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The Walrus

The Walrus cover, March 2009
Editor John Macfarlane (interim)
Categories Canadian and international affairs
Frequency 10 issues per year including 2 double issues
Circulation 60 000 (March 2008)
First issue September 2003
Company The Walrus Foundation
Country Canada
Language Canadian English
ISSN 1708-4032

The Walrus is a Canadian general interest magazine which publishes long form journalism on Canadian and international affairs, along with fiction and poetry by Canadian writers. It launched in September 2003, as an attempt to create a Canadian equivalent to American magazines such as Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker. The magazine's mandate is to "be a Canadian general-interest magazine with an international outlook. We are committed to publishing the best work by the best writers from Canada and elsewhere on a wide range of topics for readers who are curious about the world." [1] The magazine's current editor is John Macfarlane (interim), and its art director is Brian Morgan. The magazine won the 2006 National Magazine Award for Magazine of the Year in Canada.



In 2002, David Berlin, a former editor and owner of the Literary Review of Canada began promoting his vision of a world-class Canadian magazine. A friend put him in touch with Ken Alexander, a former high-school English and history teacher and a television producer. He too had been trumpeting the need for a Canadian equivalent of Harper's, but had received little encouragement in his efforts. Some support was forthcoming from then Harper's editor Lewis H. Lapham. For a time, there was even talk of producing a Canadian magazine with a substantial insert of Harper's material. In the end, both Alexander and Berlin concluded that such an arrangement would send a confusing message about the nature and independence of the magazine.

Capital for the venture eventually came from two sources: the Chawkers Foundation, run by Ken Alexander's family, and the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation. Each donated $2.5-million over five years, or one million dollars per year.[2]

The name "walrus" was at first a working title; however, the editors soon warmed to the idea. The beast possessed many of the qualities that they were looking for in a mascot: ugly yet majestic, slow moving but powerful and quintessentially Canadian. Most importantly, in the words of David Berlin, "No one ignores a walrus".[2]

In order to achieve high quality content, The Walrus paid its writers $2.50 a word, a rate the best American periodicals routinely offered, but one that was extremely rare for most domestic journalists. Indeed, one of its articles was rumoured to have cost $25,000.[2] The first issue of The Walrus included contributions from Margaret Atwood, Václav Havel, Douglas Coupland, Lewis H. Lapham, Curtis Gillespie and Stephen Lewis (on the Rwandan genocide). Some 50,000 copies were initially printed, in part because the magazine's first direct-mail campaign drew a better than 10 per cent response, a significant improvement over the industry standard.[2]

Publishing ten times per year, the magazine's two 2003 issues alone garnered eleven National Magazine Award nominations and three wins. The magazine won praise from many Canadian media outlets, including the Utne Reader's Independent Press, which awarded it the prize for best new publication in 2004. As of 2 May 2006, The Walrus had received 49 National Magazine Award nominations for arts and entertainment writing, business writing, essays, humour and investigative reporting. The magazine has more than one nomination in several categories. Its closest rivals include Toronto Life with 24 nominations and Saturday Night with 20 nominations.[3]


The magazine is underpinned by $1 million annually for its initial five years, to come from the Montreal-based Chawkers Charitable Foundation, to be administered by The Walrus Foundation. The financial model is similar to that of Harper's, which is supported through the McArthur Foundation. Masthead editor William Shields, who covers the domestic magazine industry, maintains that The Walrus needs a readership of 40,000 to achieve long-time viability. As of February 2005, The Walrus has had a readership of 53,287. In Shields' view, advertisers are unlikely to warm to The Walrus's broad, unfocused demographic — "everyone from perforated 19-year-old intellectuals to cardiganed academics." Hence, its core revenues "will come from you and me and what is perceived to be tremendous pent-up demand for a playfully brainy monthly created by Canadians for the world."[2] In addition, The Walrus set about looking for charitable status from Revenue Canada, which the latter granted in 2005. The new charity was christened The Walrus Foundation. Since the suspension of publication of the long running magazine Saturday Night in 2005, questions linger about the financial viability of a general interest magazine in Canada.[4] As Ken Alexander once admitted, "Part of the difficulty here for our type of magazine is Canada's huge landmass... We have very high distribution costs. We...have to truck the magazine across the country." Moreover, the editors have purposely kept the ad ratio lower than that of other magazines: 30 per cent ads to 70 per cent editorial content.[5]


Journalists associated with the magazine include Ken Alexander (who stepped down as editor on July 4, 2008),[6] David Berlin, and Don Gillmor. Bill Cameron and Adam Gilders were both freelance journalists for The Walrus. Cameron died in March, 2005 and Gilders in March, 2007. The magazine has published articles by university professors, novelists, poets and non-fiction authors including James Laxer, Wayne Johnston, George Elliott Clarke, Charles Foran, Adam Gopnik, Allan Gregg, Lawrence Hill and Margaret Atwood.[5]


  1. ^ The Walrus >> Fantasy Game Economics >> Game Theories >> Economics
  2. ^ a b c d e Evalu8
  3. ^ Arts - Walrus leads with 49 National Magazine Award nominations
  4. ^ Arts - Publisher shelves Saturday Night
  5. ^ a b [1]
  6. ^

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