Realizing that no typeface had been designed in Canada since James Evans’ Cree syllabary of 1840, Dair applied for funding to learn type design and punch-cutting.
Carl Dair was born 24 February 1912 in Welland, Ontario. He worked as a newsboy and later as salesman for the Welland-Port Colborne Evening Tribune where editor Louis Blake Duff recognized his potential and fostered in him an interest in books, typography, design, and writing. Dair worked in sales and layout for the Stratford Beacon-Herald in 1930, and as a self-taught, freelance printer during the 1930s. He moved to Montreal in 1940, honed his skills at various printing and design houses, and took up the post of Typographical Director for the National Film Board of Canada in 1945. He established Eveleigh-Dair Studios in 1947 with fellow designer Henry Eveleigh, and lectured on typography at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and l’École des Beaux Arts. An accomplished and evocative writer, Dair began contributing articles to such publications as Canadian Art and The Printing Review of Canada in the late 1940s. The first edition of his acclaimed and influential Design with Type was published by the E.B. Eddy Company in 1946.
Dair moved to Toronto in 1951 and worked as a freelance designer. Realizing that no typeface had been designed in Canada since James Evans’ Cree syllabary of 1840, Dair applied for funding to learn type design and punch-cutting. In 1956 he received a Canadian Government Overseas fellowship, which enabled him, accompanied by his wife, Edith, and two young daughters, to travel to Europe to study at the Joh. Enschedé en Zonen Type foundry, Haarlem, Netherlands. During this time, he wrote detailed, witty letters, which he dubbed “Epistles to the Torontonians” to colleagues back home.
Between 1959 and 1962 he lectured on typography at the Ontario College of Art. In 1963 Dair and family relocated to Kingston, Jamaica, where he spent two years teaching at the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts. After his return to Toronto, he continued work as a designer and consultant, and completed a proposal to establish a school of printing and a university press at the University of The West Indies. Although ill health forced him to cut back on his work for a time, he continued to be very active, and was particularly occupied, in the mid-1960s, in completing a new edition of Design with Type (published in 1967) and in finalizing the design of his font, Cartier, which he had conceptualized in 1955. Cartier was released on 1 January 1967 as a Centennial gift to the people of Canada.
Dair was active in numerous Canadian design groups, including the Society of Typographic Designers of Canada, Guild of Hand Printers, and the Art Directors Club of Toronto. His international prestige grew during the late 1950s and 1960s: in 1956 he was the sole Canadian invited to contribute to Libor Liborum, a folio issued by the Royal Society, Stockholm, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Gutenberg Bible. Three years later he was appointed to the board of the International Center for the Typographic Arts (ICTA) in New York, the same year in which he was awarded a silver medal at the Internationale Buchkunst-Ausstellung, Leipzig. Dair was a spokesman for ITCA at the annual graphic communications gathering in France known as Rendez-vous de Lurs, was made a ‘Companion de Lurs’ and was a judge at the international competition, Typomundus 60, in 1964. Throughout his career he garnered numerous awards in Canada, including a medal from the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts for “distinguished achievement” in 1963. Dair died suddenly on 28 September 1967 following a lecture in New York City. At his request, a tree was planted and a memorial plaque erected in his honour at a school in Richvale, Ontario. He continues to be celebrated as one of Canada’s most influential typographic designers.
Awarded Fellowship 1967