Mel Hurtig. 1932-2016.
Written By Robin Mathews
On Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Mel Hurtig shook off the chains of his mortality to find the place of peace that passeth understanding, and - as Shakespeare has it - ‘from whose bourn no traveller returns’.
On Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Canada lost one of its finest citizens. At once truculent, determined, irascible, warm, colourful, imaginative … and more, Mel Hurtig gave of his most intense energies to shape an honourable, independent, and self-respecting nation Canadians could own and cherish. In that work he was indefatigable.
For much of his adult life, Mel Hurtig wrote books to inform Canadians of their loss of sovereignty and to urge them to action. His last book, written for the October 2015 federal election, was a rich compendium of reasons Canadians should remove the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper … and Mel believed the book is, possibly, his most important one. Inasmuch as it helped Canadians to take the action that changed government, it may well be his most important book.
Mel Hurtig was a self-made man. Raised in Edmonton, Alberta, he is said to have gone for a year to university, deciding that was not the route for him to take. He created a bookstore in Edmonton that became famous. Then he became a publisher – and Hurtig Publishers had an impressive and significant life. He is remembered for creating the excellent Canadian Encyclopedia – enormously important in the years before the internet and its “research engines”, and still an on-going, important, research source.
The story is told that he gave speeches in schools, and would visit the school library each time… shocked and disappointed at the absence of research materials on Canada. Not only did he set about producing an Encyclopedia of the highest standard, but he also is said to have talked the Alberta government into supplying a copy for every school with a library in Canada!
A determined patriot, Mel Hurtig was early an important member of the Committee for an Independent Canada (1970). He was an admirer and friend of Walter Gordon who was the most important politician of the 1960s and 1970s working for the repatriation of Canadian economic sovereignty. The Committee disbanded in 1981, declaring (incorrectly) that its ends were mostly achieved. Perhaps that was because the (returned) Trudeau Liberal government appeared determined to effect greater Canadian economic sovereignty.
Instead, the Trudeau Liberal government faded away, to be replaced by the intensely pro-U.S. Conservative government of “lyin Brian” Mulroney, pushing for closer ties and “deep integration” with the U.S.A. The result was the founding in 1985 of the Council of Canadians – very largely the work of Mel Hurtig and Walter Gordon.
Many are the claims of those who declare themselves “founders” of the COC!! But the man who secured the Four Seasons Hotel accommodation for the founding meeting, who invited (or had the word spread to) all who came to that meeting in Toronto, and then who led the Council as Chair for the first years … was Mel Hurtig. Indeed, when (a year or so ago) a fantasy list of “founders” was published by COC, I was alarmed. Mel Hurtig’s name was not even listed! ! In a telephone conversation with me, he remembered that a few months after the founding meeting (which she attended) he met Maud Barlow in Ottawa … and urged her to become involved with the Council….
But prickly as he was … Mel Hurtig would not speak publicly about the founding of the COC, refusing to discuss the subject. If there were founders of the Council of Canadians, they were two: Mel Hurtig and Walter Gordon. When I entered the meeting room in the Toronto Four Seasons Hotel, I recognized the dozens of people present as those who had a history of fighting for Canadian independence; it was almost a family reunion and - at least as ‘older brothers’ - Mel Hurtig and Walter Gordon knew all the family members.
A few days later I met Mel Hurtig and he told me that when the meeting finished, he returned to his hotel room to find it had been ransacked and left so he would know it had been ransacked. The Mulroney RCMP, Mel surmised, leaving a calling card. Readers will remember that as prime minister Brian Mulroney was driven in a bullet-proof car – which, upon becoming prime minister, Jean Chretien laughed at … and removed.
Mel Hurtig received well-deserved honours during his lifetime of tireless work. He will be sorely missed … and sorely needed in the coming years. If he could have a wish fulfilled involving his public life, it might well be that others, young Canadians, will materialize, will take up the task of gaining Canadian independence, and will fight on for it until it is won.
Rest in Peace.
Mel Hurtig...Thank you Mel...We need more real people like you in the world, not less...
I personally applaud your efforts..You will be missed Mel......#$^& damn.^%$#%^$ pendulum never stops...
See you soon Mel......Grant G
The Straight Goods
Hearts Wide Open