20 Extraordinary Facts About Reader’s Digest Canada

Everyone has a story about Reader’s Digest. Over the decades, our iconic magazine has touched the lived of so many—across Canada and around the globe. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Reader’s Digest Canada, we’re marking notable moments from our company’s rich legacy.

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DeWitt Wallace and his wife Lila
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

1921: The Reader’s Digest Origin Story

When DeWitt Wallace first proposed a magazine containing condensed, easy-to-read articles, his concept was rejected by publishers across America. Convinced that the idea had serious potential, Wallace went ahead and solicited 1,500 subscriptions. Soon after, the Reader’s Digest Association opened its first office in a New York City basement, and Wallace, alongside his Canadian-born wife, Lila Acheson Wallace, began assembling the first issue.

Here’s how you can subscribe to Reader’s Digest Canada!

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First issue of Reader's Digest
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

February 1922: The Birth of Reader’s Digest

The first issue of Reader’s Digest—featuring a simple white cover with an illustration of a woman writing on a scroll—is published in the United States with a print run of 5,000 copies. At the time, the magazine cost 25 cents and contained 31 condensed articles (one for each day of the month), including one story about Henry Ford and another about the art of conversation. It was the Wallaces’ mission to select articles of exceptional interest and value—ones that were “worthy of a permanent place in the storehouse of the mind.”

Here are 22 History Lessons Your Teacher Lied to You About.

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Reading in braille
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1928: The First Magazine in Braille

Reader’s Digest becomes the first magazine to be printed in Braille. For many years, it was the only ink-print publication that was also made accessible to people with visual impairments. This edition will draw more than 3,000 subscribers within a decade of its launch.

Here are 13 Canadian health heroes you need to know about.

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London Big Ben landmark
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1938: We Go Global

The first international edition of Reader’s Digest is published in England. Over the following years, the magazine would be printed in 16 languages and distributed in 163 countries.

Here are 13 things you should know about learning a new language.

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Auschwitz concentration camp
Photo: Szymon Kaczmarczyk/Shutterstock

April 1945: The Investigation of German Concentration Camps

Stanley High, associate editor of Reader’s Digest, is among 17 editors and publishers selected by U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower to fly overseas and inspect German concentration camps.

This letter from a Canadian soldier explains the sacrifice of veterans everywhere.

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Adolf Hitler
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May 1945: The Nazis Are Condemned

After helping interview prisoners in concentration camps and studying documents regarding the German occupation of France, High is involved in creating a call to action for the U.S. to adopt an urgent policy on war criminals. A statement released on behalf of the reporters while they are still overseas claims that the Nazis were pursuing “calculated and organized brutality.” The statement reads, “We are more than ever convinced that there can be no peace on earth until the right of the earth’s peoples to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is recognized and protected under law.”

Learn how one American couple rescued 50 children from the Nazis.

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First issue of Selection
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

December 1946: The Birth of the Canadian Edition

The Reader’s Digest Association announces a Canadian French-language edition, scheduled for release in July of the following year.

10 celebrities reveal the great Canadians who inspired them.

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First issue of Reader's Digest Canada
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

1948: The Start of Reader’s Digest Canada

One year after Sélection makes its first appearance on newsstands, Reader’s Digest begins publishing an English-language edition in Canada. The publication quickly builds a reputation as one of the country’s most read and most influential magazines.

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Cancer expose in Reader's Digest Canada
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

December 1952: A Groundbreaking Investigation

While statistics about the health risks of smoking cigarettes started to surface as early as the mid-1940s, the majority of the public is kept in the dark until Reader’s Digest publishes the groundbreaking article “Cancer by the Carton.” The story summarized the latest science linking tobacco to lung cancer at a time when an estimated 54 per cent of Canadians smoke. Reader’s Digest is credited with contributing to the largest drop in cigarette consumption since the Depression.

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Cigarettes in carton
Photo: Shutterstock

1954: We Say No to Big Tobacco

The tobacco industry responds by introducing filter cigarettes, which they say will trap toxins before they can settle in the lungs. Full-page ads claiming that the research linking tobacco to cancer is inconclusive are placed in hundreds of newspapers. Reader’s Digest becomes one of the first magazines to deny ads from cigarette companies. The publication continues to report on the topic with the release of a July article titled “Facts About the Cigarette Scare” debunking the filter-cigarette myths.

Try these ways to stop smoking and start your path towards a healthier life.

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John Wayne in The Longest Day
Photo: Collection Christophel/Alamy Stock Photo

June and July 1959: D-Day is Revisited

Reader’s Digest publishes “The Longest Day,” a two-part excerpt of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Several years later, in 1962, it is adapted into a film. In addition to John Wayne, the cast features Sean Connery, Richard Burton and Ottawa native Paul Anka.

Here’s how Cree code talkers from Alberta helped win WWII.

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Book cover of Roots by Alex Haley
Photo: Amazon.ca

May and June 1974: The Roots of Roots

An excerpt of Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family appears in Reader’s Digest in two instalments. In 1977, the mini-series adaptation will draw a record-breaking audience of 130 million.

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1960 issue of Reader's Digest
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

1976: A Foundation to Promote Canadian Journalism

Reader’s Digest Magazines Canada establishes a foundation to promote high-quality journalism. Since that time, the foundation has given away $3.6 million in grants.

Check out our profile of Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme!

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Man reading the Bible
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September 1982: The Holy Book, Abridged

The Reader’s Digest Association publishes a condensed version of the Bible—40 per cent shorter than the 850,000-word revised standard version—after seven years of planning. The special edition is later presented to Pope John Paul II.

Check out 9 Famous Quotes That Everyone Gets Wrong All the Time.

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Red AIDS ribbon
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1987: AIDS Awareness Campaign Debuts

When the AIDS crisis starts making national headlines in the 1980s, Reader’s Digest responds by launching an advertising campaign to educate people on protecting themselves and their loved ones. The six-page magazine spread runs in 38 countries and 15 languages.

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Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams in The Vow
Photo: Courtesy of Screen Gems

June 1995: Love Story Writ Large

The true story that inspires the romantic drama The Vow (2012), starring Canadian Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, appears in the pages of Reader’s Digest as “For Better, For Worse.” It was later republished as “An Affair to Remember.”

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1952 issue of Reader's Digest Canada
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

2001: We’re the Most Trusted!

In a Roper poll, Reader’s Digest Canada is named the country’s most trusted magazine brand—a status it has held almost every year since.

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2010 issue of Reader's Digest Canada
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

January 2008: We’re Named the Most Influential Magazine

An expert panel convened by Masthead, the periodical industry’s watchdog, names Reader’s Digest Canada the most influential magazine in the country’s publishing history.

These life lessons are as valuable today as when they first appeared in the pages of Reader’s Digest magazine.

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Map of Shame health feature
Photo: Courtesy of Reader's Digest Canada

September 2010: Healthcare Failings Revealed

Map of Shame,” an investigative health feature in Reader’s Digest Canada, reveals a lack of standardization in cancer treatment across the country. The story exposes enormous discrepancies in drug access between provinces, amounting to a “postcode lottery.”

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70th anniversary illustration
Illustration: Mike Ellis

2017: It’s Our Birthday!

Reader’s Digest Canada turns 70 and thanks all of you! Here’s to enjoying our past, present and future—together!

Check out the 70 Most LOL-Worthy Jokes in Reader’s Digest History!

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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