Fifth House Publishers

Publications that give a voice to writers and topics from Western Canada

Respected writer/editor Caroline Heath founded Fifth House in 1982 as a literary press specializing in fiction, poetry, and Native titles. The name Fifth House has astrological origins concerned with the alignment of the planets and the creative act.

In 1988, Fraser Seely bought the company. Fifth House became a trade book publisher focusing on Western Canadian nonfiction, biography, and Native titles. The demise of Hurtig Publishers and Western Producer Prairie Books around this time presented an opportunity—and a need—to fill the regional void. Titles were selected for quality, marketability, and contribution to an understanding of Western Canadian history, culture, and environment. The press soon established a distinct identity as a voice for writers and topics from the Canadian West, with strong editorial and marketing programs. This commitment was based on the belief that “in an era of globalization, it is important not to lose sight of the regional lives, histories, and communities that define us.” Fifth House slogan: “Bringing the West to the Rest.”

Expansion and distribution of publications via U of T Press

In 1995, Seely started a new division, Pronghorn Books, based in Calgary. Pronghorn was wholly owned by Fifth House but operated separately. It served as the Western Canadian distribution centre from Calgary while central and Eastern Canada were serviced by U of T Press. In addition to Fifth House books, Pronghorn carried front list titles from publishers distributed by U of T.

Seely also started a successful catalogue wholesale business: The Great West Collection and The Native Book List. The main customers were the many people who did not have easy access to bookstores, as well as schools, both Native and non-Native. The catalogues were focused and niche oriented with dedicated sales staff.

In 1997, the Fifth House editorial offices moved from Saskatoon to Calgary to join the distribution and wholesale division and, under managing editor and later publisher Charlene Dobmeier, continued its mandate to publish books about the people, places, and issues of Western Canada.

Fifth House has published numerous local and Canadian bestsellers in history, biography, Native Studies, gardening, weather, photography, and natural history. These publications have been shortlisted for Governor General awards three times. The books have won numerous Saskatchewan and Alberta book awards and prizes from the Canadian Authors Association, Cuisine Canada, and others.

Fifth House Press joins the Fitzhenry & Whiteside family of Canadian publishing houses

Fitzhenry & Whiteside bought Fifth House in 1999, but the press maintained an independent publishing program releasing about twenty books annually.

In 2003, Fifth House celebrated twenty years of publishing. Noted historian and prolific author Hugh Dempsey said at the time: “Fifth House is the best publisher in the West, with a broad number of books on popular and timely topics. Fifth House does an excellent job. They’ve been able to adjust at various levels to the problems of the market and have a good feel for the broad range of the market. That’s enabled them to survive.”

Ten Fifth House Highlights

  • The Rez Sisters, a play by Tomson Highway, went platinum, selling more than 100,000 copies.
  • Shortlisted three times for the Governor General Award, in drama and nonfiction.
  • Best Nonfiction Book at Saskatchewan Book Awards, seven years running.
  • Started the Western Canadian Classics series, designed to keep the best Western Canadiana available. Titles included The Palliser Expedition by Irene Spry, These Mountains Are Our Sacred Places by Chief John Snow, and The Winter Years by James Gray.
  • Serviced the rural Canadian market, which had limited access to bookstores, by establishing The Great West Collection mail order catalogue. Personal service included a dedicated customer service rep. Customers could order by mail, by phone, or visit the showroom.
  • Focus on Native titles and distribution through mail-order catalogue The Native Book List, selling books by Canadian publishers as well as Fifth House titles.
  • Reissued series of Pierre Berton young adult Canadian history books.
  • Publisher of the hugely popular Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar by David Phillips.
  • Alberta Publisher of the Year in 2007 and 2008, cited by jurors for “strong editing, marketing, and design.”
  • “We’re small but we’re mighty.”