1251 Five years, what a surprise!

On this day five years ago, October 17, 2016, The Ormsby Review published its first book review. The book was Mark Leiren-Young’s The Killer Whale Who Changed the World, the publisher was Greystone Books with the David Suzuki Institute, and the reviewer was Daniel Francis.

Ormsby had started six weeks before, on September 2nd, when — at 7:23 a.m. — I wrote to Alan Twigg at BC Bookworld as follows:

Hi Alan,  I have some book-related or rather editorial ideas that I’d like to discuss with you. I’d rather not email about them. Are you around this afternoon by any chance, with some free time? Can I take you to coffee?  Thanks, Richard

Alan Twigg. Photo courtesy Nelson Star

Alan and I didn’t have coffee but we talked on the phone that morning, and I recall him saying that he had long wanted to start a journal devoted mainly to book reviews. At 12:16 p.m. the same day he confirmed the arrangement:

It all makes sense to me, Richard. If you can generate 100 book reviews per year for The Ormsby Review, I can run ’em. I think publishers will be delighted. BC Studies will still exist–so there will be only a gain [to BC books and publishing]. And you will have no one to answer to. That’s how I’ve managed to last this long. Freedom. Or as [George] Woodcock put it, “a man of free intelligence.”

Alan asked David Lester, graphic designer and layout mastermind of BC Bookworld since its origin in 1987, to design a logo and open a new page for Ormsby on the BookLook website. The Ormsby Review was up and running the next day. To provide advice, weight, and gravitas we appointed a distinguished advisory board. I started soliciting book reviews a day later, but it would take five weeks for Daniel Francis’s review of Leiren-Young to arrive. Thank you, Alan, for your massive commitment to BC books and publishing and for providing a roof and support.


Exactly five years later and The Ormsby Review has published 1250 reviews — by a neat accident precisely 250 a year. This deserves, I think, an additional word or two on the journal’s origins. I had worked from 2011-16 with editor Graeme Wynn at the academic journal BC Studies at UBC, but upon Graeme’s retirement, the incoming editor made it clear that I did not fit into her plans for the journal. As book reviews editor I had been arranging 100 book reviews a year — 25 per issue in the quarterly print and digital journal.

Fortunately I knew Alan slightly. A year or two before, he, Graeme, and I had worked out a review-sharing scheme in which some 50 years’ worth of BC Studies reviews were linked to the BC BookLook website, an arrangement that worked to the benefit of both journals.

Margaret Ormsby, October 1958. Photo courtesy John Bosher

Daniel Francis’s review was actually Ormsby #26. I wrote the first and introductory post, Ormsby #1 on September 16 2016 as a welcome to new readers. Alan’s introduction to it begins:

#1. Welcome to The Ormsby ReviewRichard Mackie and BCBookLook are teaming up to provide a new vehicle for serious writing about B.C. The Ormsby Review will be named after Margaret Ormsby, the venerable historian who often met with Richard Mackie for tea and talk during her retirement near Vernon.

While we waited for the reviews to arrive, Alan repurposed some old material from BCBookLook: sixteen previously-published posts on everything from the travels of botanist David Douglas to the work of historian Sylvia Thrupp.

The first three solicited Ormsby pieces were not book reviews but memoirs and an essay: Ormsby #19, “The Reddest Rose: Trade Unionist Harvey Murphy,” by Ron Vurzuh; Ormsby #21, “Bumbling down the Danube” by Howard Macdonald Stewart; and Ormsby #24, “Mike Agostini: The Usain Bolt of 1954,” by Glinda Sutherland. These popular pieces have now been viewed by thousands and continue to draw visitors to the site.

The pattern was set. Ormsby would consist mainly of book reviews with an open door to BC-based essays and memoirs.


Ormsby’s first logo, 2016-19, designed by David Lester

Ormsby remained under the wing of BC BookLook and BC Bookworld for three years, forming a handy central resource for BC writers, reviewers, readers, publishers, and bookstores. During these years Alan and I applied to numerous provincial and federal arts granting agencies. We were invariably turned down. BCBL and BCBW’s existing sources of funding were not as flexible and embracing as we hoped. Other new — and entirely independent — journals needed the support more. One prominent federal arts agency pointed out that they already provided a three-year grant to BCBL and BCBW, and if we chose to create a new journal, we had better pay for it out of the existing grant. We could not apply for a new grant when, technically, they already supported us.

For these reasons Ormsby split off and went independent from BCBL and BCBW. We registered as the Ormsby Literary Society under the B.C. Societies Act on April 30, 2018, and in August 2019 Alan transferred full ownership of The Ormsby Review to me for $1 at a notary public on Alma Street. (We were late for our appointment at the notary, and I remember sprinting up West Broadway and Alma from Alan’s office at closing time to co-sign the document.) I appointed a board of directors, all literary professionals, chaired by printer Byron Sheardown of Coquitlam-based International Web Express. We got our own website and web expertise and we were fully independent by November 1, 2019 — just in time to hunker down for the tense early months of the Covid era, when we reviewed almost a book a day.

Fulford Harbour. A New Adventure by Linny D. Vine

Ormsby’s mandate has evolved over the years to include all books by BC-based writers. We cater primarily to BC writers. We follow them as they move from BC publishers to national or overseas publishers, and sometimes back again. We are not a regional publishers’ trade journal and we review more than academic fare. In short, we cast a wide net over what BC writers are producing: all kinds of fiction, poetry, and drama, and non-fiction of all varieties from memoir to biography, and on topics from the environment to politics and labour. We are inclusive of the breadth and diversity of BC published writing. An interested reader can go at once to the categories of Indigenous, Asian Canadian, Black writers & topics, LGBTQ2, as well as 40 other categories listed on our home page.

We were fortunate to secure a grant in 2019 from Creative BC and we will receive another one later in 2021. Other sources of income are donations and publishers’ ads on our website. Donations have been our most important source of income; indeed during the first 18 months of the Covid era we have relied almost entirely on donations.

We are now in the final stages of our annual fundraiser. I will thank all donors properly at a later date, but if you enjoy and value The Ormsby Review, please join the 90 readers, fans, and publishers who have made donations since July. Here is a link to our Donor page with options of PayPal, e-Transfer (with monthly donation option), and old-fashioned cheque. Private donations from friends and readers allow us to offer a payment of $100 per book to book reviewers, an offer that four out of ten reviewers accept.

If this is not a good time to donate, please subscribe here anyway and join 450 others to receive a free email notification with every third Ormsby post.

Thank you, everyone, for your support — and for your reviews — over our first five years. I wish I could thank you individually, but Ormsby’s community is too large for that.

Richard Mackie
Publisher and editor
The Ormsby Review


The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

6 comments on “1251 Five years, what a surprise!

  1. Richard,
    Ormsby Review is a superb accomplishment. Not only do I love reading the reviews, which are educational and inspiring for many people, but I am enriched in knowing you.
    Thank you for your commitment to Ormsby, which is an enormous amount of work, and for the very high standards in journalism and editing that you maintain.
    Lee Reid

  2. Yo…bro…you da man! I am not alone in stating that we love — not only what you’ve done — but more importantly, what you’re doing. There is an “underground” forum of literati here in BC and you’ve tapped into it. Congrats on your Fifth!

  3. I love this account, Richard. Sometimes things happen in the best way. Thanks to Alan for initially providing space and to you for your endless energy and enthusiasm.

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