Time Capsule: The ’80s

Ushering in a decade of “me! Me! Me!”, the 1980s was paradoxically an era of recession and consumption. The disco and (now) classic rock of the 1970s gave way to synth and keytars, and movies like Ghostbusters and The Breakfast Club were on screens everywhere.


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After catching up on historical books this January, we’re cracking open time capsules from each decade to see what books – and publishers born during that time – will fall out.

The ’80s

What went on

  • Terry Fox dies of cancer at the midpoint of his cross-Canada Marathon of Hope in 1981. His efforts inspired Rick Hansen’s Man-in-Motion tour, a two-year marathon around the world in his wheelchair.
  • The Nintendo Entertainment System is released in 1985, bringing a whole new dimension to at-home video gaming.
  • Canada signed a free-trade agreement with the United States in 1987, opening up new possibilities for sharing resources but putting pressure on Canadian lawmakers to facilitate more trade with the United States.

Books of note

  • Judith Thompson’s White Biting Dog, the first play published by the new Playwrights Canada Press (an imprint established by the Playwrights Guild in 1984), which went on to win a Governor General’s Award for Drama that same year. 
  • Heather Spears’ The Word for Sand from Wolsak & Wynn related refugee and homeless experiences and won both the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Pat Lowther Award in 1988. 
  • Ronsdale Press hit the scene with Abbey, a comprehensive selection of poet Lloyd Abbey’s work. 
  • Dirty, Drunk and Punk (by Jennifer Morton, Insomniac Press) chronicles punk band/art collective Bunchofuckingoofs coming onto the scene in 1984, where they holed up in Toronto’s Kensington Market. They were anti-drugs and anti-racist but pro pretty much everything else.
  • Leanna Brodie’s play The Book of Esther (Talonbooks) follows a 15-year-old girl at the start of the 80s farm debt crisis, when she runs away from her ailing family farm to discover her sexuality.

Publisher Birthdays

Fun fact: Theytus Books is Canada’s first and oldest Indigenous publishing house.* * *That’s it for the ’80s! Stay tuned this Thursday for our next capsule unveiling. (And don’t forget to catch up on the 50s/60s and 70s, too.)