
The Walrus
Mary Rogan, writer
Carmine Starnino, handling editor

Canadian Mining’s Dark Heart
The Walrus
Richard Poplak, writer
Carmine Starnino, handling editor

Feature Writing

« Les exilés de l’enfer »
Anne-Marie Luca, auteure
Ginette Haché, rédactrice-réviseure

Big Lonely Doug
The Walrus
Harley Rustad, writer
Carmine Starnino, handling editor

Short Feature Writing

« Santa Martha Acatitla : le théâtre de la réconciliation »
Jeu, Revue de théâtre
Françoise Major, auteure
Christian Saint-Pierre, rédacteur-réviseur

The Cutting Edge
ON Nature
Ray Ford, writer
Joanna Pachner, handling editor


« Économie »
Pierre Fortin, auteur
Josée Désaulniers, Karine Picard, Lucie Daigle, rédactrices-réviseures

Just Sayin’
Atlantic Business Magazine
Stephen Kimber, writer
Dawn Chafe, handling editor


A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
The Malahat Review
Alicia Elliott, writer
John Barton, handling editor

A Poet Self-Destructs
The Walrus
Don Gillmor, writer
Katherine Laidlaw, handling editor


The Unitarian Church’s Annual Young Writer’s Short Story Competition
The New Quarterly
Richard Kelly Kemick, writer
Pamela Mulloy, handling editor

Eight Saints and a Demon
Naben Ruthnum, writer
Kiara Kent, handling editor

Investigative Reporting

The Last Days of Target
Canadian Business
Joe Castaldo, writer
James Cowan, handling editor

Justice Is Not Blind
Nancy Macdonald, writer
Colin Campbell, handling editor

One of a Kind

The Verdict
The Walrus
Katherine Laidlaw, writer
Emily M. Keeler, handling editor

The David Foster Wallace Disease
Sasha Chapin, writer
Haley Cullingham, handling editor

Personal Journalism

The Burn
Prairie Fire
Benjamin Hertwig, writer
Andris Taskans, handling editor

By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead
Toronto Life
John Hofsess, writer
Emily Landau, handling editor
Gary Ross, contributor


“(Good) ‘Girls Don’t Hitchhike’; Half/Brother; Meet Cree: A Practical Guide to the Cree Language
The New Quarterly
Selina Boan, poet
Barb Carter, handling editor

La Traviata
PRISM International
Kim Fu, poet
Dominique Bernier-Cormier, handling editor

Professional Article

Whatever happened to Michael Bryant?”
Daniel Fish, writer
Melissa Kluger, handling editor

Beware the Weakest Link
Jim Middlemiss, writer
Brian Banks, handling editor


This is How I’m Going to Die
Nancy Macdonald, writer
Colin Campbell, handling editor

The Artist of the Deal
Report on Business
Max Fawcett, writer
Ted Mumford, handling editor

Service Journalism

Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2016
Air Canada enRoute
Andrew Braithwaite, writer
Sarah Musgrave, handling editor

« Santé des femmes : le travail nous met en danger »
Marie-Hélène Proulx, auteure
Johanne Lauzon, rédactrice-réviseure


Art Direction of an Entire Issue

Issue 22: Secrets
Pamela Rounis, art director
Sara Harowitz, editor
Katie Stewart, Michelle Reid Cyca, contributors

87: Le Vivant / The Living
esse Arts + Opinions
Studio FEED, direction artistique
Sylvette Babin, rédactrice en chef

Art Direction of a Single Article

« Le politique est personnel »
Nouveau Projet
Ping Pong Ping, direction artistique
Miriam Fahmy, rédactrice en chef

Give Peas a Chance
Today’s Parent
Mandy Milks, art director
Lauren Ferranti-Ballem, editor
Anthony Swaneveld, illustrator
Roberto Caruso, photographer


« Une vie sexuelle pour les prêtres ? Pourquoi pas ? »
Gérard Dubois, illustrateur
Jocelyne Fournel, directrice artistique

Move or Improve?
Steven P. Hughes, illustrator
John Montgomery, art director

Photojournalism & Photo Essay

South of Buck Creek
Terence Byrnes, photographer
Syd Danger, art director
AnnMarie MacKinnon, Michal Kozlowski, editors

Canada’s Oldest Profession
The Walrus
Tyler Anderson, photographer
Brian Morgan, art director
Jonathan Kay, editor
Conrad Black, text

Portrait Photography

Marina Abramovic
Corduroy Magazine
Peter Ash Lee, photographer & art director
Tim Chan, editor

Love Your Body
NOW Magazine
Tanja-Tiziana, photographer
Troy Beyer, art director
Susan G. Cole, editor
Taylor Savage, hair & makeup

Lifestyle Photography

Different Strokes
Globe Style Advisor
Riley Stewart, photographer
Benjamin MacDonald, art director
Andrew Sardone, editor
Odessa Paloma Parker, fashion editor, stylist
Vanessa Jarman, makeup / hair stylist
Wendy Rorong, manicurist
James Reiger, model, NEXT Models Canada

Tan Lines
Globe Style Advisor
Renata Kaveh, photographer
Benjamin MacDonald, art director
Andrew Sardone, editor
Odessa Paloma Parker, fashion editor, stylist
Robert Weir, grooming
Connor, model, Elmer Olsen Model Management


Writer Nancy Macdonald won two awards: A Gold Medal in Profiles for “This is How I’m Going to Die” (Maclean’s), about the Leviathan II disaster, and a Silver Medal in Investigative Reporting for “Justice Is Not Blind” (Maclean’s), about the bias against Indigenous Canadians in the judicial system.

Mary Rogan won the first NMA Gold Medal for Long-Form Feature Writing, for her story “Growing Up Trans” (The Walrus). It’s Rogan’s third National Magazine Award and first since 1999.

Art director Domenic Macri of Report on Business won the Gold Medal for Best Magazine Cover (“General Dynamics”), his and the magazine’s fifth gold medal in this category since 2006.

Pierre Fortin (L’actualité) won the Gold Medal in Columns, for his Québec « Économie » coverage. This is Fortin’s fourth gold medal in Columns since 2003.

Indigenous poet Selina Boan won the Gold Medal in Poetry for a suite of poems in The New Quarterly, including “Meet Cree: A Practical Guide to the Cree Language.” This is her first National Magazine Award.

Richard Kelly Kemick won the Gold Medal in Fiction for “The Unitarian Church’s Annual Young Writer’s Short Story Competition” (The New Quarterly), his second NMA after winning gold last year in One of a Kind. Kemick also received an Honourable Mention in Fiction and in One of a Kind this year.

Indigenous writer Alicia Elliott won the Gold Medal in Essays for “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” (The Malahat Review).

Don Gillmor won his twelfth National Magazine Award since 1997, a Silver Medal in Essays for “A Poet Self-Destructs” (The Walrus).

Joe Castaldo won the Gold Medal in Investigative Reporting for “The Last Days of Target” (Canadian Business). He won the Silver Medal in the same category in 2015.

In Personal Journalism, Edmonton writer and visual artist Benjamin Hertwig won the Gold Medal for “The Burn” (Prairie Fire). The story of the late John Hofsess, “By The Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead” (Toronto Life), about assisted dying and preparing to take his own life, won the Silver Medal.

Photographer and art director Peter Ash Lee won the Gold Medal in Portrait Photography (“Marina AbramovicCorduroy), his fourth National Magazine Award.

Gérard DuBois won the Gold Medal in Illustration, for « Une vie sexuelle pour les prêtres ? Pourquoi pas ? ». It is DuBois’ fourth National Magazine Award and first since 2013.

Andrew Braithwaite won the Gold Medal in Service Journalism for “Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2016” (Air Canada enRoute), marking the second consecutive year he and the magazine have won gold for their annual feature on Canada’s newest culinary hotspots.

Ray Ford won his eighth National Magazine Award since 2000 with a Silver Medal in Short Feature Writing for “The Cutting Edge” (ON Nature).


L’actualité led all magazines with 3 Gold Medals, winning the top prize in Feature Writing, Columns, and Illustration.

The Walrus led all magazines with 6 awards (2 Gold Medals and 4 Silver Medals). This is the tenth time in the magazine’s history that The Walrus has won the most total awards at the NMAs.

Report on Business won 3 awards, including a Gold Medal for Best Magazine Cover (“General Dynamics”) and Silver Medals in Best Service Editorial Package and in Profiles.

The New Quarterly won the Gold Medal in Fiction and in Poetry, marking the second time that the Waterloo, Ontario literary magazine has swept both awards (also doing so in 2003 at the 25th anniversary National Magazine Award).

NOW Magazine’s “Love Your Body” issue was a double winner, taking the Silver Medal in Portrait Photography and the Silver Medal in Best Words & Pictures.

Globe Style Advisor swept the Gold and Silver Medals in the category Lifestyle Photography.

Nouveau Projet won 2 Gold Medals, in Art Direction of a Single Magazine Article (« Le politique est personnel ») and in Words & Pictures (“Rosemont Petite-Syrie”). Nouveau Projet won Magazine of the Year in 2015 and was a finalist this year.

The online magazine Hazlitt won 2 Silver Medals, in Fiction and in One of a Kind.

Today’s Parent won 2 medals: Gold in Best Service Editorial Package (“Breast of Luck”) and Silver in Art Direction of a Single Magazine Article (“Give Peas a Chance”).

7 magazines won a National Magazine Award for the first time: Atlantic Business Magazine; Caribou; esse Arts + Opinions; Hakai Magazine; Jeu, Revue de théâtre; Listed; and SAD Mag.

Magazines winning 1 Gold Medal: Air Canada enRoute; Caribou; Corduroy; Cottage Life; Geist; Hakai Magazine; Jeu, Revue de théâtre; The Malahat Review; Prairie Fire; Precedent

Magazines winning 1 Silver Medal: Atlantic Business Magazine; Châtelaine; esse Arts + Opinions; Listed; MoneySense; New Trail; ON Nature; PRISM International; Toronto Life.

Check out all the gala photos on our Facebook page.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a welcome message to the audience via video, congratulating the nominees and winners and praising the important work of Canada’s magazine creators.

Toronto Mayor John Tory also addressed the gathering via video to offer his congratulations to the nominees and winners and offer his support for Canadian magazine creators.

Alicia Elliott delivered the keynote address. Alicia is a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations, currently living in Brantford, Ontario. Her writing has most recently been published by CBC Arts, Room, Grain, The New Quarterly and The Malahat Review. Later in the evening she won the Gold Medal in Essays for “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” (The Malahat Review).

For the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards, the NAMF welcomed a number of its former winners of the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, led by Kim Pittaway, Michael de Pencier, and D.B. Scott, who co-hosted the event.

Also attending and presenting awards as former winners of the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement: James Ireland, Sally Armstrong, Ken Rodmell, Lynn Cunningham, Stephen Trumper, Al Zikovitz, and Paul Jones.

Other special guest presenters included award-winning illustrator Min Gyo Chung, award-winning writers Hon Lu and Desmond Cole, award-winning art director Gilbert Li, and former NMAF president Arjun Basu.


Nearly 300 members of the Canadian magazine industry—publishers, editors, art directors, writers, photographers, illustrators, circulators and more—joined esteemed sponsors and other guests at the Arcadian Court for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala.

This year, 197 Canadian magazines from coast to coast to coast—English and French, print and digital—entered the best of their editorial and design to the National Magazine Awards, submitting the work of more than 2000 writers, editors, photographers, illustrators, art directors and other creators. The NMAF’s 112 volunteer judges nominated a total of 202 submissions from 75 different Canadian magazines for awards in 25 written, visual, integrated and special categories. 



The NMAF gratefully acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

The NMAF gratefully acknowledges the support of its sponsors and table patrons:
Access Copyright,
Alberta Magazine Publishers Association,
Canadian Media Guild,
Content Writers Group,
CDS Global,
CNW, a Cision Company,,
Goetz Storytelling,
Impresa Communications,
Oliver & Bonacini,
Ricardo Media,
Rolland Enterprises,
Ryerson University School of Journalism,
Studio Wyse,
TC Transcontinental Printing,
University of King’s College School of Journalism,
Very Good Studios, and

The NMAF gratefully acknowledges its 112 Judges who volunteered their time and their expertise to serve on the juries for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards.



A charitable foundation, the NMAF’s mandate is to recognize and promote excellence in content creation of Canadian print and digital publications through an annual program of awards and national publicity efforts.

The Foundation produces two distinct and bilingual award programs: the National Magazine Awards and the Digital Publishing Awards. Throughout the year, the Foundation undertakes various group marketing initiatives and professional development events. 

Download the entire list [PDF] of nominees and winners.

Penny Caldwell to receive 2017 Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement in Canadian Magazines

The NMAF is proud to present the 2017 Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement to Penny Caldwell, publisher and vice-president of Cottage Life Media.

Penny began her career in magazines as a freelance journalist, writing for sports and boating magazines at a time when it was rare for women to cover those topics. In the summer of 1988, a spirited new publication called Cottage Life debuted, and Penny was tapped to write a feature for the inaugural issue about how to buy a windsurfer.

“There’s no doubt about it,” wrote Penny in the opening lines of her first Cottage Life story, “those hot, lazy days of summer are better at the cottage—and best when you can spend most of your time in and around the water.” She still feels that way.

From her modest start as a freelance writer, Penny began to develop and hone the panoply of journalism and leadership skills that she has come to embody today. In 2000, she was named editor-in-chief of Cottage Life, where she quickly earned a reputation as an editor of considerable passion and frequent praise. In her 15-year tenure as editor, the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors named her its Editor of the Year a record four times, while Cottage Life won Magazine of the Year at the National Magazine Awards in 2003 and again in 2014.

“The hallmarks of Penny’s style are conscientiousness, diplomacy, and kindness. There are never any questions she won’t take the time to answer. No matter how tight the deadline, there is always time to adhere to the tight standards she sets for herself and inspires in her colleagues.”
Cottage Life Media CEO Al Zikovitz

Consistent with the evolving roles of a modern magazine leader, Penny was named brand manager and later vice president of content strategy and development before assuming the mantle of publisher in 2015, succeeding Al Zikovitz. That year, the NMA jury named Cottage Life Canada’s Best Magazine Brand for demonstrating a level of innovation that sets the standard for the industry and represents how a magazine can succeed beyond print with dynamic and thriving extensions.

“As a publisher, Penny has demonstrated her adaptability to changing circumstances and serving readers across multiple platforms. This includes print, digital, television, e-commerce, and live events.”
D.B. Scott, magazine consultant and publisher of Canadian Magazines

Today, Cottage Life reaches over six million Canadians every year as perhaps the savviest magazine brand in the country.

Beyond the walls of Cottage Life’s old cozy HQ at 54 St. Patrick Street in Toronto, Penny has made an indelible mark on the wider magazine industry as a mentor, teacher, volunteer, and advocate for a stronger magazine community. She was a member of the original Magazines Canada task force that developed the industry’s advertising-editorial guidelines, and has sat on the curriculum development committees of MagsU and MagNet.

“Penny’s insights and thoughtful contributions have always put the interest of readers first. Her calm, cool, and collected demeanor informs her success as an editor and publisher.”
Patrick Walsh, editor-in-chief, Outdoor Canada

At Ryerson University’s Magazine and Web Publishing Program she taught students the finer points of building a career in magazines. Many colleagues have noted her interest in learning about new talent in the industry and looking for opportunities to mentor others.

“Penny seeks connections for everyone she meets. She sees that if she fosters this talent within our industry, our collective chances at success—at having healthy, thriving Canadian magazines—are so much greater.”
Jess Ross, multiplatform content director at TVA Publications

All the while, Penny has frequently volunteered her time to sit on panels, juries, and boards of directors (including the NMAF from 2004 to 2010). Currently she serves as president of the International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA), where she has chaired awards committees, led numerous conference sessions, and developed the IRMA Connection initiative to improve communication and learning between members. “Penny is incredibly hard-working and an impressive problem solver who always has time for those who need her help,” says Tara Flint, executive director of IRMA. “She fosters positive discussions and brings out the best in others.”

Last year’s Outstanding Achievement Award winner, Kim Pittaway, sums it up aptly:

“Penny’s career exemplifies the best of what it means to lead a magazine: a deep respect for the audience, a commitment to the highest quality, a desire to innovate, and a dedication to respecting and fostering the talent of those with whom she works.”

For her commendable leadership in every role she has assumed, the NMAF is proud to honour Penny Caldwell with the 40th anniversary Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement. Penny will receive her award and recognition at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala on May 26 in Toronto.

Tickets go on sale Thursday April 20 at

The nominees for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards will be announced on Thursday April 20.

The NMAF’s most prestigious individual prize  is the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, an award that recognizes an individual’s innovation and creativity through contributions to the magazine industry.

The award is open to circulation experts, editors, marketing, sales and promotion professionals, publishers, creators, designers, production managers – in short, to everyone in the industry. It cannot be given posthumously.

The Judging Committee of the National Magazine Awards Foundation will consider the nominations, along with nominations from members of the Committee itself. The Board of the National Magazine Awards Foundation will select the winner.

For more information and previous winners, visit

Photo of Penny Caldwell by Daniel Ehrenworth

Off the Page, with art director Anna Minzhulina

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. In this interview we chat with award-winning art director Anna Minzhulina, who spent 10 years at the creative helm of Maisonneuve. “Maisy” was named Magazine of the Year at the 2016 National Magazine Awards, and over the years it has been among the most lauded and decorated magazines for design, illustration, and photography (as well as its writing and reporting).


NMAF: Let’s start with Maisonneuve. You spent over a decade as the art director of the award-winning Montreal quarterly.

Anna: Maison-who?! I have never heard of it?! Is it any good?!

(Sorryyyyyy, I just could not help myself!) Indeed, my tenure at the magazine was exceeded only by the logo itself–the infamous Maisy dude. I could easily be a special edition Maisy mascot!

I joined Maisonneuve in 2005, shortly after I graduated from the Design Art program at Concordia University. Then in the summer of 2006, I became the Art Director. At the time, the magazine was in its fourth year of publication.

Looking back, we were both wild spirited newbies! Maisonneuve was just getting noticed, but still in the early stages of fully developing its editorial and visual personalities. And, there I was…an idealistic designer taking my first steps into the professional art world I felt so passionate about…excitedly searching for the special place to house my creativity. There was maison and it was neuve.

We complemented each other very well. And in a retrospect, the collaboration blossomed into a fruitful and long-term relationship.

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NMAF: Maisonneuve is one of those magazines that is sometimes difficult to describe, yet always attracts alluring descriptions: quirky, bold, refreshing, imaginative, passionate, delightful, thoughtful, exciting…

Anna: For people who are familiar with Maisy (the affectionate in-house name), you may say…A versatile humanitarian with socially and culturally inclined tendencies and some very personal issues, who welcomes anyone into its Open House, obsessively collects Letters from Montreal…in addition, has strange Fictional fantasies, whole-heartedly laughs at the Comics…at times gender confused, but very intelligent and oh! such a visual feast for the eyes to devour ;)!

Undoubtedly, Canadian readers have a variety of great magazines to choose from. Just as easily, dozens could fit the description you gave. But even so, I feel the major difference between other publications and Maisonneuve is the consistency. It’s Maisonneuve’s extraordinary ability to remain uncompromisingly true to its philosophy of high-quality editorial and visual story telling, from one issue to the next and throughout the years.

 To sum up…Maisonneuve is a voice of organic harmony, which with equal strength speaks to and of both human experience and human expression.


NMAF: How would you describe the creative vision you set out to achieve at the magazine?

Anna: I feel successful visions are the ones that are flexible in nature. They adapt to the circumstances and times. With enthusiasm and passion, there is nothing impossible…as long as it’s based on the principles of honesty and integrity.

I always strove to design the best magazine I could possibly create in spite of the numerous limitations. In my mind, there were Plans A, B…Z and, if none of those worked—well…I would do it myself!

Over the course of a decade, those visions and approaches evolved beyond simply design aspect/aesthetics and into an understanding of such important values as creative collaboration and the conceptualization of emotionally deep visual narratives capable of touching and evoking lasting impressions and intelligent conversations.

Furthermore, I like to think of the magazine pages as the walls of an art gallery, where art is displayed for practical reasons, such as the pictorial entourage to an article. The words and pictures co-exist.

But at the same time, the images exist in a realm of their own and are appreciated as a separate entity with their own story. Usually, that story is connected to the written one, but it does not have to be in a literal way. I liked to commission illustration that, if there were just empty pages with no words, the images would still have the visual power to stand on their own.

If you think about it, that’s the natural state of the words before they arrive on the designed page. Why can’t the images create their own sustaining presence? That’s one reason why I think Maisonneuve has been so successful… it has had these multiple strong presences that can stand alone and also interact.


NMAF: Is there a magic formula for directing such a unique publication, or do you re-invent the wheel, so to speak, every time you start work on a new issue?

Anna: Hmm… yes and no?! Each issue is a new experience, for the team and for the readers. Be that as it may, you don’t reinvent the philosophy—it’s the anchor. You adapt and modify the approach to the underlying design to provide individual and suitable reflection of each story and its characters, which are unique in their own right.


NMAF: It’s fair to say that Maisonneuve has been one of the most celebrated magazines in Canada over the past decade, as judged by its peers in the industry and its readers. As its art director you have collected 6 National Magazine Awards for your work—3 for Best Magazine Cover and 3 more for Art Direction—among more than a dozen nominations. Maisy has also won Magazine of the Year twice in that span.

Anna: The number of people, who defriended me on the Facebook skyrocketed! 😛

Truthfully, I am humbled and very honoured for every nomination and award. Thank you!


NMAF: What has been the significance to you of the National Magazine Award recognition from your peers?

Anna: Aside from what it personally means to me as well as everyone else involved in Maisonneuve’s production, the recognition of effort, sacrifice, time, sleepless nights, grey hair, broken promises, cancelled dinner dates…it is the acknowledgement of women’s visibility within creative fields.

I believe in the vital role women play in diversifying the publishing world by exposing it to their sensibly strong perspective. So kudos to National Magazine Awards Foundation! I hope it will inspire young women illustrators, photographers, and art directors in Canada to persevere. So that in the future, there are more female voices such as Marta Iwanek, Gracia Lam, Selena Wong, Suharu Ogawa, Genevieve Simms, Heidi Berton, Ness Lee…and the list goes on and on.


NMAF: Let’s take a closer look at some of your most celebrated work, and perhaps you can tell us a quick story of how it came together:

In 2011, you won a Silver Medal in Art Direction for a Magazine Story for “Monuments: The City in Three Parts”—a progression of towering illustrations by Amy Casey accompanying a suite of poems by Roland Pemberton. What was your inspiration here—was it the poetry itself, or something more?

Anna: The challenge with poetry is: it’s an art form naturally open to interpretation. Overly strong visuals can clash with or even crash the delicate aesthetic of poetry itself. But no visuals at all, in a magazine like Maisonneuve, would be a cop out.

In the case of “Monuments” the inspiration came equally from both—the beautiful text and Amy’s wonderful work. I created a collage of collapsing imaginary houses so the text could interact with Amy’s images in a way that allowed both to stand on their own and coexist in peace on the same spread. That’s hard to do! So often with poetry there is a love-hate relationship with surrounding images, but this one worked.

Amy was reluctant at first, but when I showed her what I have done as a mock-up she was very excited and happy for her work be adapted in this creative way.


NMAF: In “Gays for God”—Silver Medallist in 2013 for Best Magazine Cover—you created (with photographer Kourosh Keshiri) an irresistible image of a contemplative Jesus draped in a rainbow flag, which accompanied the cover story by Clancy Martin about a new LGBTQ-friendly evangelical movement. This is an image of infinite subtleties—from the blue eye to glowing halo and the soft edges. The mood is very inviting to the story. What were the questions you asked yourself as you worked on this design?

Anna: Perhaps, at one time or another, we all contemplate being draped in the fabric of our own fears and doubts, while waiting for the divine to show the way…it’s the concept that talks to universal experience while personal as well. A close-up portrait was the best way to capture the dichotomy.

As for the questions…I am asking myself the same ones today, as I have done then. One of them is how can I, a gay woman myself, shine the light on the relationship LGBTQ community has with spirituality in a singular iconic image to the broader audience? To create a bold and intelligent visual statement to inspire pride in one side and to engage into conversation the other one.


NMAF: How did it come together?

Anna: Well…it’s not that easy to find Jesus wondering the streets, more so to convince him to be gay for the photoshoot! But hey, drop the Maisonneuve name here and there and you might be surprised! 😉

Usually, I have a lot of ideas and sketches for the cover (story). Drew Nelles [the editor-in-chief at the time] and I agreed on this concept as the final one—the stand alone powerful image and the direct reflection of Martin’s story.

With the help from dear friend and brilliant photographer Kourosh Keshiri, I was able to get amazing raw shots to work from. Subsequently, I photo edited and photo illustrated the selected image (the most sincere and devoid of pretence) into the final cover version.

In other words, I deliberately de/emphasized and added specific details (such as halo, blue eyes, serene lighting, deep shadows)—the visual signifiers, to create a stronger impact.


NMAF: The “TV We Hate Issue” cover (also a Silver Medal winner for Best Magazine Cover in 2015) looks like it was absolutely fun to create—a friendly poke at the subversive, gonzo style of MTV. Were any TVs actually harmed in the production of this cover?

Anna: Ha! Well, yes, twice. How many of us just get so annoyed with what is on TV we just dream of taking a hammer to it?…or in this case, a butcher knife! I deeply apologize to TV set lovers for butchering a very cool retro television…All in the name of art!

The amazing Ian Patterson and I worked on five covers together, the “TV We Hate” was the second one in that sequence. Ian is the example of someone you just click with. He has mastered an amazing skill—working with natural light.

For a start, there were many, many doodles and sketches for this cover. As I remember correctly, we narrowed it down to two main concepts. What made this one the final one was the minimalism and pointedness. The complexity lay in the precise execution–the limited (minimalistic) number of elements did not leave the room to hide mistakes. It’s something that either works or completely fails. This is why, when one element was off the whole cover had to be reshot. Afterwards, just as with the “Gays for God” cover, there was extensive photo editing to ensure the right details are highlighted while the unnecessary ones either overshadowed or removed completely.

Visual knowledge is important, but it’s not necessary to enjoy something from purely aesthetic point of view. That’s why the most interesting and iconic images successfully and equally merge both, concept and beauty, into one.

Here’s a peak at how the design evolved:


NMAF: Do you have another favourite creation from your Maisonneuve career?

Anna: For many artists, myself including, the favourite creation is the one yet to be created. Otherwise, what is there to strive for?

The favourite ones are the most memorable ones, which in one way or another enriched me with certain experience, insight or knowledge. Each image I worked on has a story behind it.

The ones that jump to mind, though, are:

…and so many many more…

Each one, no matter how big or small, was an unforgettable moment in time shared between kindred spirits.


NMAF: What do you look for in a creative partnership with an illustrator or photographer? What is your process of communicating an artistic vision for a magazine story that brings out the best in an artist?

Anna: My choice with whom to collaborate on projects is based on a great admiration for artists themselves and their work.

Imagine, you receive a bucket and it’s filled with stories for the next issue, you lift it up above your head and just turn it over…so the words just wash over you, like a waterfall. Most of the water will drain away, yet some will penetrate your skin and leave you with a sensation…a feeling or thought.

Out of the heart and straight to your mind, that will be your guide to conceptualize ideas and find the right voice to breath the life into the story. You can only bring out the best in others if you yourself believe passionately in what you do. Then your enthusiasm will ignite the alike spirits to join you on the crazy joyride called creative collaboration. And they will become your partners in art crime.

I love working with people who see creative process as an adventure. This requires trust, open-mindedness, and mutual respect. You are pursuing a common vision, yet ping-ponging ideas back and forth to create something spectacular. Some people can’t do that. It can be hard to find great collaborators. But when you do, it’s like a drug, the highest high.


NMAF: Now that you’ve moved on from Maisonneuve, what’s next for you? What would you like to achieve with the next stage of your career?

Anna: You mean, beside the grandiose production of the Maisy mascot costume?!

Well…it took me a while, but I finally launched my website It’s a collection of the work I have done during my Maisonneuve years. I invite everyone to come say hello! And reminisce of some of the Maisonneuve’s classics.

All in all, I still love publishing and want to pursue it further—magazines, books, other design projects…but I’m also curious about art exhibitions, conceptual design in larger spaces, on real walls, not just paper or virtual ones… it’s all fascinating to me, as long as it’s creative and/or collaborative.

In the meantime, I am working on a drawing series titled See You”portraits of random people sketched in shopping malls and plazas and other interesting, mundane places… my apartment walls are covered with them!

There is life beyond Maisonneuve… 😉 But I’m keeping my subscription! And so should you.

One last thing, before I bow my farewell to Maisonneuve, I would like to thank one very special person, whom I never got to thank at the NMAs:

“My dearest mom, Thank you! for giving me a precious gift— the courage to live my passion and to follow my heart.”

Anna Minzhulina is an award-winning art director, designer, artist and illustrator. For ten years, she was the Art Director of Maisonneuve magazine, where she was recognized for her imaginative concepts in cover design, design, photography and illustration. At Maisonneuve, Minzhulina collaborated with dozens of photographers, illustrators and artists, many of whom won awards for their work under her direction. More at

Check out more Off the Page interviews, including Maisonneuve publisher Jennifer Varkonyi and contributing artists Marta Iwanek, Gracia Lam, and Selena Wong.

The nominations for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards will be announced on Thursday April 20. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Twitter @MagAwards for all the exciting news.

This year’s National Magazine Awards gala is Friday, May 26 in Toronto. Tickets go on sale April 20 at

Photograph of Anna Minzhulina by Florentine.

Interview by Richard A. Johnson for the National Magazine Awards Foundation.

Announcing #40at40: A Special NMA Celebration

Here at the National Magazine Awards Foundation we are excitedly preparing for next week’s big announcement: The nominees for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards (April 20). And following that, we’ll be getting ready for this year’s anniversary gala (May 26) at the Arcadian Court in Toronto.

In celebration of this special anniversary year, the NMAF has launched #40at40–forty award-winning creators telling stories about their favourite magazines, the mentors and inspiring figures they look up to, and the Canadian magazine stories that made the biggest impact on their careers.

Every day for 40 days leading up to the gala, we’ll post one story on Twitter (@MagAwards).

Would you like to participate? Send us an email at (subject line #40at40) and we’ll send you a super-short questionnaire.

Thanks to all who have joined us and will join us for the biggest celebration in Canadian magazines–the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards!


CBC documentary based on Desmond Cole’s National Magazine Award-winning story

Desmond Cole accepts the award for Best New Magazine Writer to a standing ovation at the 2016 National Magazine Awards in Toronto (Photo: Steven Goetz / National Magazine Awards Foundation)

In 2015 Desmond Cole’s essay “The Skin I’m In” (published in Toronto Life) made headlines across the country and became a touchstone for contemporary debates about race relations, privilege and law enforcement policy in Canada. Desmond Cole admitted to readers, “I was nine years old the first time I got stopped by police. Since then, I’ve been interrogated more than 50 times— all because of the colour of my skin.”

At the 2016 National Magazine Awards, Desmond Cole’s story won 3 awards–for Personal Journalism, Essays, and Best New Magazine Writer.

In an intimate portrait of systemic discrimination and how it erodes one’s sense of self, Cole has written in “The Skin I’m In” a powerful exposé of Canada’s justice system with clarity and integrity, holding up a mirror to readers of any ethnicity and making them rue what they see.
– National Magazine Awards jury

Since then, he’s become a columnist for the Toronto Star, a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter and other organizations challenging police practices in Toronto, and has appeared on panels for the CBC, the Canadian Journalism Foundation, Global News, and more. His work also appears in the The Walrus, Torontoist, VICE, NOW Magazine, and Ethnic Aisle.

Tonight, the CBC airs its documentary based on Desmond’s National Magazine Award-winning story–“The Skin We’re In“–at 9pm.

For the film version of The Skin We’re In, the perspective shifts — but the intimacy of Cole’s work is not lost. His journalism is marked by his unapologetic connection to many of his subjects, which is captured poignantly throughout the film.

Click here to watch the trailer of “The Skin We’re In”

NMA winners among finalists for BC Book Prizes

This week the West Coast Book Society announced the finalists for the annual BC Book Prizes, which celebrate achievement by British Columbia writers in 7 categories. Winners are announced on April 29.

3 of the 5 finalists in the Non-Fiction category are National Magazine Award winners, as well as one of the finalists in Poetry.

Mark Leiren-Young’s The Killer Whale Who Changed the World

Killer whales had always been seen as bloodthirsty sea monsters. That all changed when a young killer whale was captured off the west coast of North America and displayed to the public in 1964. Moby Doll—as the whale became known—was an instant celebrity, drawing twenty thousand visitors on the one and only day he was exhibited. He died within a few months, but his famous gentleness sparked a worldwide crusade that transformed how people understood and appreciated orcas. Because of Moby Doll, we stopped fearing “killers” and grew to love and respect “orcas.”

Mark Leiren-Young is a journalist, filmmaker, and author. The magazine article that grew into this book, “Moby Doll” (The Walrus), was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.

Deborah Campbell’s A Disappearance in Damascus

“Did I find her or did she find me?” writes Deborah Campbell in her new book, A Disappearance in Damascus (Knopf Canada), winner of the Writers’ Trust Award. Her is in reference to Ahlam, Campbell’s ‘fixer’— journalist jargon for a foreign correspondent’s interpreter or guide. An Iraqi mother and humanitarian, Ahlam is of invaluable assistance to Campbell throughout her Middle-East reportage, and when she gets taken by secret agents, the journalist, who has reported from countries including Egypt, Qatar and Russia among others, can’t help but take the blame for her disappearance. Campbell spends months in search of her friend in the perilous city.

Deborah Campbell is the winner of two National Magazine Gold Awards for her articles in The Walrus—The Most Hated Name in News” and “Iran’s Quiet Revolution”— published in 2009 and 2006 respectively. She has written for many publications, including Harper’s, The Guardian and Foreign Policy, and has spent over a decade reporting abroad.

The Marriott Cell, by Mohamed Fahmy, with Carol Shaben

Just over one year ago, Egyptian-born Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was awaiting bail from behind bars of an Egyptian maximum security prison. He, along with two other Al-Jazeera journalists, were sentenced to 7-10 years, accused of reporting false news, after police raided their makeshift studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo. According to Human Rights Watch, the trial of Fahmy was a “miscarriage of justice based on zero evidence.” Despite this, the three spent over a year in prison before making bail following a presidential pardon.

Now, finally free and back in Canada, Fahmy is an adjunct professor at UBC, and he’s just published The Marriott Cell (Random House), a book on his harrowing experience in Egypt. The book is a collaboration of efforts by Fahmy and Carol Shaben, a former NMA winner.

Carol Shaben is the winner of two National Magazine Awards for her story, “Fly at Your Own Risk” (The Walrus), about the deficiencies of Canada’s smaller aviation aircrafts and companies. She has written one other book, Into the Abyss, and lives in Vancouver.

In the poetry category, the finalists include:

poemw, by Anne Fleming

In poemw, the third finger of the left hand hits ‘w’ instead of ‘s’ and makes up a new kind of poem, the sort-of poem, the approxi-lyric, the poem that doesn’t want to claim poemness. Poemw are about daily things—graffitti, hair, sea gulls, second-hand clothes—and rarer things—dead crows, baked mice, ski accidents, Judith Butler. They’re jokes-and-not-jokes, cheeky, goofy. Tender.

Anne Fleming has been nominated for 3 National Magazine Awards, winning the award for Fiction in 2002 for her work in The New Quarterly. She has an MFA from UBC and teaches at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Her first book, Pool-Hopping and Other Stories, was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Award.

Check out all the finalists for this year’s BC Book Prizes. The winners are announced on April 29.

Off the Page, with journalist Simon Diotte

Of the Page is an interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. This week we’re chatting with Montreal writer and editor Simon Diotte. He gained recognition for his 2016 National Magazine Award-winning travel story “Sur les traces d’un écrivain voyageur” (“In the Footsteps of a Travel Writer”) published in Oxygène, where he is editor-in-chief. The story recounts a multi-day hiking trip in France in the company of a donkey named Muscade, following the trail of the great Scottish adventurer Robert Louis Stevenson who hiked the same path in 1878.

NMAF: For the uninitiated, tell us about Oxygène magazine and your readers?

Simon: A newcomer to the world of outdoor magazines, Oxygène launched in 2013 and is published twice annually. We have a circulation of 25,000 copies distributed for free in Quebec, mainly at shops and businesses that specialize in the outdoors. Distinguishing itself from other publications that focus on all outdoor sports (trekking, climbing, alpine skiing, surfing, etc), Oxygène focuses on the classics—camping, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

NMAF: So which came to you first: A taste for adventure or a love of writing?

Simon: Writing. I grew up reading L’actualité. I loved their “territoire” features which explored a particular region under a specific theme. I admired the journalist Luc Chartrand in particular, winner of numerous National Magazine Awards. I recall one of his reports that explored the wild regions of Haute-Mauricie. As I read it, I dreamed of walking in remote areas, a notebook in hand. It was stories like this that prompted me to choose to become a freelance journalist, and I started writing articles about the outdoors, which then gave me opportunities to go on adventures.

Paradoxically, in real life I am not necessarily a great adventurer. But I like to have the opportunity to travel in a professional context, where I can have access, as a journalist, to places and people (such as business leaders, politicians, etc) who are not easily accessible to everyday folks.

NMAF: So in addition to your role as editor-in-chief of Oxygène you’ve also been a freelance journalist for over fifteen years. Over the years, you’ve been published in magazines including que L’actualité, Les affaires, Coup de pouce, Châtelaine and Nature Sauvage. And you cover a wide range of topics, including personal finance, the environment, and tourism, to name a few. Tell us about the process of selection stories to pursue. And what topics are currently arousing your curiosity as a journalist?

Simon: Even though I love to work on adventure-oriented stories, I see myself as a jack-of-all-journalism-trades, which corresponds well to my personality. I enjoy stories on the performance of the stock market or the latest film of a famous filmmaker. And so I transpose my diverse tastes into my work as a journalist.

To succeed as a freelancer, you have to be an idea-generating machine. As soon as an idea starts to form in my mind, I immediately make notes on it. I do a quick search to see if it’s a subject that’s already been covered. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to grow into a magazine story—often because of the lack of time or opportunity to pursue it. I have tons of ideas in the bank, but unfortunately I lack the time and budget to pursue them all. Right now I’m working on several stories about hunting. Stay tuned.

NMAF: Your story called “Sur les traces d’un écrivain voyageur” won a Silver Medal at the 2016 National Magazine Awards. You weren’t able to attend the gala, but you responded almost instantly to the announcement on Twitter. What was the first thing that came to your mind when you heard the news?

Simon: I was really proud that a story by a freelancer writer in a small Quebec publication had managed to stand out among the panoply of high-quality magazines across Canada. As a freelancer I often have the feeling of being David against Goliath in various journalistic contexts. Winning the National Magazine Award is proof that with audacity and determination, you can do great stories.

NMAF: You also received an Honourable Mention last year for your story “Le ski change d’air” published in L’actualité. And in 2014 you also won an Honourable Mention for “Rares et précieux champignons” in Nature Sauvage. What impact has this recognition had on you at this stage of your career as a journalist?

Simon: In my many years as a freelancer, I’ve experienced periods where I’ve questioned myself. Should I continue or should I do something else? The recognition of the National Magazine Awards has affirmed my decision to keep living by the writer’s pen. And working independently gives me the freedom to work on the stories I really want to. Awards provide confidence to freelancers and raise our profile among clients. They help us stand out.

NMAF: The Canadian magazine industry has undergone some profound transformations over the past few years. One need only think of all the print publications that have migrated to digital platforms, or of the recent announcement of the sale of a number of Quebec magazines by Rogers Media, including L’actualité, the most decorated French-language magazine in the history of the National Magazine Awards.* In such an uncertain environment, what is the key to success for a freelancer?

Simon: As a freelancer, diversification is a major asset. The publications I write for trust me to handle a wide range of topics, as they know I’m versatile enough to do them. It’s also a great idea to get creative and pitch stories that seem a little off the beaten track. The work I do is about 50% ideas that I pitch, and 50% ideas that are commissioned.

That said, the future doesn’t look so bright for journalism, even for the best freelancers. With falling revenues, magazines have less and less money, and of course that has an impact on content. Like most freelancers, I often wonder whether I’ll still be able to do this exciting work in a few years.

Simon Diotte is the editor-in-chief of the magazine Oxygène and a National Magazine Award-winning freelancer writer based in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @sdiotte.

This interview was originally published in French on the blog Prix Magazine. Interview by Émilie Pontbriand. Translated from the French by Richard A. Johnson.

* Editor’s note: Since publication of this interview in French, L’actualité has been purchased by MishMash Media.

Off the Page, with investigative journalist Virgil Grandfield

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. In this interview we chat with freelance journalist Virgil Grandfield, who won the 2016 National Magazine Award for Investigative Reporting.

In his award-winning investigative story “The Cage” (Eighteen Bridges) Virgil Grandfield describes one particular day of his multi-year investigation into human trafficking allegedly linked to Red Cross humanitarian efforts in Indonesia, post-tsunami. “Eva” is his assistant; “Mulyo” is a labour agent who may have been involved in human trafficking; “Otong” is a worker who disappeared while working on a Red Cross project and was allegedly murdered while trying to escape.

NMAF: In 2008, you decided to resign your position as spokesperson for the Red Cross / Red Crescent reconstruction efforts in Indonesia’s Aceh province. The international community had poured millions into rebuilding the region after the 2004 tsunami and 2005 earthquake, and from your position you were able to observe human trafficking creeping into the humanitarian project. How did you start down this road?

Virgil Grandfield: I was spokesperson for all Red Cross Red Crescent tsunami relief operations in Aceh in 2005-2006. In that time, I was proud of our work there. Only when I returned to Aceh in 2007-2008 as a delegate for the Canadian Red Cross did I uncover evidence of an epidemic of modern slavery in our housing reconstruction operations.

Before I go on, I should say that when describing the focus of my investigations in Aceh, I never use the term “corruption.” That word can sometimes be racially loaded, and too vague, subjective and misleading. As you mentioned, what I found on Red Cross and other tsunami projects in Indonesia was the very specific and clearly-defined crime of human trafficking—a discovery that rocked me to my core, in part because I immediately understood that it was our own fault. We had lost our way. 

In short, the British, Canadian, Australian and American Red Cross had decided that rather than working with local people to rebuild, they would take a massive short cut and outsource all of our reconstruction projects to private contractors. Agents working for those contractors brought in tens of thousands of workers to our projects from more than 2,000 km away in Java. The agents and contractors deceived the workers, stole their pay and forced them to work against their will, often as outright slaves in squalid, malaria-ridden labour camps and often provided them little more than one bowl of rice per day.

This happened to virtually all of the thousands of construction workers on Red Cross and other tsunami rebuilding projects. It was the second, secret disaster of Aceh.



"The Cage" by Virgil Grandfield, Eighteen Bridges, Winter 2015. Two girls sit at the graves of their mother and father, who died because of trafficking on a British Red Cross tsunami project. (Photo: Virgil Grandfield / Eighteen Bridges)
“The Cage” by Virgil Grandfield, Eighteen Bridges, Winter 2015. Two girls sit at the graves of their mother and father, who died because of trafficking on a British Red Cross tsunami project. (Photo: Virgil Grandfield / Eighteen Bridges)


NMAF: What was the breaking point for you, and why did you decide to become a whistle-blower?

Virgil Grandfield: When I first discovered and confirmed the trafficking problem, I was really sad and angry. Another worker had died of malaria in one of our project camps the day before I had arrived there. And yet, management was refusing even to allow us to provide bed nets or spray for mosquitos in our camps, claiming the workers were not our responsibility. They had become so focused on material results—numbers of housing completions—they had totally ignored the humanity of the workers on our projects.

I reported what I had found to management in Aceh and Ottawa. They warned me to drop the issue. One told me that I was “too close to the people,” and said I had a choice: “You can either be with us, or you can be on the side of the workers.”

At the risk of losing my amazing career, I kept investigating and demanding action. Management agreed to look into the issue, but only interviewed the contractors and agents, the very men who had been doing the trafficking. They never spoke with the workers. After an incident where some of our workers were beaten by a local mob accusing them of stealing some jewelry to pawn in order to escape, I broke protocol and informed the Canadian Red Cross board of governors of the trafficking and implied that if we did not act within the month, I would go public. Only then did management approve anti-malarial measures in worker camps. They also promised me they would begin a feeding program for the workers and would hire the Ernst & Young auditing firm to do a more thorough investigation. And, I was offered a new contract and a possibly a promotion, on the condition that I drop the worker issue.

I told myself: “You carry a lot of responsibility, Virgil. You have fought for a long time to uncover and get the truth out. And you might have only this one chance to say some important things.”

A few months later, I heard from one of my former field officers that our head of mission in Aceh had interfered in the auditors’ investigation when he gave the contractors weeks of advance warning, and had tried to restrict the auditors to only two of our twenty-two housing projects. I also learned that the Red Cross also never implemented the promised feeding program for our workers. And although the auditing firm Ernst & Young confirmed my findings, Red Cross refused to consider compensating the victims.

That was the last straw for me. I resigned my Red Cross Overseas Delegate status and eventually leaked the story to a producer at Radio Canada in Montreal where I had done a graduate program in journalism at Concordia University.

A relative of a Red Cross worker who was trafficked on tsunami projects and died. (Photo: Virgil Grandfield / Eighteen Bridges)
A relative of a Red Cross worker who was trafficked on tsunami projects and died. (Photo: Virgil Grandfield / Eighteen Bridges)


NMAF: Having made the bold move to resign, you launched your own investigation, returning to Indonesia not as a delegate but as an independent journalist? How did you manage that?

Virgil Grandfield: Radio-Canada said they needed more proof of the trafficking before sending a team to Indonesia to investigate and film a documentary—an investment of at least $100,000. So, a year after I had resigned, I mortgaged my home in Alberta to fund a more thorough, preliminary investigation. I returned to Indonesia in 2009-2010, rented vehicles and equipment and enlisted teams of human rights workers—and at one point, even a local mafia boss—to help me find hundreds of Javanese labourers who had been trafficked on Red Cross tsunami projects in Aceh.

The evidence and video testimonies we took from those victims and scores of witnesses were enough to convince Radio Canada to send their own investigative team to Indonesia. Unfortunately, after their documentary “The Forgotten Workers” was broadcast on Radio Canada and CBC in March 2010, Canadian Red Cross denied all findings and shut the issue down. And it seemed like Canadians just kind of shrugged.

I was devastated, and it took me a long time to recover.


NMAF: In “The Cage” you describe a second journey you made to Indonesia in the summer of 2015 to meet a man named Mulyo, who may have been a trafficker of slave labour during the Red Cross reconstruction. You put your own life (and that of your assistant, Eva) at risk just to try to gain access to some of the workers who were exploited. What was the significance of that particular journey, and what did you expect to discover that day?

A man who was trafficked and worked on Red Cross reconstruction projects in Aceh, Indonesia. (Photo: Virgil Grandfield / Eighteen Bridges)
A man who was trafficked and worked on Red Cross reconstruction projects in Aceh, Indonesia. (Photo: Virgil Grandfield / Eighteen Bridges)

Virgil Grandfield: In 2015, with a little money from a writer’s grant and an income tax rebate, I headed back to Indonesia to try again. This time I could only afford to hire one person to help me, not whole teams. During my first investigation five years before, I had met families of men who had died on Red Cross projects or while trying to escape. I promised some of those families I would try to find the graves of their dead fathers, sons and husbands. So, this time, instead of searching for hundreds of surviving victims, my assistant and I would only search for the dead.

My assistant Eva (not her real name) is a gutsy, smart elementary school teacher about the size of a half sack of potatoes. She started searching for leads in North Sumatra even before I arrived. She found a labour agent named Mulyo (also not his real name) who claimed that 160 of his workers had been forced to work at gunpoint on an American Red Cross tsunami project.

Mulyo had told Eva that one of those workers, a young man named Otong, had been murdered by his guards, likely as a warning after trying to escape the project with a group of 30 other workers. Soon after my first meeting with Mulyo, Eva and I began to suspect that he himself had been a guilty party in the trafficking of Otong and the other men.

We tried to gain Mulyo’s trust, and that meant we had to give him our trust, too. We stayed in his home. We brought him gifts. We even went night fishing with him a few times at a kind of gambler’s pond where everyone treated Mulyo like the Godfather. We kept telling Mulyo we had to meet Otong’s co-workers in order to verify his story and perhaps find a way to meet and help his surviving family. Mulyo kept making excuses for not taking us to the surviving victims. Eventually, though, he said he was ready to take us to meet Otong’s former co-workers. But, he said we would have to go alone with him.

Eva and I knew there were two possibilities: either Mulyo had decided to try to help us, or he had decided to take us out somewhere to get rid of us once and for all—to kill us. If it was the first, we would be that much closer to getting the story that might finally get people to understand and care about this issue, a story that might shock the American public in a way that had not happened in Canada.

I had spent years of my life fighting this battle. I had sacrificed the career I had loved. I felt I had little left to lose and that I had come too far to fail. Getting to the bottom of this particular story about the murder of one worker might be my only way to finally get publishers and readers to care about the bigger story. And because the stakes were so high and there had only been denial on the part of the Red Cross, getting this story second or third-hand was not going to work. I had to meet the eyewitnesses—starting with the men who had also been trafficked—and record their stories. The only way to do that was to trust Mulyo.

I was prepared to risk death. The more important question was whether Eva understood the danger and was willing to make the same gamble. That is the moment at which our story “The Cage” begins, when Eva answers that she also was not afraid to die. It would not be the last time she would say that, in even more dangerous situations.

It felt important that this story reach Eighteen Bridges readers, for two reasons: First, because I felt our audience and the wider audience that might come across the story would greatly enjoy and benefit from Virgil’s mix of compelling storytelling and scrupulous moral inquiry. Second, because we at Eighteen Bridges really do believe in the power of the written word to open eyes and enact change, and it would have been wrong not to publish Virgil’s story.
Curtis Gillepsie, editor-in-chief, Eighteen Bridges magazine


NMAF: “The Cage” is now one chapter in a larger book project you have planned about the Red Cross reconstruction in Indonesia. On the one hand, your investigation focuses on the large-scale labour trafficking involving thousands of Indonesians who essentially became slaves to the agents and contractors who pocketed large sums of humanitarian funds. And then you’re also trying to unravel the mystery of the murder of Otong. What is it about his death that you think illuminates a piece of the larger investigation?

Virgil Grandfield: One problem I have had in speaking with literary agents was that they did not think this issue would be relevant to Canadians. They also said the fact I was a former employee of the Canadian Red Cross might create legal problems or doubts about motivations. Also, when I spoke to people in Canada about the trafficked workers, they just didn’t get it. Everyone has that uncle or brother-in-law who has been stiffed on a job. No big deal. And quite frankly, when people hear the numbers—that up to half a million men were trafficked on tsunami projects—they tune out because it sounds like statistics.

So, when I returned to Indonesia in 2015, I decided firstly that I would not look for any more victims from Canadian Red Cross tsunami projects—not even one. I would only look for victims from other Red Cross or UN or other tsunami projects. Americans have not yet heard about this scandal, and neither has the rest of the world..

Secondly, this time I wanted to investigate and tell, as well as I could, the story of just a few victims—people who had died because of the trafficking. I wanted readers to really feel and understand how horrible this thing was, how cruel and deadly it had been for humanitarian agencies to turn their operations over to profiteers and criminals and look the other way and even cover things up.

So, I thought the story of one man—among tens of thousands of tsunami slaves in Aceh—being murdered for trying to escape an American Red Cross tsunami project might get that point across. This was not your uncle being cheated for work he did on someone’s house. It was outright slavery and even murder. And I believed then as I do now that people will care more about one or two or three persons whom they feel they know than they will about thousands they don’t.


NMAF: “The Cage” ends with a bit of cliffhanger—Mulyo points you towards people who might know about the fate of Otong, but he advises you against speaking to them. Without giving too much away from your forthcoming book, have you since discovered more of the truth about Mulyo and Otong?

Virgil Grandfield: Mulyo eventually did take us to meet Otong’s co-workers, the witnesses to his murder. After telling us the story of their own ordeal as tsunami slaves and their escape from an American Red Cross project, they drew us a map. Eva and I then used the map to go on a kind of “Heart of Darkness” journey to follow the investigation of Otong’s murder to its end. What we experienced and discovered will be thrilling and mind-blowing to readers: a cat-and-mouse story of facing and narrowly escaping death—in typhoons and at gunpoint—in order to investigate and solve a crime implicating those in the “whited sepulchers” of Ottawa, London, Melbourne and Washington D.C. as much as anywhere else..

Eva and I are both currently writing those chapters for a section of the book called “The Map.” Using a mix of narrative and raw transcripts, we have also recently finished putting together an experimental work of literary non-fiction called “The Monument,” about a man and wife who were victims of trafficking on a British Red Cross project.

And, we will soon be writing our third main section of the book about keeping a promise I had made five years earlier to find the grave of one Javanese family’s father and husband who had died because of trafficking on an Australian Red Cross tsunami project. Our two-month search for his grave took us to an island where as many people died because of labour trafficking on tsunami reconstruction projects as died in the tsunami itself.


NMAF: At the 2016 National Magazine Awards gala, you accepted your award for “The Cage” on stage with a passionate call for critical Canadian attention to humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects, and the gaps in the system that enable corruption and trafficking. Can you talk a bit about your vision for a better system of oversight and implementation of these projects?

Virgil Grandfield: I was so utterly shocked and grateful to win the award at the NMA gala. I had originally written “The Cage” as a chapter for my book, so, I felt it was a fragment at best. Other stories in my category were more complete, I thought, and more polished, and by excellent and well-known journalists. But, I also figured that in the very remote case I did win, I had better be ready to speak. I told myself: “You carry a lot of responsibility, Virgil. You have fought for a long time to uncover and get the truth out. And you might have only this one chance to say some important things.”

In my speech, I thanked Eva and other people like her who have over the years risked their lives with me to investigate this story for little or no reward. I acknowledged the pain the family members of the victims had to endure in opening old wounds to tell me their stories. I spoke of the trust those families put in me, and through me, the trust they were putting in Canadians to finally make things right.

I also reminded my colleagues at the NMA gala that Aceh was not the first tragic misadventure the Red Cross has had in outsourcing its humanitarian responsibilities. Thousands of Canadians lives were ruined or lost because of the HIV or Hepatitis they contracted from the tainted blood bought by the Red Cross from American prisons in the 1980s. Not only did the Canadian Red Cross deny that problem and refuse to take responsibility for its victims in the Tainted Blood Scandal. It also refused to clean house after it was censured by the Krever Report.

Virgil Grandfield accepts the National Magazine Award for Investigative Reporting at the 2016 NMA Gala in Toronto. (Photo: Steven Goetz / National Magazine Awards Foundation)
Virgil Grandfield accepts the National Magazine Award for Investigative Reporting at the 2016 NMA Gala in Toronto. (Photo: Steven Goetz / National Magazine Awards Foundation)


NMAF: What do you think Canadians should expect of the money and goodwill that they and their government contribute overseas?

Virgil Grandfield: At certain times, even our most noble institutions fail.. Yes, there is something very broken in the world now, and that was and is the deeper problem. Neo-liberal organizations like the WTO and World Bank have been forcing the poorest countries to do away with protections for their most vulnerable workers. So they share responsibility for what happened in Aceh.

But the labour trafficking scandal in the Aceh reconstruction was also due to a massive failure of humanitarian leadership. The directors of the Red Cross, for example, deliberately chose—against all of our stated principles—to use a deeply-flawed and inhumane outsourcing system, instead of working with local people to rebuild. And they chose to continue to do so, even when they became aware of the trafficking. The agencies had too much money, their boards were in too much of a hurry, and their managers acted in ways that were ambitious, heartless or blind.

The great danger for humanitarian organizations—especially the large, well-funded ones—is that they work in places where institutional corruption and failures of leadership can have immense and deadly consequences. Even at the field level, professional aid workers can also let themselves become divided from their own compassion and humanitarian principles and responsibilities. They focus on careers and promotions and perks, and because there is no job security in humanitarian work, they don’t rock the boat. They turn the other way, or compromise with corruption, or cover things up.

I reported what I had found to management in Aceh and Ottawa. They warned me to drop the issue. One told me that I was “too close to the people,” and said I had a choice: “You can either be with us, or you can be on the side of the workers.

And meanwhile, the media give them a free pass, as if they are somehow better than normal, flawed humans. Reporters never ask hard questions, don’t investigate, and when told the truth, like most Canadians, they don’t want to believe. But the stakes are so high and the dangers and consequences of failure so prevalent and drastic, especially for vulnerable people like Otong and countless others.

That is why the press must be far, far more curious, independent and critical. You must seek out the powerless, the voiceless workers and others in our projects, and ask them for the truth. You will only help prevent more human-made disasters and save more lives.

As for oversight and implementation, the so-called “Aceh Model” of privatizing humanitarian work has been touted as a huge success to be emulated in other disaster zones. That is an outrageous and inestimably dangerous lie that must be refuted at every level and opportunity. Everyone living in Aceh saw the disaster we caused there by outsourcing our projects; we caused far more harm and pain than would have been if we had never gone there. Only smaller, community-minded organizations refused to take the easy, outsourcing path, and only they avoided the trafficking disaster.

Unfortunately, after disasters, Canadians give the vast majority of their donations to the Red Cross—an organization which at its best only handles first stage relief work. There are other organizations which specialize in actual reconstruction work which is done with communities, and I am certain that some have better leadership than the Red Cross, at least right now. Canadians must demand that the Red Cross clear out anyone involved in the Aceh or the Tainted Blood scandals. Our government must legislate open-book auditing requirements for any agencies receiving public funds, diversify disaster funding to include small organizations through a national umbrella funding agency, and establish a related but fully-independent unit of anti-trafficking investigators and project evaluators, as well as independent ombudspersons for humanitarian sector whistleblowers.

Aid organizations must establish an international convention on standards for payment and living conditions for all workers on humanitarian projects and must ban outsourcing in all relief and reconstruction work. I mean, why use the worst, least-humane business practices for what is supposed to be the noblest of human endeavors–to help others?

And finally, it is my personal hope that we find and compensate at least some of the families of those men and women who died because of our gross negligence in Indonesia. We cannot fix the huge mess we created, but at least we can try to help those most harmed by our mistakes. It is our unfinished business.


NMAF: Can you talk a bit about the process of having Eighteen Bridges publish this story and help it gain a larger audience? And what has been the significance to you of winning the National Magazine Award?

Virgil Grandfield: At the NMA Gala, I also thanked Curtis Gillespie for his faith and support as an editor and mentor, and for his uncommon courage in publishing a story others would be afraid to touch. Without Curtis and his terrific team and the supporters of Eighteen Bridges, you and I would not be doing this interview.

As for the award’s significance, I think it will help me get over a huge wall that has blocked me and my work for years. People have called me a “whistleblower”; there is even a Wikipedia entry to that effect about me. It is something that can be a badge of honour, but in my case, the label is not quite right, not anymore, at least.

A whistleblower is someone who tells the public what he or she learned while on “the inside.” I did discover the tsunami slave trafficking scandal while employed by the Red Cross, but 99 percent of what I know about the story is what I dug up often at extreme effort and cost—only after I resigned.

Before I worked for the Red Cross, I was a journalist. The skills I had learned as a reporter helped me to first sniff out the problem in Aceh, and I have relied on those skills in all my work in the region since. I have done hundreds of interviews and asked thousands of questions. I have done endless research. I have triple-checked every fact and cross-verified every story. I have geo-tagged photos with victims and witnesses, gotten signed affidavits, recorded and transcribed interviews. I have had to treat every case as if it would go before a judge, and so, I have put aside scores of unverifiable stories for every solid one that I am reporting. I have also had to take unbelievable risks to follow stories to their rock bottom.

After the NMA Gala, a couple of the judges in my category came to shake my hand and to commend me for having done all that of that work. Their congratulations, and the award from the NMA, and the kind reception I received from my journalist colleagues at the gala were a terrific validation and homecoming. And when I introduce myself to publishers, from now on I can and will do so not as a whistleblower but as an award-winning investigative journalist.

I was thrilled for Virgil winning the National Magazine Award. I don’t think there are many writers who have suffered—literally suffered, physically and spiritually—as much as Virgil did for this story. On a different plane, I was pleased to see him win because it reinforces our overall message to Virgil, which is that he has a unique talent he is meant to pursue. And so when he won I could only say, Bravo, but this is just the beginning!
Curtis Gillepsie, editor-in-chief, Eighteen Bridges magazine


NMAF: When will we be able to read the entire story in your book? Have you been able to complete your journey that you started all those years ago, to finally illuminate the truth about Indonesia’s reconstruction?

Virgil Grandfield: To paraphrase a saying from Texas, where I grew up, “It’s all over but the writin’.”

On the very last day of my search in Indonesian in 2015, by a series of investigative miracles, I found a family I had been searching for half a decade. They told me the heartbreaking tale that will form the first and last chapters of the book.

I am now finishing coursework for a graduate program at the University of Lethbridge, with a research focus in Narrative and Social Justice. After that, I will get right to work full-time on the book. I don’t know if it is possible, but I would like to publish the book in early 2018. That will be the 10-year anniversary of a crucial moment in my life when I had to decide whether or not I was in the Red Cross for the career or to help people. It was also when I had to answer whose side I was going to be on—that of the powerful or that of the powerless.

In the decade since then, I have learned the hard way that I cannot force a resolution. I am too small. What I can do, however, is investigate and try to tell the whole story of what really happened in Aceh. I must do that.

What comes afterwards will be up to the rest of you.

Virgil Grandfield is a National Magazine Award-winning investigative journalist and a former overseas delegate for the Red Cross. He is doing graduate work in social justice and literary non-fiction at the University of Lethbridge and is writing a book about labour trafficking in Indonesia during Red Cross post-tsunami reconstruction work. 

Read the original story “The Cage” in Eighteen Bridges from the National Magazine Awards archive.

The opinions and perspectives presented in this interview reflect those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the National Magazine Awards Foundation, its board or staff.

Virgil Grandfield’s National Magazine Award-winning story “The Cage” in Eighteen Bridges magazine was a work of first-person, narrative journalism which does not customarily bear the same requirements as standard news reporting for obtaining official replies from all concerned parties. Nonetheless, Virgil has emphasized that although in November, 2008, the secretariat of the Canadian Red Cross officially terminated all communication with him concerning the tsunami slave trafficking scandal, the organization has been offered multiple opportunities to respond to his findings and those of other journalists. Virgil has also said that he continues to welcome any initiative by Canadian Red Cross to reverse its decision not to communicate with him about the findings of his and others’ investigations.

Interview by Richard A. Johnson for the National Magazine Awards Foundation

The nominees for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards will be announced on April 20. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Twitter @MagAwards for all the news.

Off the Page, with Maisonneuve Publisher Jennifer Varkonyi

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Jennifer Varkonyi, publisher of Maisonneuve, which was named Canada’s Magazine of the Year in 2016, among 5 NMAs it took home last year. A quarterly magazine of arts, literature, ideas and culture, published in English in Montreal, Maisonneuve publishes new and established writers, artists and photojournalists packaged around award-winning design.

NMAF: Congratulations again on winning Magazine of the Year in 2016, the third such honour for Maisonneuve since 2004. In presenting the award, the NMA jury said:

Maisonneuve fulfills its bold mandate of ‘banishing boring,’ clearly striving to engage, inform and inspire. From its refreshing and imaginative art direction to its passionate editorial voice, the magazine feels like it’s constantly evolving, yet at the same time seems to connect with a sense of familiarity with its readers.”

As a publisher, how do you achieve this winning formula of evolution and continuity? And what was the significance to you and your team of winning the big award?

Jennifer: The answer is simple: the people. Maisonneuve has been blessed with great editors, art directors, writers, artists and interns who give their all to the magazine. We take the editorial process seriously, which means we do everything we can to help writers shape their stories to be the best they can be.

This striving for excellence has been a part of the magazine’s ethos from the very beginning, with founder Derek Webster’s drive to create a magazine that reflected intelligence, humour, and genuine curiosity, and the tradition has been carried forward by Carmine Starnino, Drew Nelles, Haley Cullingham, Daniel Viola and now Andrea Bennett.

Winning Magazine of the Year is significant for Maisonneuve. It reminds us that the hours upon hours of toil the editors dedicate to a fifth draft, or to tweaking display copy or scouring for typos, are noticed by readers and recognized within the magazine community. Being in Montreal can feel a little isolating at times, so coming to Toronto and winning the top honour is gratifying. The win also helps raise the magazine’s profile, especially among contributors, and it draws more people to the magazine.

NMAF: What three words or phrases describe the typical Maisonneuve reader? To what extent do you think about your current (and future) readers when you’re putting together and promoting a magazine issue?

Jennifer: I think here I have to go with the three qualities I used earlier: our readers are intelligent, have a sense of humour, and are curious about Canada and the world around them.

As publisher I consult with the editor-in-chief about upcoming issues, stories and themes, but the work of putting the content together really rests on the shoulders of the editors. Our editors ask themselves how they can best draw the reader into the story – how to begin a feature about, say, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the North? How do you grab someone’s attention when discussing the politics of creating a national park? What messages do our graphics send, and are words and images working in unison? These are the kind of questions considered around the editorial table.

NMAF: What are the biggest challenges for a (small) magazine publisher in 2017? How do you address them?

Jennifer: The biggest challenges are resources (money) and maintaining circulation. Many people have a lot of love for the magazine, but connecting with that love and growing circulation even to 5,000 is a huge challenge. That’s partly a reflection of a competitive environment: there is so much amazing content out there competing for eyeballs and subscribers.

The Internet has put small Canadian magazines into direct competition with every other magazine in the world. Without our grants from all levels of government, we would not survive. I wish we were not so dependent on these funds, but it is a reality for most small Canadian magazines. Former editor Daniel Viola recently remarked to me that Maisonneuve runs on enthusiasm, and that is exactly right. I wish we could provide more remuneration to everyone who contributes to the magazine. I think every small magazine editor and publisher in Canada feels that way!

NMAF: Maisonneuve has a national perspective, but also very clearly reflects its Quebec and Montreal heritage. In many ways, Maisonneuve could be said to be the voice of Quebec for the rest of English Canada, in literature, art and current events. How has the magazine embraced this role, and why is it important to project Quebec (and Montreal) onto the national stage?

Jennifer: Maisonneuve has always wanted to blur borders – be they real or ideological. The magazine’s identity is rooted in Montreal, but it’s a cosmopolitan identity (which is very Montreal) so the result on the page is wide-ranging and eclectic. There are regular moments, such as in the Writing from Quebec section, where we shine a light on some new writing from the francophone community, but I think the voice of Quebec is more consistently found in the excellent reporting of L’actualité and the refined cultural commentary of Nouveau Projet, for example.

Maisonneuve really is a national magazine in its scope and story selection. There was a Beaverton headline that made me laugh recently – “Montreal declared the ‘I don’t know I’m just trying to figure my shit out’ capital of Canada” – and I certainly fit this bill when I was 19 and moved to Montreal from Saskatoon. The point being: Montreal presents an alternative to the norm, be it “Toronto” or “English” or whatever – you can do things a little differently in Montreal. Maisonneuve embraces this difference, and people appreciate that.

Jennifer Varkonyi (second from left, with envelope) accepts the National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year with (from right) former Maisonneuve editors Daniel Viola and Haley Cullingham, former art director Anna Minzhulina, and Gala host Chris Turner.
Jennifer Varkonyi (second from left, with envelope) accepts the National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year with (from right) former Maisonneuve editors Daniel Viola and Haley Cullingham, former art director Anna Minzhulina, and Gala host Chris Turner at the 2016 National Magazine Awards.


NMAF: Based on Maisonneuve’s success, what advice would you give to small magazine publishers who are concerned they can’t compete against larger magazines on newsstands (real and virtual) or at the National Magazine Awards?

Jennifer: I think the key is to take chances. Take chances on people, on ideas, on an opening, on a story’s length. If an editor’s interest is piqued, chances are readers will be interested too. One thing that small magazines have going for them is that enthusiasm I mentioned earlier, without the punishing production cycle of larger magazines, so editors can take a little more time with a story, push for something slightly better, and the results can be astonishingly rewarding. That doesn’t pay the rent, but this is where a gold medal from the National Magazine Awards makes the sacrifices worthwhile.

Jennifer Varkonyi is the publisher of Maisonneuve, Canada’s reigning Magazine of the Year. Find out more at, or subscribe and get 2 years (8 issues) for just $30

Download the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards guide to submissions.

National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year
Submissions to the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are now open for submissions. The award for Magazine of the Year honours the magazine that most consistently engages, surprises and serves the needs of its readers. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in magazine publishing over the past year.

The jury shall evaluate each candidate for Magazine of the Year according to four general criteria—quality, innovation, impact, and brand awareness—and its success relative to the magazine’s editorial mandate. Each submitter will need to complete an application form providing details supporting each criterion. There will be 5 finalists for this award and one overall winner.

The deadline for submissions for Magazine of the Year is January 27.
(For all other categories, the deadline is January 20).

Off The Page, with Adrian Forrow

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we spoke with Adrian Forrow, who won his very first National Magazine Award in 2016, winning the Gold Medal in Illustration for his series of illustrations featured alongside the article “My Prescribed Life” (The Walrus). The story is a memoir about the longstanding link between mental health and prescription dependency, and it also received an Honourable Mention for Best Health & Medicine article.

NMAF: As splashes of colour that break up pages otherwise saturated by text, magazine illustrations give the reader a welcomed break, a moment’s pause before they jump back into reading. What do you think the role of an illustration is for people reading magazine articles?

Adrian: The role of editorial Illustration should be additive. It should help set the mood of the forthcoming text. The image can help evoke visual interest and transport the reader to a place where ideas and understanding intersect.


NMAF: What details do you need before you can properly begin your creative, designing process? Are there certain elements or information that your client or partner needs to relay, in order for you to develop your concept?

Adrian: What I find that works best for me is to receive the brief and the text and really absorb the core idea before putting pen to paper. Once I feel I have a grasp of the idea, I might discuss the tone of the imagery that I feel is best for the article. This is where collaboration can happen with the art director and it’s a great way to help inform your imagery. I try not to think about the imagery at this stage–just the mood, atmosphere and tone of the picture.

The other detail that is critical for my process is the dimensions of the image. It’s really important for me to consider the whole compositional area. The dimension can ignite my conceptual approach and really make the art feel customized to the space available.

NMAF: You won Gold in Illustration at last year’s National Magazine Awards for your pieces featured in a memoir called “My Prescribed Life.” The story, published in The Walrus, discussed the link between the author’s mental illness and related dependence on medication. How did the subject matter of the memoir influence your creative conceptualization for the piece? How did you decide what tone would be most appropriate?

Adrian: This was a great article and so interesting. It was a delicate and somewhat saddening topic. I knew the colours were going to be really important. I didn’t want to do what was expected. I knew I had to take an approach that might have to be more ambiguous and surreal.

I didn’t want to use this illustration to summarize or define the problem. Instead my intent was to ask a question or pose a contemplative composition so the viewer would be left to decipher the visual symbols that I included.

The colours were mostly primary and that helped carry the idea of youth and aging. The colours also helped to create a surreal or even jarring feeling in relation to the content. The goal was for the colours and composition to carry ideas about an altered state of reality.

NMAF: Your Gold win last year was also your first time being recognized by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. How does winning awards for your illustration work help you, on both a personal and professional level?

Adrian: It feels great to know that my work is being received and appreciated within the industry. Personally, it helps to motivate me to keep developing my skills as a visual communicator. Professionally, it helps to open doors and possibilities for new and exciting opportunities.

NMAF: Your work has adorned coffee cups, been part of the creative for major music festivals and has been made larger-than-life by outdoor mural installations. Your work has also appeared in magazines, including The New Yorker, Corporate Knights and The Walrus. As an illustrator, what types of creative collaborations do you like to pursue? Do you try to not limit yourself to any one medium?

Adrian: I feel that in many ways I am just getting started. I have so many ideas and desires to push what I can do. The best thing about my profession is the variety it offers. One day I’m drawing a coffee cup, the next day I’m painting a huge outdoor mural. Variety is the spice of life, so I try to be diverse in the projects I take on.

I also love the collaborative process and making things that fulfill a need or desire. I have always experimented with different approaches and tools for making images.  I think it helps my clients see different possibilities and vary their experiences with illustration.

As of now, I have been collaborating with Warby Parker for a new store mural which I am really excited to share with people. I have also been collaborating with Keilhauer to make some artful promotional products.

Adrian Forrow is a National Magazine Award-winning illustrator whose work has been published in The Walrus, Corporate Knights, Canadian Running & Cycling Magazine and The New Yorker. His debut National Magazine Award was the Gold Medal in Best Illustration, for his series of illustrations featured in The Walrus memoir, “My Prescribed Life“. 

Check out his work at

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning illustrators including Gracia Lam, Hudson ChristieByron Eggenscwhiler, Roxanna Bikadoroff, Jillian Tamaki and Selena Wong. 

Submissions to the 40th Anniversary National Magazine Awards
The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including awards for Illustration and for Best New Magazine Illustrator.
Enter at

In alternate years, the NMAF presents distinct awards for Best New Magazine Illustrator and Best New Magazine Photographer. For this year’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards, the Best New Visual Creator award will go to an illustrator whose early work in magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise.

Read more about the Best New Creators Awards here.

Off the Page, with Marta Iwanek

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with photojournalist Marta Iwanek, who in 2016 was named Canada’s Best New Magazine Photographer from the National Magazine Awards Foundation, in addition to winning the Gold Medal for Photojournalism & Photo Essay for her incredible reporting of the 2013-2014 Ukrainian crisis, titled “The Maidan” (Maisonneuve).

NMAF: In your award-winning photo essay, “The Maidan,” you take the reader on a journey to a winter in Kyiv, where thousands of Ukrainians gathered to take a courageous stand against their government. You capture the Maidan as a place of fear and uncertainty, but also of community and solidarity. How did you get a sense of the place when you arrived, and what were the human emotions that spoke to you as a photographer?

Marta: I first arrived in Kyiv in early November (2013) before any of the protests had started. I remember driving through the centre of the city and thinking what a bustling metropolis it was. Then I went out east to work on a film and returned in late November a little after the pro-European protests had begun. Everything was still calm at that point and there was a sense of hopefulness among the crowd.

The protest was to last nine days, but on the last night everything changed. The remaining protestors were chased out of Independence Square (Maidan) and beaten by police, angering many people. On December 1 a large demonstration occurred in Kyiv where the people re-took the square and the movement that became known as “the Maidan” began. I was supposed to fly back to Toronto shortly after, but realized I couldn’t leave.

The feeling was so powerful and strong among the people. It felt like people had been pushed to an edge and they had nothing more to lose. There were feelings of frustration, abandonment and urgency. At the same time, you could still find the glimpses of hope and community as people unified under one cause–to oust then President Yanukovych. I was always trying to show those emotions in my photos and trying to understand the situation deeper, trying to figure out what made it this way? I changed my flight and ended up staying three months, living among the protestors and spending my days and nights wandering the square, talking to people and trying to make sense of it.

I like to immerse myself in stories as much as possible and I hope this translates in my photos. It was also a story I felt personally connected to because my roots are Ukrainian and I grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora in Toronto. I grew up listening to the stories of Ukraine’s constant struggle for independence and to be free of corruption, so the feelings of the people in the square were not foreign to me. However, this time, it wasn’t just my parents talking about it in Canada, detached from the situation and it’s consequences. It was happening in front of me. When it was finally time to leave, I will always remember that contrast I felt when I first arrived in the capital and when I left–the place, the people and the country had been changed forever.

During my years as the art director of Maisonneuve magazine, I had the opportunity to work with many talented women photographers—each one a unique visual voice. Marta Iwanek stands out for the way she brings her compassion to a body of work that sits on the edge of war and peace, among fire and smoke, between life and death situations, especially with her Ukrainian “Maidan” project.
Anna Minzhulina, former art director, Maisonneuve

NMAF: Over one hundred people were killed in the government reprisals, and you spent time not only on the front lines but also with those who were wounded and grieving. How did you balance your own safety with your passion for capturing every aspect of the story? And did you learn anything about yourself as a journalist that will assist you in the future?

Marta: There were certain days that felt very unsafe on the square, but the majority of my time spent there, things were peaceful. There would be flare-ups between police and protestors and then things would resume back to “normal.” I looked to other, more experienced photojournalists in the square for guidance and advice. I had only been freelancing for three months at that point, fresh out of college and had found myself in the middle of the news cauldron that was Kyiv.

There were many times that I was scared. Even today I think I still would be. The most important thing I learned in those kinds of situations is to trust your gut. There were certain situations I decided to be close-up and others I held back from. Sometimes, I beat myself up for not being in the right place or holding back too much, but you have to be honest with yourself and with what you’re willing to do. It took quite a while to reconcile these feelings, but the experience taught me that I’m not a conflict photographer.

Many photojournalists starting out often have a dream of covering foreign stories and conflicts. I didn’t go to Ukraine searching out a conflict to photograph, I just happened to be there when it all started. And a part of me left feeling like I had failed as a journalist because I hadn’t gotten the most heated moments, and I was actually back in Canada on the day that over a hundred protestors were shot. For me, it was more emotionally heavy to be away from the square during that time than when I was in it. Not knowing about the fate of many friends who were there, as well as feeling the guilt of not being there, took a toll.

We’re taught to want to be this travelling, conflict photographer, but that’s not who all of us are. The whole time on the square, I found myself being much more drawn and interested in the quieter moments and it took me a while to realize those moments are just as important too.

We are all unique and we will all notice different things in similar situations and we will be better at photographing in certain situations over others. Journalism is a communal effort and we need to be honest with ourselves, find out the type of stories you’re best at and are drawn to. Then don’t be afraid to do it.

NMAF: That was over three years ago, and since then Ukraine has experienced war and occupation perhaps beyond the worst fears of those who gathered on the Maidan. How has this story stayed with you since then? 

Marta: My time on the Maidan has been one of the factors that keeps driving me to keep coming back to this region and exploring the underlying issues more deeply, looking at why things are the way they are now, what’s caused them and what keeps causing them?

It’s also something I’ve always wanted to do because my background is Ukrainian. I’ve always been drawn to Ukraine and Eastern Europe because I’ve grown up with my cultural heritage being so central in my life, from participating in folk activities, being involved in the diaspora community to regular dinner table conversations about Eastern European politics. I actually started primary school barely speaking English because at home we just spoke Ukrainian. It has a huge place in my heart. I’ve started looking at my own family’s history in the area, connecting with relatives and following the story of Ukrainians in Poland who were deported from the South-Eastern territories in 1947 under military Operation Vistula. Deportations are a huge part of Eastern Europe’s history and play a huge factor in why things are the way they are today.

There has definitely been media fatigue with Ukraine as the conflict reaches yet another year. It’s why I think it’s more important than ever to stay with the story and understand what is happening there, to put the past and the future in greater context for the average viewer.

NMAF: For the camera nerds, what bodies and lenses do you shoot with? And what was your technical approach to the photography on the Maidan? 

Marta: Back then, during those three months on the Maidan, I was using a D600 and a 35mm f/2 and a 24-70mm. This is still my favourite set-up although now I have a D810 with a 35mm f/1.4. My technical approach is to go as light on gear as possible, zoom with your feet and build intimacy with the people you are photographing. This will create a much better photo than any lens or camera body can.

NMAF: You worked with Anna Minzhulina, then the art director of Maisonneuve, who said she was stunned by the evocative scenes and characters that jumped out from your images. Can you describe the creative process of how the two of you edited your body of work into a story that connected with the magazine reader? 

Marta: Anna is an extremely talented and passionate editor and I am so grateful for her eye. Editing is an art of its own and a skill many photographers often lack, myself included. It was also a story I had immersed myself in, so it can be very hard to be objective about the photos when editing, which is where Anna came in.

So often, I would attach a personal memory or story to a photo and Anna was able to single out the photos that could still speak to a viewer who was encountering them without all the backstory. She chose the photos that could speak on their own and spoke together cohesively to tell the story of the square.

It was also exciting to be able to tell a story in a magazine over so much space. The majority of my time I’ve spent working in newspapers where it’s usually one image to tell a story, but here it was a different process of how the photos work together to form a narrative.

Women photographers are still an anomaly in the male-dominated documentary photo world, with its emphasis on traditionally masculine values like the courage and bravery to ‘shoot’ with a camera. We need to encourage more female visual voices like Iwanek’s here in Canada and around the world. Death does not distinguish between genders. It takes all. But I’m interested in how the female eye looking through a photographic lens might see it differently. It’s important that we have different perspectives, that we pay attention to what they might show us that we haven’t considered before. That’s why we need exposure to more work of female war photographers, such as Iwanek.
Anna Minzhulina, former art director, Maisonneuve

NMAF: The night of the 2016 National Magazine Awards, you didn’t have a ticket to get in, but as the show started you were hanging out in the foyer in case your name was called. And it was—twice! What was that experience like? And when you were on stage accepting your awards, what was your message to the audience?

Marta: I was generously given a seat at the sponsor table and so in the end I was able to attend the awards. I had a small cheer crew at the table and we had a lot of fun. I hadn’t prepared a speech, but I just went up there and spoke from my heart. I thanked everyone who helped me and it was great to see Anna in the audience as I spoke. I was also thankful that the recognition of the award would bring more attention to the story, which had greatly fallen off the news cycle. It’s a story close to me and so I’m grateful for any opportunity to talk about it.

Marta Iwanek accepts the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Photographer at the 2016 Gala.
Marta Iwanek accepts the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Photographer at the 2016 Gala.


NMAF: Can you tell us about some of your latest projects, and what you’re up to next as a journalist? 

Marta: A project titled “Darling” was actually one of my first projects and still one close to my heart. It is a story about an elderly couple in Trenton, Ontario, where Lex Duncan is the at-home-caregiver for his wife Mary Duncan, who has dementia. I started it as a way to reconnect with a generation I felt I didn’t get a good chance to know after my last grandparent died.

It was a project to deal with the loss and also understanding what my parents, as well as countless others in our country are facing as they care for an ailing loved one. I am so grateful to the Duncan family who opened up their home to me and gave me a chance to get to know them and tell this story.

Lex Duncan wakes his wife Mary up in the morning in Trenton, Ontario. Mary was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and Lex cared for her in their home until she died in 2015. (Photo courtesy Marta Iwanek.)
Lex Duncan wakes his wife Mary up in the morning in Trenton, Ontario. Mary was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and Lex cared for her in their home until she died in 2015. (Photo courtesy Marta Iwanek.)


This year I started photographing in the villages my grandparents came from. They were once Ukrainian villages but after WWII became part of Poland and the majority of the Ukrainians who lived there were deported and dispersed either to Soviet Ukraine or throughout Poland, my grandparents included.

I’ve always been curious about my roots and grew up with a father who has worked as a historian, making films and writing books on eastern European history. So after the Maidan I became interested in exploring Eastern Europe on a deeper level and understanding events in the past that have an effect on the present. Through this project I want to explore how identity changes when a culture is displaced from its ancestral land. It’s been a very personal project, but I’ve also found it to be incredibly universal through the many forced migrations happening throughout the world today.

Marta Iwanek is a National Magazine Award-winning photojournalist whose work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Maclean’s, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and other publications. In 2016 she was named Canada’s Best New Magazine Photographer by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Discover more of her work at

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including three different categories for photography. Enter at

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning photographers including Roger LeMoyne and Ian Willms.

NMA gala photos by Steven Goetz for the National Magazine Awards Foundation. 

Holiday Magazine Subscription Guide

Looking for that perfect (okay, perfect last-minute) stocking stuffer? Do they love to read, laugh, cook or shop? Do they love great writing, photography and illustration? Then stuff a great, National Magazine Award-winning magazine in that stocking. Here are some of our favourites from 2016. (And for more ideas, check out our holiday book guide, with new books by NMA-winning writers.)

A quarterly magazine of arts, literature, ideas and culture, published in English in Montreal. You’ll find a great mix of new and established writers, artists and photojournalists packaged around award-winning design. A perfect magazine for an afternoon on the sofa or a long train ride home. Also, it’s Canada’s Magazine of the Year in 2016 (1 of 5 NMAs it won this year), so you know every issue is a must-read.
2 years (8 issues) for just $30

Absolutely required magazine reading for any foodie and aficionado of food culture. Ricardo won the National Magazine Awards for Best Brand and Best Service Editorial Package, and delivers recipes, dinner party plans and lots of other great ideas.
6 issues for $30, plus a gift, a free iPad edition, and 15% discount at the online store

Eighteen Bridges
Winner of 4 National Magazine Awards in 2016 including Essays and Investigative Reporting, this thought-provoking magazine of longform journalism published in Edmonton is consistent in introducing readers to Canada’s best writers and important stories.
4 issues for $26

CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries
Winner of the 2016 National Magazine Award for Fiction, CNQ publishes some of this country’s finest literary criticism, poetry, graphic works, and short fiction.
1 year (3 issues) for just $25

Winner of the 2016 National Magazine Award for Poetry, Vallum is one of Canada’s very best publications for poetry and literary reviews, and regularly features Canada’s best poets as well as emerging ones.
1 year (2 issues) for $20

Globe Style Advisor
Also a winner of 4 National Magazine Awards in 2016 for its photography and design, Globe Style is one of our favourites for fashion and style journalism. Get it with your Globe & Mail subscription. And you can get award-winning Report on Business magazine, too.

Western Living
An award-winning magazine of design, decor, lifestyle and more, Western Living was a 2016 National Magazine Award winner and consistently delivers quality ideas that are in line with the latest and greatest trends.
1 year (10 issues) digitally for just $18

The Feathertale Review
A literary magazine dedicated to great humour (twice an NMA winner in that category), Feathertale makes a great gift for anyone who loves to laugh and enjoys the lighter side of CanLit.
1 year (4 issues) for $30

Cottage Life
A Canadian tradition in a magazine, Cottage Life is not only the perfect companion to country living in all four seasons, it mixes practical advice with award-winning journalism. Don’t go into the woods without it.
1 year all access print and digital for $30

Check out all the winners from the 2016 National Magazine Awards for more great gift ideas.

Submissions are now being accepted for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards. Read all about it and enter at Deadline January 20

Holiday Books from the National Magazine Awards

Here at the National Magazine Awards Foundation, nothing brings us greater joy than diving into our next non-fiction read. Non-fiction gnaws at us because prose based on real people and real events tends to capture, move, and inspire us.

So to bid farewell to the year that was, we’ve rounded up some of our top non-fiction reads by National Magazine Award-winning authors — aka fool-proof gift ideas — that will undoubtedly please (and hopefully inspire) anyone you’re looking to spoil this holiday season.

Also, check out our top Fiction reads, too.

“Invisible North” by Alexandra Shimo

Alexandra Shimo’s new book, Invisible North, is a cry for help for our Indigenous peoples: their lives, their land and their dignity.

Shimo is not Indigenous. The lived experience and documentation of our Indigenous peoples, by Indigenous peoples, is of utmost importance to the amendment of Canada’s history and will play a crucial part in shaping our country’s future. Shimo is, however, an investigative reporter, who, while on assignment for CBC’s The Current, discovered the devastating reality of Canada’s Indigenous reserves. When Shimo travelled to the Kashechewan reserve in northern Ontario — known better to some as “ground zero” for the First Nation experience — she witnessed firsthand the deplorable living conditions, major lack of services and the relentless government inaction faced by the Cree living on that land. In Invisible North, she recounts her deep-seated guilt, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and ultimate inability to cope with the living conditions on the reserve.

Shimo is a former editor of Maclean’s. She is the recipient of three honorable mentions at the National Magazine Awards, including for her Toronto Life piece, “Kandahar Diaries,” five stories from soldiers after their return from Afghanistan. This is her third book.

“A Disappearance in Damascus” by Deborah Campbell

“Did I find her or did she find me?” writes Deborah Campbell in her new book, A Disappearance in Damascus (Knopf Canada), winner of the Writers’ Trust Award. Her is in reference to Ahlam, Campbell’s ‘fixer’— journalist jargon for a foreign correspondent’s interpreter or guide. An Iraqi mother and humanitarian, Ahlam is of invaluable assistance to Campbell throughout her Middle-East reportage, and when she gets taken by secret agents, the journalist, who has reported from countries including Egypt, Qatar and Russia among others, can’t help but take the blame for her disappearance. Campbell spends months in search of her friend in the perilous city.

The story takes place almost a decade ago, rendering the title somewhat misleading. When Ahlam disappeared, Campbell was reporting on the Iraq War, at a time when Iraqis were fleeing to Syria for refuge. Despite this, Campbell’s account provides a contemporary piece of the puzzle that is the current state of war in Syria.

Campbell is the winner of two National Magazine Gold Awards for her articles in The Walrus—The Most Hated Name in News” and “Iran’s Quiet Revolution”— published in 2009 and 2006 respectively. She has written for many publications, including Harper’s, The Guardian and Foreign Policy, and has spent over a decade reporting abroad.

“The Marriott Cell” by Mohamed Fahmy (w/ Carol Shaben)

Just over one year ago, Egyptian-born Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was awaiting bail from behind bars of an Egyptian maximum security prison. He, along with two other Al-Jazeera journalists, were sentenced to 7-10 years, accused of reporting false news, after police raided their makeshift studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo. According to Human Rights Watch, the trial of Fahmy was a “miscarriage of justice based on zero evidence.” Despite this, the three spent over a year in prison before making bail following a presidential pardon.

Now, finally free and back in Canada, Fahmy is an adjunct professor at UBC, and he’s just published The Marriott Cell (Random House), a book on his harrowing experience in Egypt. The book is a collaboration of efforts by Fahmy and Carol Shaben, a former NMA winner.

Shaben is the winner of two National Magazine Awards for her story, “Fly at Your Own Risk” (The Walrus), about the deficiencies of Canada’s smaller aviation aircrafts and companies. She has written one other book, Into the Abyss, and lives in Vancouver.

Read our interview with Carol Shaben.

“Sixty” by Ian Brown

The problem with turning 60? It’s so goddamn melodramatic, says Ian Brown, who wrote about the experience in a bygone Globe and Mail column.

A year later, he’s written a book on the subject of his life since, entitled, Sixty: The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning? A Diary of My Sixty-First Year (Penguin Random House). The title itself sounds characteristically self-deprecating — perhaps not surprising for any seasoned journalist in 2016. Fearing he’s “misplaced” the last 20 years of his life, Brown begins writing a diary in an attempt to embrace the next 20. He isn’t necessarily unhappy with how his life has played out — he is a successful journalist by anyone’s standards — but he grapples with how inconspicuously the last six decades slipped by. Brown provides both an intimate and humorous look at the aging process, in hopes it really is just “the End of the Beginning.”

Ian Brown is a journalist and author of five books. Currently, he hosts Human Edge and The View from Here on TVOntario. He is also a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. Brown has collected many National Magazine Awards over the years, most recently a Gold for “Man Vs. Behemoth,” his short feature published in Explore Magazine.

“Bad Singer” by Tim Falconer

If you’re into books like Daniel Levitan’s This Is Your Brain on Music or David Byrne’s How Music Works, Tim Falconer’s Bad Singer (House of Anansi) should logically be next on your reading list. Sure, it’s another look at music through a scientific lens, however, the latter takes a more personal approach, as Falconer himself suffers from amusia — the technical term for tone deafness, encompassing both pitch processing and musical memory. Weaving through the science behind singing, the limitations of the body and the trait of human persistence, Falconer is able to prevail, capturing the interest of any reader, simply by exploring a topic dear to so many.

Falconer’s book is based on his 2012 Maisonneuve piece “Face the Music,” that won him a Silver at the National Magazine Awards.

Falconer is the author of five books. Currently, he is a professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism in Toronto, a mentor in the Creative Non-Fiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax and an editor at the Literary Journalism program at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

“The Promise of Canada” by Charlotte Gray

Just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday, historian Charlotte Gray has released her new book, The Promise of Canada: 150 Years – People and Ideas That Have Shaped our Country (Simon & Schuster). Gray deconstructs nine influential Canadians and their respective roles since Confederation.

Gray includes the obvious, from George-Étienne Cartier to Tommy Douglas to Emily Carr, but strays (somewhat) with a chapter on Elijah Harper, former Indigenous NDP MLA, and noted critic of the Meech Lake Accord. If history textbooks of our past didn’t suffice in the area of Indigenous peoples pasts, perhaps Gray’s account will follow the lead of Harper’s, that is, to bring the stories of our Indigenous people into mainstream conversation.

Gray has received eight honourable mentions at the NMAs, including a Chatelaine profile of global activist Naomi Klein and a Walrus political piece on leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair.

Happy holiday reading from the National Magazine Awards.

And remember, submissions for this year’s 40th anniversary awards are being accepted until January 20. Enter at

Off the Page, with Richard Kelly Kemick

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Richard Kelly Kemick, who was nominated for 2 National Magazine Awards in 2016–winning the Gold Medal in One of a Kind for his story “Playing God” (The Walrus), a reflection on his singular obsession with building Christmas villages. The story also won him a nomination for Canada’s Best New Magazine Writer.

NMAF: “Playing God,” your story that won Gold in the One of a Kind category at last year’s NMAs, was developed at the Banff Centre for Literary Journalism. Can you describe your experience there, and how this somewhat unconventional idea was developed into an award-winning magazine story. 

Richard: During my month at the Banff Centre––as every tagline on their website attests––I worked alongside some of the best editors and writers in the business (Ian Brown, Victor Dwyer, Charlotte Gill, to say nothing of the exceptional participants I was writing alongside). What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how affirming it would be for me as a writer. 

As I’m sure we all do, I wrestle a lot with insecurity and mediocrity. Banff’s LJ program placed me an environment where I had a month to only write, read, and sit in Michael Lista’s room to watch The Bachelor (he forced us to watch, like, every episode with him). It was an environment which told me––day after day for a month––that as long as I’m writing, I am a writer.

Anytime I get an opportunity to work with an editor, it’s an absolute privilege. The “Playing God” piece was edited, edited, kicked around, and edited again. And while I came to develop a profound hate for the Track Changes bubbles on a word document, my editor, Victor, took the piece from the ramblings of a limp-wristed despot into something with form, narrative, and an actual arc. 

NMAF: More recently, your debut collection of poetry, Caribou Run was included in this year’s CBC must-read poetry list. How is recognition — from the NMAF and other organizations — significant to you and your work? 

Richard: The CBC list was bizarre. I had no warning; I received an email from my publisher with the link and a note saying “this better translate into book sales” (just kidding, they’re incredibly supportive). It was a very rewarding surprise, just like the NMA. 

These types of recognition are indeed significant. So much of what we do as writers is sit at a desk and clack away in an isolation the rest of the world would refer to as cruel and unusual punishment. (If you’re lucky, you’ll have a dog to aid you through this.) Any recognition that someone has actually read your work and––god forbid––actually enjoyed it is inexpressibly quenching. 

On the other hand, however, I don’t want to think that recognition objectively signifies quality. There were poetry collections which were far stronger than mine but not included on the CBC list. Same goes for the NMA. A writer once told me that saying you “deserved” to win an award is like saying you “deserved” to win the lottery because you played the numbers well. (That writer was Michael Lista and it was on a commercial break of The Bachelor.)  

Rewards are fantastic; anybody who says otherwise is either lying or Buddha. But it’s boom/bust. I was on the boom for a bit. Now is the bust. And I’m finding it hard not to become petty, jealous, and focused on recognition instead of the writing. But I’m trying to work against that, work through it. Because I think there is a name for writers, and the writing they produce, who are like that: fucked.  

NMAF: Robert Moore, English professor at the University of New Brunswick, recently wrote a piece for The Walrus questioning the future of poetry as an art form. In Adam Kirsch’s review of The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, he claims poetry is “the site and source of disappointed hope.” He adds acclaimed poet Marianne Moore’s famous line “I, too, dislike it,” in reference to the craft. You’ve just published your first collection. What inspires you to write poetry? 

Richard: As a poet, the perpetual death of poetry is my favourite topic. Yes, poetry now panhandles in the literary ghetto––neighbouring junk mail and the academic essay. Yes, poems gather more dust than acclaim. Yes, when I write “Poet” on credit card applications I all but assure rejection. 

I think, however, that this apocalyptic setting is what enables Canadian poetry to be so exciting right now. We have an environment which produces writing, not writers. The pinnacle of this is when writers have brilliant collections (Michael Prior’s Model Disciple, anyone?) without floating off into the ether of poisonous pomp. Because the stakes are hedged, there is a democratizing force in contemporary Canadian poetry, a force which I’m not sure exists in any other commercial genre, a force in which free-verse upstarts and seasoned sonneteers are working within the same circles. Yes, there are politics within the CanPoetry community––just like anywhere. But at least we have the decency to wage our wars in divisive Facebook threads, rather than at the Giller’s or, for example, in a wildly offensive open letter. 

I started writing poetry (and still do) because I wanted to be a better writer. Poetry––for my money––is the genre that best develops your craft. The attention to language is merciless, and if you can make fourteen lines of ten syllables each tell a story, think of what you can do with some elbow room!

Richard Kelly Kemick accepts the award for One of a Kind at the 2016 National Magazine Awards gala.
Richard Kelly Kemick accepts the award for One of a Kind at the 2016 National Magazine Awards gala.

NMAF: Much of your work centres around animals. How does your love for animals influence your writing, and what inspired the theme of caribou migration in your latest collection? 

Richard: I write about animals because I’m unable to convey actual human emotion. Animals provide a healthy alternative. Like, if you’ve got a character that is unlovable but you want to make him lovable but you don’t know how–give him a dog. Then name that dog Maisy. Then let Maisy fool a woman, preferably a public school teacher because of the job security, into a long-term relationship. Then feel safe and loved and statistically unlikely to now die alone as you work on your poems all day, drinking coffee from small cups as your wife toils in a grade one classroom, with Maisy curled at your feet.

The caribou idea was just that I thought the migration was pretty rad and already had poetic elements within it. Four years later (which is about a third of a male caribou’s life), a book! Aim for the stars, kids. 

NMAF: Your writing ranges from fiction to nonfiction, poetry to prose — do you have a favourite form? And, if you can tell us, what can we expect to see from you next?

Richard: I don’t have a favourite form. I consider forms like my children: they all disappoint me for different reasons. 

I’ve currently got a collection of non-fiction essays (one of which is the piece that won the NMA) under consideration. I’ve also got a collection of short stories that was turned down for publication, but I’ve since been working on it and hope to submit again soon. 

I’m trying to view rejection as an opportunity for me to make the work better. In five, twenty, or a hundred years (I plan to live forever), I know I won’t mind having been delayed in publishing a collection of short stories, but I will mind if those stories are shitty. I’m not saying that every rejection a publisher makes is sound; but in this individual case, the rejection has given me the clarity to realize that I can make the stories stronger and (after I’d cried myself dry and drank myself wet) I’m trying to do that. 

Richard Kelly Kemick is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose work has been published in The Walrus, The Fiddlehead, Maisonneuve and Tin House. His debut collection of poetry, Caribou Run, (2016, Goose Lane Editions) follows the Porcupine caribou herd through their annual migration, the largest overland migration in the world. Caribou Run was included as a one of CBC’s fifteen must-read poetry collections. Follow him on Twitter @RichardKemick.

Special thanks to Krista Robinson for her reporting on this interview with Richard.

Check out more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning writers like Emily Urquhart, J.B. MacKinnon, Heather O’Neill and more.

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are now accepting submissions for the best work in 2016. Deadline for entries: January 20. Submit now.

National Magazine Award honourees headline fall book awards season

Here at the National Magazine Awards we’re humbled to see so many familiar names in line for some of Canada’s most notable literary awards.

Earlier this month, the Governor General’s Literary Awards shortlist was announced, with four former National Magazine Award winners and nominees in the running for one of the country’s most prestigious prizes. They join fellow Canadian authors and poets on the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Award shortlists — both of which also boast great work by recent NMA honourees.

Mona Awad has come a long way from her two-week stint on the then-famed Beverly Hills Diet in 1988, at age nine. Her raw depiction of the commonplace pursuit of slenderness, in 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Penguin Canada), was shortlisted for the Giller Prize last month. The compilation of short stories follows the tribulations of a young Mississauga girl, struggling with her appearance and self-worth, into womanhood. Back in 2005, Awad’s Maisonneuve piece, “The Shrinking Woman” — which shared a common theme with 13 Ways — was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. The essay ushered the reader through Awad’s journey of growing up with a mother who, despite loving and supportive, couldn’t shield her daughter from an addiction to dieting and weight loss.

“Later on I’m going to be really…beautiful. I’m going to grow into that nose and develop an eating disorder. I’ll be hungry and angry all my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time.”
Mona Awad, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Awad has written for numerous publications including McSweeney’s, The Walrus, and Joyland, among others.

Gary Barwin is a Canadian poet, composer and professor at York University. In 2015, his poem Winter, published on Hazlitt was a finalist in the poetry category at this year’s NMAs. His most recent novel, Yiddish for Pirates (Random House Canada), has been shortlisted for both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award. From the point-of-view of a 500-year-old parrot, the story takes a humorous yet philosophical tone in telling the tale of Moishe, a young Jewish vagabond eager to escape to the sea. S. Bear Bergman, in the Globe and Mail’s Book Review, sang its praises, emphasizing Barwin’s unique and often hilarious use of language(s).

A boychik with big ideas, his kop—his head—bigger than his body. He would travel beyond the scrawny map of himself, and beyond the shtetl. He’d travel the ocean.There were Jews—he’d heard stories—that were something. Not rag-and-bones shmatte-men like his father, Chaim, always following the dreck of their nag around the same small world. Doctors. Court astronomers. Spanish lords. Tax farmers. Learned men of the world. The mapmakers of Majorca. They were Jews.”
Gary Barwin, Yiddish for Pirates

Barwin has written over a dozen books, including writing for children and young adults as well as poetry compilations.

Kerry-Lee Powell got nods from the three big literary awards this year for her debut collection of short stories, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush (Harper Avenue/Harper Collins). The east coast poet was longlisted for the Giller Prize and shortlisted for both the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction and GG’s Fiction awards. Back in 2011, Powell was a finalist at the NMAs for two poems, “The Lifeboat” and “The Emperor.” The poems — scrawled down one night in a harrowing stupor — were in response to her father’s post-WWII PTSD and ultimate suicide, and her own struggles with mental illness.

“One of the after-effects of working in a busy bar is that you never really leave. It could be four o’clock on a Sunday morning. The pigeons are ruffling their oily feathers on the windowsill and the bedroom pales to a washed indigo as you launch into the slow drift towards oblivion. But it’s no use. The insides of your eyelids burn with visions of Saturday night. It’s a scene from the Inferno. Red shapes beckon and bang their glasses on the bar. They reel into shadows and surge forward again, a many-headed monster throwing punches in the air. The only thing is to wait for them to disappear. Except they never do.”
— Kerry Lee Powell, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush

In addition to her debut collection of shorts, Powell has also written two poetry collections, Inheritance and The Wreckage.

Michael Helm’s apocalyptic fourth book, After James (McClelland & Stewart), is on the shortlist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award. The collection of novellas, with three intertwining settings, characters and plots, has been called “genre-defying.” Perhaps a not so surprising feat for Helm, who has served as an editor and contributor for Brick, the beloved Toronto-based literary journal, for over a decade. In 2014, Helm earned a NMA honourable mention for his tribute to esteemed Montreal writer Mavis Gallant. Helm’s short feature — published in Brick (93) — was deeply thoughtful. The reader, regardless of affiliation with Gallant, soon becomes mourner, naturally reflecting on lost loves — literary or otherwise.

And then, a last idea, one she couldn’t suppress. It was that she was still inside the cave. She had fallen out of time, even as she descended through the woods as present in the world as she always had been. In thought, memory, body, she was nearly exactly herself. The feeling began to fade, to seem fanciful, at lower altitude, as her blood became better oxygenated, but she understood that it would never entirely leave her. It was somehow familiar, the idea that she was two places at once, or one place in two overlapping times. She must have read it in a junk novel, seen it in movies, things that everyone consumed without really remembering and that she found it harder and harder even to pretend to believe.
— Michael Helm, After James

Helm’s past bibliography includes: Cities of Refuge (2010), In the Place of Last Things (2004) and The Projectionist (1997).

Steven Heighton has been on our radar at the NMA’s since the late ‘80s when he was first nominated for his poem “Approaches to Lhasa” in The New Quarterly. Now a five-time NMA winner, Heighton holds four gold awards and one silver for both his poetry and fiction, published in the likes of Arc Poetry MagazineThe Fiddlehead, Prism International and The Walrus. His newest collection, The Waking Comes Late (House of Anansi Press), has been shortlisted for the GG Poetry Awards. This much anticipated collection, by critics and fans alike, touches on the themes of contemporary life and death, and what a seemingly troublesome future might hold for us all.

Steven Heighton has written numerous short stories, essays, poetry and novels over the course of his career. He has won or been nominated for over a dozen literary awards.

Rachel Rose was nominated for her first NMA in 2015 for “Three Poems,” published in Fiddlehead. Her fourth collection of poetry, Marry & Burn (Harbour), has been shortlisted for the GG Poetry Award. The poems, all revolving around themes of love and loss (of people and dogs), evoke a correspondingly sad and familiar fond feeling in the reader. In Rose’s newest collection, she explores similar themes with new subject matters, including the devastation of losing a beehive in our current climate, to Canadian racism and the mistreatment of our First Nations.

Rose has won awards for her poetry, fiction and nonfiction works. Her chapbook, Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, was published last year by Toronto-based publisher BookThug.

The GG Literary Award presents $25,000 each to both an English and French finalist. Check the GG’s website on October 25 when the winner will be announced.

The Writers’ Trust Awards, comprised of different categories, with awards funded by various sponsors, will be announced at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto on November 2.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner will be awarded $100,000, while finalists walk away with $10,000. You can watch the live stream of the event at CBC Books on November 7.

Read and download hundreds of great short fiction stories and poetry in the National Magazine Awards archive, at

Special thanks to Krista Robinson for contributing to this article. 

The Mag Awards Guide to Word on the Street


Canada’s largest magazine & book festival – Word on the Street – is coming to four Canadian cities this month, with opportunities for readers to browse great deals on magazine subscriptions, hear inspiring stories from their favourite writers and go home with an exciting stack of new reads.

  • Halifax – Saturday, September 17, Halifax Central Library
  • Saskatoon – Sunday, September 18, Exhibitor Marketplace
  • Lethbridge – Saturday, September 24, Main Library
  • Toronto – Sunday, September 25, Harbourfront Centre

Here are some of the events and speakers at Toronto’s Word On The Street we’re looking forward to, featuring NMA winners:

Lauren McKeon, 2-time NMA winner and editor of THIS Magazine (now celebrating its 50th anniversary year) leads a discussion with panelists: NMA winner Daniel Viola (Maisonneuve), Sheila Sampath (Shameless Magazine), Priya Ramanujan (Urbanology), and Shawn Micallef (Spacing) on why independent media is now more important than ever, and what role this form of journalism will play in the next fifty years. The hour-long discussion starts at 3:15 at the Canadian Magazines Stagethe-ward

John Lorinc, 7-time NMA winner for Spacing, Toronto Life, Report on Business and others, will speak about working on his latest book, “The Ward” at the Toronto Book Awards Tent at 2:00-2:30.

Randi Bergman, 2-time NMA winner, chats with Corduroy Magazine editor-in-chief Tim Chan and 7-time NMA winner Tanya Watt about what is and what isn’t Canadian fashion, with examples of designers and companies across the country at 4:15 at the Canadian Magazines Stage.

Emily Donaldson, editor-in-chief of NMA-winning publication CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries, joins Brick editor, Laurie D. Graham, and Nailah King in a showcase discussion of Canadian literary journals and magazines at 12:45 at the Canadian Magazines Stand.

NMA Gold winner in Poetry, George Elliott Clarke, is participating in the Diaspora Dialogues panel which will explore how to write about Toronto in the future at 3:00 at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


NMA winners speaking at the Nothing But The Truth Tent, hosted by Sue Carter, editor at Quill & Quire and arts & ideas editor at THIS Magazine. 

Craig Davidson, 2-time NMA winner, talks about his new book “Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077”. Starts at 12:15.

Diane Schoemperlen, silver NMA-winner for Fiction, talks about her new book “This is Not My Life”. Starts at 4:15.

Sandra Martin, 2-time NMA winner, discusses her book “A Good Death”. Starts at 5:15.


Check out these National Magazine Award-winning titles at the Exhibitor Marketplace and the Magazine Mews (MM). Word on the Street always brings out great deals on magazine subscriptions, often with gifts and back issues on sale, too. [Map of WOTS Toronto]

  • Alternatives Journal, Booth #225
  • Brick: A Literary Journal, Booth #334
  • Broken Pencil, Booth #MM7
  • Canada’s History, Booth #315
  • Carousel, Booth #MM10
  • CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries, Booth #532
  • Feathertale Review, Booth #MM3
  • NOW Magazine, Booth #311
  • Ontario Nature, Booth #MM8
  • Quill & Quire, Booth #MM5
  • Shameless, Booth #MM6
  • Spacing, Booth #221
  • Taddle Creek, Booth #MM4
  • The New Quarterly, Booth #334
  • The Walrus, Booth #312
  • THIS Magazine,  Booth #408
  • Toronto Life, Booth #213
  • Zoomer, Booth #313

Word on the Street, Toronto, is Sunday, September 25 from 11am-6pm at Harbourfront Centre, free and fun for all!

Check out all the events and speakers at the WOTS near you.

Best Practices: How to leverage your National Magazine Award


Did you win a National Magazine Award at this year’s gala? Were you a nominee? If so, we’ve created a guide just for you.

The NMAF is pleased to introduce the first volume of our Best Practices Guide. This guide is an extensive resource for how National Magazine Award winners and nominees can best leverage their recognition of magazine excellence.

The guide provides detailed promotional strategies, insightful personal testimony and plenty of other useful resources to help award winners and nominees best leverage and optimize their National Magazine Awards.

Click here to download the full PDF version.

Winners’ Circle Webinar

On November 25, 2015, the National Magazine Awards Foundation presented Winners’ Circle, an exclusive learning and networking event. More than 70 NMA winners and nominees gathered at The Spoke Club in Toronto’s King West district to meet, mingle, network and learn about how a National Magazine Award can be a boost to your career.

In addition to our Best Practices Guide, the NMAF has created this webinar to uncover other effective ways to leverage and optimize your National Magazine Award win. In a discussion led by D.B. Scott, three NMA winners–Penny Caldwell of Cottage Life, Matthew Blackett of Spacing and Katherine Laidlaw of The Walrus–share their best practices on how they leveraged their recognition of winning a National Magazine Award.

Please stay tuned for when we announce our next Winners’ Circle event.

Download this year’s National Magazine Awards Winners’ Seals here.

Watch other videos on our YouTube channel here.

Portrait Series: National Magazine Awards Storytellers

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is all about celebrating Canadian creators and storytellers. Our mission is to recognize excellence in magazine writing and art production.

At the NMAF we tip our hats to the storytellers who skilfully fill the pages of Canadian magazines. To highlight the hard work and meticulous crafting that goes into creating an NMA-winning piece we’ve produced a portrait series of this year’s winners and nominees, discussing what makes for great storytelling.


To learn more about the award winners and nominees from the 2016 awards program, please visit You can also follow this photo series on Instagram (nationalmagazineawards) or by following us on Twitter @MagAwards.

Credit: photos taken by Steve Goetz; interviews conducted by Melissa Myers.

Full Coverage of the 39th National Magazine Awards
Complete articles of all nominees and winners
Complete list [pdf] of all nominees and winners
Full text of Kim Pittaway’s speech
Smash Reel
Thank You to our Sponsors & Partners
The Judges
Award Seals

Kim Pittaway’s impassioned Outstanding Achievement Award acceptance speech

At Friday evening’s 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala [read complete recap], Kim Pittaway received the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, acknowledging her long and distinguished career as a writer, editor, teacher and mentor in Canadian magazine journalism. Read Kim’s complete NMA bio.

On stage at Friday’s gala, Kim inspired a standing ovation from the audience of over 400 guests in attendance, affirming not only the Foundation’s decision to present Kim with this award but also the inspiration that Kim has been to so many of us in Canadian magazines.

Below, with her permission, we present Kim’s acceptance speech from the 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala.

Kim Pittaway: Thank you Beth, Rona and my other colleagues who nominated me, the Board of the NMAF and the friends and colleagues who have congratulated me following the announcement of this honour. I feel obliged to note that Joyce Byrne, President of the Foundation, called me with the news on April 1—April Fool’s Day. I chose to ignore that.

This is indeed an honour, especially as I review the list of those who have preceded me to the podium for the Outstanding Achievement Award. I’d like to begin my remarks by quoting one of them.

“It’s simple: We need each other.”

That’s how the late Catherine Keachie, then-president of the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association, described what she called the magazine publishing ecosystem. It was the early 1990s, and I was a 20-something writer, hired to help write position papers on split-run publishing, GST on magazines, the environmental impact of magazine publishing and more. It was a crash course in how the industry worked and Catherine was my instructor. Our best lines were crafted in conversation as she held forth passionately on why magazines were central to our national culture.

Catherine knew that it was essential for the industry to work together. The major publishers needed the cultural legitimacy of the small and literary publishers. The smalls and literaries needed the financial and political heft of the bigs. Sales and circulation teams needed strong editorial content to sell. Editorial teams needed the business support of those sales and circ teams to find their audiences and get their stories into readers’ homes and hands.

Magazines brands—on the page, online and in whatever other formats they may appear—are the products of many hands, an exciting mix of journalism, storytelling, sales, promotion, marketing and analysis, all geared to telling stories that will engage, delight and—at its best—challenge our audiences. And while all of us in this industry have a role in enabling that storytelling, at its centre are the creators: the writers, photographers and artists whose words and pictures speak to us, touch us, transform us, who tell our Canadian stories, celebrate our Canadian heroes and illuminate our Canadian perspectives—stories that are critical to our uniquely Canadian culture.

I can think of no other organization that I would rather be honoured by than the National Magazine Awards Foundation precisely because of the NMAF’s long focus on creators. The work I am proudest of hinges on creation: my own work as a writer, and my efforts to facilitate the creative work of others as an educator and editor.

After the announcement about this award was made, I joked with a colleague that the key to being nominated was to move away from Toronto—after a few years away, people forget what it was about you that irritated them. What I’m about to say may serve as a reminder.

Publishers and brands will inevitably tally up “their” wins tonight—a logical impulse, given that they provide the pages and the infrastructure to enable the sharing of those stories. But let’s be absolutely clear about why we are here tonight. We are here to celebrate the creators. We may call these the Mag Awards, but they are in fact the creators’ awards. Without the words, without the pictures, without the writers, photographers and illustrators, we’re not in the magazine business—we’re just peddling flyers. And we all know that as an industry where fees to writers, photographers and artists have not shifted appreciably in decades, a night that celebrates those creators, that thanks them for their efforts is, frankly, the least that we as an industry can do.

It’s simple, as Catherine told me. We need each other. And as we contemplate the way forward for our industry—and for this awards program—we would do well to remember that.

Thank you.

Kim Pittaway’s essay from the 39th NMA Gala Program

39th National Magazine Awards
Complete Gala Recap
Read Kim’s complete NMA bio
Press release: English | Français
Complete list [pdf] of all winners
Twitter highlights: @MagAwards | #NMA16
The Judges
Award Seals
La version française:

Photos by Steven Goetz.

Announcing the Winners of the 39th National Magazine Awards

It was a night to remember! The NMAF has announced the winners of the 39th annual National Magazine Awards, concluding an exciting evening celebrating Canadian creators at the Arcadian Court in Toronto–hosted by author Chris Turner–with more than 400 of Canada’s best writers, artists, editors, art directors, publishers and others in attendance. The NMAF presented Gold, Silver and Honourable Mention awards in 39 categories. More than $50,000 in cash prizes has been awarded to Canadian creators.

La version française:
Press release: English | Français
Complete list [pdf] of all winners
Twitter highlights: @MagAwards | #NMA16
The Judges
Award Seals
Read the complete articles of all nominees and winners


Magazine of the Year


Jennifer Varkonyi, Publisher
Haley Cullingham, Daniel Viola, Editors
Anna Minzhulina, Art Director
Published by Maisonneuve Magazine Association

Maisonneuve fulfills its bold mandate of “banishing boring,” clearly striving to engage, inform and inspire. From its refreshing and imaginative art direction to its passionate editorial voice, the magazine feels like its constantly evolving, yet at the same time seems to connect with a sense of familiarity with its readers.
National Magazine Awards jury

Best Magazine Brand

Best New Magazine Writer
Sponsored by Reader’s Digest Foundation
Desmond Cole
The Skin I’m In
Toronto Life

Best New Magazine Photographer
Marta Iwanek
The Maidan

Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement
Kim Pittaway

Renowned journalist, editor, teacher and mentor Kim Pittaway is the recipient of the 2016 Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, recognizing career excellence and service to the Canadian magazine industry. For her enduring dedication to the Canadian magazine industry, for the principled leadership and mentorship that has impacted the careers of many, and for her unfailing support of magazine creators, the NMAF is proud to recognize Kim Pittaway with its highest individual honour.



Best Single Issue
Sponsored by Rolland Enterprises, Inc


John Intini, Editor
Brianne Collins, Art Director
What it’s like to be Connor McDavid right now

 Best Magazine Cover
Sponsored by Ontario Media Development Corporation
Stephen Gregory, Art Director
Mark Stevenson, Editor
Hurry Up and Die, Already

  Words & Pictures
Sponsored by CDS Global
Our Ever-Changing Moods
The Walrus
Jillian Tamaki
, Author & Illustrator
Jonathan Kay
, Editor
Brian Morgan
, Art Director

Single Service Article Package
VÉGÉ Inspiré
Brigitte Coutu, Editor
Caroline Blanchette, Art Director
Mélanie Roy, Émilie Folie-Boivin, Sarah Lalanne, Authors
David de Stefano, Photographer
Caroline Nault, Heidi Bronstein, Contributors

David Chau, Creator
Craig Battle, Editor

“The most important mission of the National Magazine Awards is to celebrate Canadian creators. And tonight we have reached a new milestone in recognizing and rewarding excellence to more than 300 nominees and 70 gold and silver winners at the 39th annual NMA gala. The National Magazine Awards are one of Canada’s most important cultural institutions, and even as we celebrate our 39th year we are looking forward to our 40th anniversary and beyond.”
Joyce Byrne, president of the NMAF


Arts & Entertainment
Drew Nelles
The Walrus

Best Short Feature
Hon Lu
Spirited Away
Toronto Life

Valérie Borde
Le virage vert de la Chine

Sponsored by Impresa Communications Ltd.
Anne Kingston
Thank you, Margaret Wente, for exposing rape culture

Editorial Package
Maclean’s Staff
The Space Issue

Lisa Gregoire
Breathing Holes
Eighteen Bridges

Presented by Ontario Arts Council
Russell Smith
CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries

Health & Medicine
Alison Motluk
Worth the Risk

Jacob Pacey
Your Daily Life As A Failing Comedian
The Feathertale Review

Investigative Reporting
Virgil Grandfield
The Cage
Eighteen Bridges

One of a Kind
Richard Kelly Kemick
Playing God
The Walrus

Personal Journalism
Sasha Chapin
Dreams Are Boring

David McGimpsey
The High Road

Politics & Public Interest
Alec Castonguay
Les partis politiques vous espionnent

Marci McDonald
The Fixer
Toronto Life

Science, Technology & Environment
Philip Preville
It’s A Hard Knock Life
Cottage Life

Service: Family, Health & Personal Finance
Sarah Liss
The Shame Game

Service: Lifestyle
Andrew Braithwaite
Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2015
Air Canada enRoute

Carissa Halton
A Different Kind of Simakanis
Eighteen Bridges

Sports & Recreation
Jonathan Trudel
Laurent chez les grands

Isabelle Grégoire
Le vrai train du nord


Art Direction of an Entire Issue
Sponsored by TC Transcontinental Printing
Domenic Macri
Report on Business

Art Direction of a Single Article
Sponsored by The Office of Gilbert Li
Marcey Andrews
The Future of Everything
New Trail

For my 10th birthday…
ELLE Canada
Owen Bruce
, Photographer
Brittany Eccles
, Art Director
Juliana Schiavinatto
, Stylist
Contributors: Denis Desro, Liisa Winkler, Stella Winkler, Juliann H, Hannah D, Sam F, Judith Maria Bradley, Susana Hong, Simone Otis, Suzanne Campos

Homes & Gardens
Martin Tessler, Photographer
Paul Roelofs, Art Director
Nicole Sjöstedt, Stylist
The Comeback
Western Living

Sponsored by Very Good Studios
Adrian Forrow
My Prescribed Life
The Walrus

Photojournalism & Photo Essay
Sponsored by CNW Group
Marta Iwanek
The Maidan

Portrait Photography

Raina + Wilson
Future Perfect
Globe Style Advisor

Spot Illustration
Jay Dart
The Things He Carried
Globe Style Advisor

Still-Life Photography
Hudson Hayden
Butcher Crop
Globe Style Advisor

To view the complete list of Gold and Silver winners and Honourable Mentions, visit

More than 400 members of the Canadian magazine industry—publishers, editors, art directors, writers, photographers, illustrators, circulators and more—joined esteemed sponsors and other guests at the Arcadian Court for the 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala, presented by CDS Global.

Special guests were in abundance at the 39th annual National Magazine Awards. Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly delivered a tribute via video to the evening’s nominees and winners, acknowledging the important role of Canadian magazine creators in nurturing Canadian culture. Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan of Toronto attended and delivered a welcome message to the guests, celebrating the nominees in attendance. And Member of Parliament and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, radio host Gillian Deacon and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi each delivered messages via video congratulating the nominees and winners.

The NMAF was also honoured to welcome Carolyn Vesely of Ontario Arts Council, who presented the award for Fiction; Matt Hilliard-Forde of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, who presented the award for Magazine Covers; Natalie Turvey of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, who presented the award for Investigative Reporting; Karen Luttrell of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, who presented the award for Society; and Derek Finkle of the Canadian Writers Group, who presented the award for One of a Kind.

This year, 184 Canadian magazines from coast to coast to coast—English and French, print and digital—entered the best of their editorial and design to the National Magazine Awards, submitting the work of more than 3000 writers, editors, photographers, illustrators, art directors and other creators. The NMAF’s 232 volunteer judges nominated a total of 309 submissions from 84 different Canadian magazines for awards in 39 written, visual, integrated and special categories. A record 12 magazines were nominated for the first time. More than $50,000 in cash prizes has been awarded to Canadian creators.

The NMAF gratefully acknowledges the support its sponsors, partners and suppliers.


The NMAF (and all guests of the National Magazine Awards) are grateful to Chris Turner for his wonderful performance tonight as host of the 39th National Magazine Awards!

Chris Turner is the author of five books and one of Canada’s leading writers and speakers on energy and sustainability. His bestsellers The Leap and The Geography of Hope were both National Business Book Award finalists. His most recent book is How to Breathe Underwater, an essay collection, which won the W.O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize. His feature writing has won nine National Magazine Awards.

Check back next week for photos, videos and more from the 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala.

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is a bilingual, not-for-profit institution whose mission is to foster, recognize and promote editorial excellence in Canadian publications. The annual awards are presented in June and are followed by a year-long national publicity effort and professional development opportunities. Our mandate is to support Canadian creators. Since 1977, the NMAF has helped build and sustain the careers of thousands of creators—the writers, editors, creative directors and visual artists who contribute to the vast ecosystem of Canadian culture. On June 9, the NMAF presented the first annual Digital Publishing Awards recognizing excellence in Canadian digital publications. Discover more at

See you next year!