Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, March 31, 2014

the story of a great Canadian magazine

The subtitle of this post could read "I may be the only person alive who finds this interesting, but since it's my blog..."

I've mentioned a few times Judith's incredible gift of many many issues of the fine Canadian old house publication Century Home. I have been working my way through the collection, highlighting articles for my research (and to read because they're just so darned interesting, as they reveal the evolution of our relationship with our heritage homes and domestic furnishings), from the Premiere Issue March-April 1983, through its decline (imho) into a 'décor trends' magazine, and eventual demise, in the way of so many fine and important Canadian magazines.

As old popular press and films do, the magazines also reflect a change in who we are: what advertising worked on us, what photography we found interesting (yes, early issues had some black and white photos still), what we thought our homes - and ourselves should look like. Oh indeed, there were plenty of big-haired gals in country peasant-wear and Victorian ruffles in early issues.


One morning recently, I spread the collection over every surface in my living room. My goal was to remove all duplicate issues, both to reduce the number I have stacked in my research pile and to make possible a trickle-down to some other old house nut. As I scanned the array, checking for doubles (which became as obsessive as a jig-saw puzzle), I began to notice different title styles. The magazine started as Canada Century Home. By the 1990's it claimed to be Canada's Magazine for Traditional and Country Living and by 1998 it was Canada's Magazine for Today's Traditional Home. Another change and by 2001 it was Canada's Magazine of Country Living and Style.

I would love to have been a cluster fly on the plaster, as editorial and layout discussions took place over the years. Joan Rumgay started out as editor, working from the family home in Port Hope. The impressive Tom Cruickshank guided the magazine from 1985 to 1997. Mrs. Rumgay reappeared as editor in chief in 1998, leading a talented group of contributing editors and by 2001 Erin McLaughlin took over. On her watch, Century Home evolved into a decorating magazine, with  stylish photography and clever tips on how to 'get the country look'. Fewer historic home visits, little heritage preservation sensitivity, limited Ontario town and family history, less information about architecture and furniture, no book reviews - less authentic somehow. Ryerson Review of Journalism (see link below) chided the magazine's earlier incarnations for their "rather limited focus on older homes." It's called Century Home, people, what would you expect!?

Erin was at the beginning of an impressive editorial career. By 2010 she became the "style savvy editor in chief" for Style at Home and Canadian Gardening. (Masthead's words). Erin brought her style savvy to CH - it's hard to explain the subtle changes, but I know that I fell out of love with it.

Here's what Ryerson Review of Journalism said on the matter the summer of 2002: "Century Home, now helmed by Erin McLaughlin, a former House and Home staffer, was repositioned in February 2001 as a rurally-oriented alternative to the more urban style of both House and Home and Style at Home." Despite very little experience in the trade, McLaughlin was hired "to create an entirely new identity for the sagging Century Home. Once a magazine for the genteel 50-plus rural Ontario woman, Century Home has morphed into a bona fide 21st century shelter book complete with clean modern lines and trendy décor. House and Home gone country, some might say." Ick. Here's the rest of the article.

Under Erin's leadership the magazine more than doubled its circulation in the first year. But where is it now? I wonder if there was more interest in the authentic and historical than the publishers suspected. Because that's how they lost me.

Premiere issue, March-April 1983
For the last word on this tribute to a great lost magazine, I offer publisher/editor Joan Rumgay's thoughts from the premiere issue, March/April 1983: "In all fairness, Century Home is not just a magazine about homes, it is a frame of mind. It is an appreciation of today's living but a freedom from the rush. It is a feeling of warmth and beauty; it is a desire for simplicity and serenity; it is a love of character and individuality; it is a sharing of information and experiences."

And as every last word begs for a post-script:
One very nice discovery in my exploration was several issues in which Diane Brisley features, writing about blanket boxes, wood-graining, stencilling and other decorative arts. Diane and John appear a number of times, as Tom Cruickshank followed their old house restoration journey from Peterborough to Bath to Centreville and finally to Prince Edward County. I got to visit them earlier this endless winter; the account of our visit will be in the Spring issue of County and Quinte Living.


  1. So nice to know that Century Home is so fondly remembered. As you might already know, the magazine was the brainchild of Don and Joan Rumgay, whose enthusiasm for restoration went well beyond fixing up their own house (the Bluestone in Port Hope) and spilled into a publishing venture. They were quite brave to launch a magazine in the recession of the early 80s and it is to their credit that it flourished for so long. Through it all, Joan was definitely the driving force in everything from day-to-day operations, ad sales, production and editorial direction (you’re giving me too much credit)

    When choosing homes to feature, we always wrestled with the issue of just how “pure” should the décor be? Is the magazine about decorating or restoration? Or both? Do we try to attract more readers or stay true to our roots? Seems the same questions were still being asked after the Rumgays sold Century Home to a major media company in 2000. By then, tastes were changing and even similar U.S. magazines were dropping like flies: Colonial Homes, Victoria, Country Home. So I thoroughly understand why the new owners adopted a new direction when Century Home morphed into Canadian Home & Country. Erin gave it a good shot, but I think the new mag turned off Century Home’s base audience and didn’t attract enough new ones.

    1. Is it possible to find the 1984 April/May issue of Canada Century Home?

  2. Good Morning - I am searching for info from a 1988 issue of Century Home magazine that includes a story on the 1825 Samuel Mercer house in Etibocoke. Do you happen to have a copy of this issue. I am looking for any pictures showing the inside of the home. Best regards, Bob Moe, Greenville, SC

    1. Oh my goodness, I am ages behind on replies to this blog, apologies! Bobert, I will check through my pile of Century Home magazines. I don't have any duplicates, gave those away ages ago, but if I find the issue I could scan the relevant pages.

  3. Replies
    1. Sorry, no idea. I have a large collection, but I don't think I'm ready to part with it yet. Unless you have a specific issue in mind?

  4. I have a large collection that I just put outside for pickup. It was a great publication but I'm finally ready to part with it.

  5. re: back issues. I have a complete set from 1983-2002 (129 issues) for sale in Toronto. Please contact me if interested.

  6. I am trying to find the issue which featured Harry and Shirley Foster's home in Elgin County on the cover. Harry died several years ago and Shirley is in a retirement home. The farm will have to be sold. I am Shirley's brother and can be reached at cell 519 701 2391

  7. I am sorry to hear your family's fortunes have changed, and a treasured farm is being sold. Sadly I cannot help. I parted with my collection a numberr of years ago. As you can see from the comment from Bill, posted 2 years ago, issues are still available here and there. I wish you success in your search.

  8. My husband bought me a subscription to Century Homes when we were first together back in the early 80’s … regrettably I gave them all away a few years ago when we were trying to minimize 🙄 I absolutely loved the magazine and had the main floor of our home painted the way I’d seen in an ad - sort of sage green walls and darker green trim … unfortunately my husband, for reasons known only to him, repainted the walls a darker green and the trim off white (looking back I believe he was planning if we had to downsize)
    My husband died almost five years ago and I do not like the dark green as it’s just too dark but now I don’t have the paint can or the ad or paint name we originally had so I’m hunting for what I think is closest … oh how I wish I’d kept those wonderful magazines and wish they were still in existence
    Also imagine my delight when I opened one edition to find the house in Cambridge I had lived in as a nanny when I came to Canada in the late 70’s! It had changed as the family had sold and moved

  9. I love your recollections of how important that magazine was to you...and as you can see from other comments, to many other Canadians. The magazine informed my decorating and furnishing decisions when we purchased a century home in the 1980s. But as the friend to whom I gave my collection observed, the ideas seem dated now, so you probably will find contemporary
    sources to help you with painting decisions. Several lines of paint have historical colours palettes. This decorating after losing our spouses is both sad and liberating; I identify fully.

  10. Was able to attend a Port Hope Century Home and Garden tour (likely late 1970's) including the Bluestone House, the kitchen of which remains burned into my memory all these years later!