Canadian Graphic Design
We are surrounded by communication design, in advertising, print of all kinds, the built environment
or electronic media. Design is at the Centre of our culture, in addition to its significant economic
role; as an integral part of mass communication, it plays a fundamental role in daily life, not only
on a practical level but also as cultural expression. Commentators have consistently pointed out that,
though there is excellent design in Canada, design's cultural role has not been fully recognized. This
is because there are few published resources, either in electronic or print form and collections are
dispersed and not easily accessible. Therefore Canadians, whether the general public or specialists (designers,
students or educators), have limited access to an important part of their cultural heritage.
A major initiative, begun in 2002-2003, is the addition of a new section of the Canadian Art Database
on Canadian Graphic Design and Designers. In collaboration with Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario and
the Ontario College of Art & Design, Toronto, the Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art is developing
an online history of Canadian communications design (graphics and advertising).
Initially, this 'timeline of 20th century Canadian design' will focus on the presentation of work by
Canada's leading graphic designers. This will be supplemented with essays, sources and related materials
on periods, issues, individuals and topics. We see it as a growing project, with input from institutions
and individuals (designers, researchers, students) from across the country.
This new Design initiative has received generous funding support from The Museum of Promotional Arts
in Toronto. The MPA, was a modest project, begun on International Museums Day in 1979 by Frances E. M.
Johnston, a Toronto librarian and enthusiast. It was conceived as a society whose main object was to "advance
public awareness and appreciation of the contribution made to our history and culture by the promotional
arts," defined as the arts that "sell ideas, services, or products."
It was neither a collection nor a museum, precisely, but a society committed to the idea of a global
'museum without walls'; its main object was to "advance public awareness and appreciation of the
contribution made to our history and culture by the promotional arts," defined as the arts that "sell
ideas, services, or products." The most significant project of The MPA was to mount the Carl Dair
Annual Event, which each year honoured a different individual or firm from Toronto's applied art and
design community. There was also a slim, quarterly newsletter, EMPA, produced by Miss Johnston with the
volunteer help of some of the city's finest typographers.
Following her death in 1998, a sizeable bequest was left to further the aims of the society. The MPA
trustees, James McLean, president of Batten Graphics, and Ted Morrison, retired principal of Stewart
Morrison, have committed this fund as seed money towards research and production of a website on Canadian
design and applied art, as a most fitting tribute to Miss Johnston and the goals of The Museum of Promotional