Remembering Laird Rankin

Canada’s History mourns passing of former executive director and publisher.

June 21, 2017

Canada’s History offers its sincere condolences on the passing of Laird Rankin, the founding executive director of Canada’s History Society and a celebrated author and member of Manitoba and Winnipeg’s non-profit communities.

As Publisher of The Beaver magazine, Mr. Rankin helped to lead efforts to modernize the Society’s flagship publication, and expand its readership across the country.

He also was an accomplished author, publishing five books, including The Return of the Nonsuch: The Ship that Launched an Empire, and Open For Business, a history of the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business.

“Everyone at Canada’s History is deeply saddened by the loss of Laird Rankin,” said Janet Walker, President & CEO of Canada’s History Society. “As the founding executive director and a former publisher of The Beaver, Laird played a tremendous role in ensuring the success of both the magazine and the History Society.”

Mr. Rankin received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Manitoba in 1962 and a Bachelor of Commerce from U of M in 1964.

In 1967, he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and was quickly put in charge of arranging the travels of the Nonsuch, a replica of the seventeenth-century ketch that carried the HBC’s first traders to the New World in 1668. The Nonsuch replica was constructed by the HBC as part of its 300th anniversary celebrations in 1970.

Mr. Rankin worked with the HBC for seven years, primarily in the public relations department, and was a natural choice to become the general manager and executive director of Canada’s History Society when it was founded in 1994 (at the time, the primary role of the Society was to be the caretaker of The Beaver magazine). The Beaver began in 1920 as an in-house newsletter of the HBC, but expanded over time to become a full-fledged magazine exploring Canadian history. In 2010, it was rechristened Canada’s History (Formerly The Beaver).

In 1997, Mr. Rankin assumed the position of publisher of The Beaver, and began efforts to modernize the magazine and expand its readership across the country.

By the time Mr. Rankin retired in 2004, The Beaver had enjoyed a significant increase in circulation and was well-respected in the wider magazine community for quality of storytelling.

Deborah Morrison became Publisher of The Beaver after Mr. Rankin’s retirement. She said she was always impressed by Mr. Rankin’s passion for history.

“Laird Rankin was passionate about Canadian history! How passionate? Some people wear their passions on their heart sleeves, but Laird drove it around town — wearing it on his license plate,” Ms. Morrison said.

“I will be forever grateful to him for his humour and kindheartedness, his patience and support as I transitioned into the role of Publisher.”

Among his many accomplishments, Mr. Rankin helped lead The Beaver through its first redesign in forty years and also, for helping in 1996 to launch the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching History.

Mr. Rankin’s contributions to Canada’s History were best summed up in a farewell message published in The Beaver to mark his retirement from the History Society: “Though he leaves his colleagues bereft of his impeccable taste, wise counsel, and good humour, he leaves The Beaver well-positioned to continue as a popular and intelligent contribution to Canadians’ love affair with their own history.”

Mr. Rankin spent many years working in the non-profit sector for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, the University of Manitoba’s Alumni Association and others. He was also an active volunteer.

You can read Mr. Rankin’s obituary in the Winnipeg Free Press.

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