The Word On The Street Canada: A Brief History

In 1989, the Promotions Committee of the Book and Periodical Council determined that the time had come for Toronto, seen as Canada’s publishing capital, to join the world’s major publishing centres and host its own large-scale public festival of the written word.  

Envisioned to celebrate Canadian authors, books, magazines, and to advocate literacy, the Toronto Book and Magazine Fair was incorporated in March 1990 as a non-profit organization and rebranded as The Word On The Street. The inaugural event took place on Sunday, September 30, 1990, on Toronto’s Queen Street West, during International Literacy Year. Upwards of 30,000 people attended. The overwhelming support provided to Toronto’s festival by the local community, publishing industry leaders, and government officials demonstrated what could be achieved on a national level. William Kilbourn was the force behind getting the support and approvals needed to close a street in downtown Toronto and to re-route the street-cars. Carolyn Taylor was the festival’s first director and served for several years to take the program to other cities.

To spread the “word”,  in 1994 the Toronto Book and Magazine Fair Trust was incorporated nationally as The Word On The Street Canada Inc. and registered as a charitable organization. Since then, festivals were established in cities across Canada including Vancouver and Halifax in 1995, Ottawa and Calgary in 1998, and Kitchener in 2002. Saskatoon launched in 2010, and Lethbridge in 2011. The Word On The Street festivals are now held annually in Toronto, Halifax, Saskatoon, and Lethbridge.

The Word On The Street’s network of festivals marks it as one of Canada’s largest literary celebrations. Each year at the festivals in Toronto, Halifax, Saskatoon and Lethbridge, more than 200,000 visitors attend over 300 programmed events, featuring 400 authors and representing 200 publishers.  All the festivals showcase book and magazine exhibitors, including a majority of small presses, independent authors, and writing associations that benefit enormously from the exposure at the festivals. As part of The Word On The Street’s commitment to literacy, ten percent of exhibit space is provided free to literacy organizations.

The Word On The Street has received a long list of awards over the years, including the 2012 Canadian Event Industry “Best Festival” Star Award, and the Ontario Writers Conference Cornerstone Award.

The Word On The Street’s on-going success has been supported through partnerships established with media and sponsors from private sector organizations. The most vital components have been the continual delivery of a FREE festival to all participants, which would not be possible without the funding support provided by national, regional, and municipal governments.

Founding Organizations

  • Book and Periodical Council
  • Canadian Authors Association
  • Canadian Book Information Centre
  • Canadian Book Publishers Council
  • Canadian Booksellers Association
  • Canadian Children’s Book Centre
  • Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada
  • Canadian Give The Gift of Literacy Foundation
  • Canadian Library Association
  • Canadian Magazine Publishing Association
  • League of Canadian Poets
  • Literary Press Group
  • Ontario Literacy Coalition
  • Periodical Writers Association of Canada
  • Playwrights Union of Canada
  • The Writers’ Union of Canada


Founding Advisory Council

  • Mayor Art Eggleton, Honorary Co-Chair
  • Metro Chairman, Alan Tonks, Honorary Co-chair
  • William Kilbourn, President
  • Carolyn Taylor, Festival Director
  • Liz Amer
  • Andrea Alexander
  • Margo Bindhardt
  • June Callwood
  • Olivia Chow
  • Greg Gatenby
  • Arthur Gelber
  • Shauna Cairns Gundy
  • Peter Gzowski
  • Frances Halpenny
  • Peter Herrndorf
  • Popsy Johnstone
  • William Kilbourn
  • Joy Kogawa
  • Dale Martin
  • Jack McClelland
  • Pauline McGibbon
  • Knowlton Nash
  • Charles Pachter
  • Anna Porter
  • Ceta Ramkhalawansingh
  • Jeremy Riley