History of the Awards

The National Magazine Awards (NMAs) were founded in 1976 by a group of magazine writers and editors, led by the legendary editor Andrew MacFarlane. In the inaugural year, 1,300 entries in 14 categories were received and 660 artists celebrated at an event hosted by Pierre Berton. In 1977, the group registered as a not-for-profit, and was given charitable status in the same year, through the newly created National Magazine Award Foundation.

The NMAs has continued as the premiere showcase for writers’ and artists’ excellence. As the publishing world has grown more complex, the Foundation has added new categories and programs. Last year, 1,900 literary and artistic entries from a diverse group of 377 publications were adjudicated by 300+ volunteer peers. In 2016, the Foundation launched the Digital Publishing Awards, in 2017 we integrated the Magazine Grand Prix into the NMAs and in 2018, launched a program for writers and artists who contribute to association and professional periodicals.

The NMAF continues to increase its focus on professional development, training and engagement opportunities for the literary community. Programs include Winners’ Circle; a digital archive of 5,000+ award-winning articles which are regularly featured in “Best Reading Lists”; and the informative NMA website, featuring the popular Guides to Writing Contests, Writer’s Guide to Literary Magazines, interviews, news, etc. For the next generation of artists, we provide a paid internship for three Ontarians – one of the few in the magazine industry. Interns received hands-on training, an opportunity to hone their craft as well as excellent exposure with the community.

A eighteen-member volunteer board of directors drawn from all regions and facets of the Canadian magazine industry governs the NMAF. 

History in Detail

For highlights of the past 40 years, see HERE.

In 1976 Andrew MacFarlane, Dean of Journalism at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), was trying to revive the university’s recently defunct President’s Medal for Canadian Magazine Journalism. His original idea was to create a new award divided into English and French counterparts. But MacFarlane eventually developed a proposal for a series of magazine awards, whose salient features were that the program would be bilingual — and therefore truly national — and would recognize individual excellence in the many aspects of the magazine industry — writers, illustrators, editors, photographers and art directors.

MacFarlane together with John S. Crosbie, president of the Magazine Association of Canada, secured the participation of the Canadian Periodical Publishers Association (CPPA), representing 193 Canadian magazines, and CPPA’s former president Michael de Pencier. MacFarlane reached out to his counterpart at Université Laval, Roger de la Garde, Alan Edmunds, head of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), and veteran newsman Pierre Berton, among others. As the collective effort began to take shape across the country, by the spring of 1977 the National Magazine Awards had developed a clear mandate.

On November 14, 1977, National Media Awards Foundation received its charter of non-profit foundation status from the Province of Ontario.

The First National Magazine Awards

There were more than 1300 entries to the first National Magazine Awards for the year 1977. 62 judges evaluated the entries and awarded winners in 14 categories. The first National Magazine Awards gala was held on Thursday, May 11, 1978 at the Hotel Toronto.

Pierre Berton emceed the event, where the 660 guests dined and danced to Jack Collins and his five-piece band. Before presenting the awards, Berton proclaimed to the audience, “In a bold departure from tradition, there are to be no thank you speeches. We can do that because we are giving money, not some cheap statuette.” True to his word, if any winner started to talk on stage, Berton reportedly waved a large hook in the speaker’s direction.

Awards were handed down in 14 categories (with separate French- and English-language winners for the President’s Award for General Magazine Articles). 11 different magazines won awards. The NMAF also honoured outstanding achievement by a magazine: L’ActualitĂ© (French) and Harrowsmith (English) took the awards.

Magazine Grand Prix (formerly, Magazine of the Year)

Each year the National Magazine Awards concludes with the naming of Canada’s Magazine Grand Prix. Previous winners are:

2018: Nouveau Projet
2017: The Site Magazine
2016: Cottage Life
2015: Maisonneuve
2014: Nouveau Projet
2013: Cottage Life
2012: Corporate Knights
2011: Maisonneuve
2010: MoneySense
2009: Up Here
2008: AlbertaViews
2007: Toronto Life
2006: The Walrus
2005: Maclean’s
2004: Maisonneuve
2003: Border Crossings
2002: Outpost
2001: Canadian Geographic
2000: Azure
1999: Chatelaine
1998: Adbusters
1997: Vancouver Magazine
1996: Canadian Living
1995: Canadian House & Home
1994: Canadian Art
1993: Owl & Chickadee
1992: Cottage Life
1991: Idler
1990: West
1989: Toronto Life
1988: Applied Arts Quarterly
1987: Report on Business
1986: Quill & Quire
1985: Toronto Life
1984: Saturday Night
1983: Vancouver Magazine
1982: Equinox

Other Information

The National Magazine Awards has a total of 29 awards categories and 2 special awards.

The submissions process for the National Magazine Awards is open from early December until the second week of January. Nominations are announced in late April, and the awards gala is held in late May or early June.

The funding for the Awards is largely drawn from the supportive magazine community itself, through direct donations, ticket sales and submission entry fees. The Awards also rely on the generous support of recurring and new corporate sponsors through financial contributions, endorsements of the Foundation and its integral role in the Canadian magazine industry and  through a wide variety of invaluable in-kind contributions.  

As a non-profit organization, the Foundation strives to make the most efficient use possible of limited resources. It has a 18 member volunteer Board drawn from the media community, which together with a paid Managing Director, Communications Manager and part-time staff do the work of the Foundation.

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