Maple Leaf Rags

Why Toronto has the hottest indie magazine scene in North America


| May-June 2005



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Jessica Coulter

Of the nearly 1,600 magazines, newsletters, alt weeklies, zines, and other periodicals from around the globe that come through the Utne library, Toronto has always stood out as a return address of distinction. This past year, we were especially impressed with the Toronto magazines that were showing up on our desks and repeatedly wondered aloud in editorial meetings what it is about this city by the lake, just across the border, that results in such a high level of quality and creativity. In January, we dispatched Leif Utne to check out the scene.—The Editors 

For generations, Canadians seemed resigned to their country’s status as the poor stepchild—politely (oh, so politely) standing in the shadow of its richer, more powerful neighbor to the south. It was enough to be defined quietly as those North Americans who were not so American.

In the past few years, though, as the Canadian government has defied the United States on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, something has turned. It’s as if the Great White North has finally arrived. And there’s more to this newfound self-confidence than creeping anti-Americanism. Canadians are also tapping into a deeper sense of pride, on their own terms in their own unique way. 

You can hear it on the lips of Canadian politicians as they move to legalize same-sex marriage, which enjoys overwhelming public support. You can read it on the editorial pages of the newspapers, which advocate for the expansion of child care and foreign aid. And, perhaps more palpably than anywhere else, you can sense this attitudinal shift in the burgeoning independent press that thrives in Toronto, Canada’s cultural epicenter. 

Consistently thoughtful, bold, and witty, Toronto-based magazines always figure prominently in the annual Utne Independent Press Awards. This year, they made an especially strong showing, garnering 10 nominations and taking home two categories (The Walrus for Best New Title and Musicworks in the category of Arts/Literary Coverage). The reasons for this relatively recent creative surge are as varied as the magazines themselves. 

Toronto is Canada’s New York, home to the venerable Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), both of the country’s national newspapers, and a majority of its private television and radio networks, book publishers, and mainstream magazines. Ranked by the United Nations as the world’s most multicultural metropolis (half the population was born outside Canada, and over 40 percent speak a foreign language at home), Toronto is a rich stew of cultures, cuisines, fashions, musical styles, and artistic traditions. This combination of forces exerts a gravitational pull on the creative class that no other Canadian city can match.