NOW turns 40: Our cover story hits and misses

We take a trip through the archives for our 40th anniversary


10 memorable NOW Magazine cover stories

Surviving for 40 years in print is no small feat in today’s media landscape.  Reader habits have changed, culture has shifted (and shifted again). What might have been considered “alternative” a couple of decades ago is now mainstream, and reassessing the past to understand how we got to the present has become a popular pastime. In that spirit, we’re revisiting 40 covers that illustrate how NOW’s journalism has evolved while recapping a few big hits – and regrettable misses. 

10 memorable news covers (in no particular order)

The Naked Truth About Rob Ford (March 31, 2011)

Rob Ford had been in office for just a few months and was already running roughshod over opponents at city hall when NOW featured the newly minted Bonnie Prince of the neo-conservative revival – and his “evil plot to rule the right” – on the cover in nothing but boxers. We used a model and some creative Photoshop. It immediately struck a nerve. The mayor’s office ordered all issues of the paper on stands in city hall trashed. We were alerted to the fact by the city staffer on the QT. Soon members of the city hall press gallery were on the story. It made international headlines with the New York-based website Gawker – the same folks that would eventually break the crack video story – venturing how Ford managed to turn a minor controversy into a headline grabber. To be sure, nobody knew then what a shit-show the reign of Rob Ford would turn out to be.

Canada 150, Indigenous Voices Speak Out On Truth, Reconciliation and Resistance (March 30, 2017)

Many of the country’s best creative minds have graced the cover of NOW. But it was a rare occasion when our cover on Canada’s celebration of 150 years of Confederation featured the aptly titled The Subjugation Of Truth by Cree artist Kent Monkman. It’s one of a series of paintings by the Cree artist exploring Canada’s brutal history of colonization. From the cultural genocide of Canada‘s residential school system to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to this summer‘s discovery of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children, that history continues to unfold. As Pam Palmater wrote at the time, “Most mistakenly believe genocide only occurs when millions of people are killed in concentration camps.” 

Farewell Jack Layton, 1950-2011 (August 25, 2011)

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Hot on the heels of his historic electoral showing, federal NDP leader Jack Layton was waging a war in his body with an unspecified cancer. No one knew it at the time as Layton soldiered on. But when he called a press conference in July a couple of months after riding the Orange Wave to official opposition status to announce he would be temporarily stepping down, it was clear that he was not well. Layton would never realize his dream of taking his rightful place in the opposition benches of the House. And on the 10th anniversary of his death in the middle of a pandemic – and one of the nastiest federal elections in recent memory – its  hard to ignore the importance of his message of love over anger and hope over fear. To the NOW family, Layton was not just a symbol of optimism. He was a friend, including a welcome presence in front of the piano at NOW holiday parties.

K’naan’s Imperial Slam (February 1, 2007)

The Dusty Foot Philosopher from Mogadishu, aka K’naan, cut a stunning figure on the cover of our Black Hisotry Month issue. He left war-ravaged Somalia at the age of 13. After a short stay in New York City he arrived in Rexdale. He would turn his experiences with war and racism into song, and in 2006 won the Juno for best rap recording. He would become a spokesperson for his generation and perform at the UN High Commission for Refugees in Geneva. Canada had long left the country after a shameful tour with UN forces in the early 90s. But U.S. forces would return. As K’naan wrote at the time: “On Christmas Eve 2006 Ethiopia, cheered on by the U.S.-inspired Transnational Federal Government, invaded my birth country, Somalia, and overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts. To Africans, this story seems all-to-familiar – division and conquest war and subjugation – and here we are.”  

Be Carfeul Toronto, Your Racism Is Showing (July 14, 2016)

When Black Lives Matter Toronto was selected as Pride Toronto’s honorary group for the 2016 parade, the organization had already turned the old ways of fighting against anti-Black racism on its head. But BLM–TO had another statement to make about Pride’s own white-centric history. Members of the group stopped the parade to deliver that message, megaphone and all. Ethan Eisenberg’s award-winning photo captured the moment. The city and discussions about Black pride and self determination would forever be changed. 

9/11 New York Hijacked (September 13, 2001)

It was around 8:45 am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when a passenger jet filled with fuel – and more than 200 passengers – was flown by an Al-Qaeda terrorist into the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Fifteen minutes later, another would hit the north tower. A third plane would hit the Pentagon. And a fourth, reportedly destined for the Capitol building in Washington, DC, would crash somewhere in the wilds of small-town Pennsylvania after passengers rushed the cockpit and overpowered the hijackers. Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was also deadline day at NOW. There would be no time to change the cover photo, weeks in the planning. As the world tried to make sense of the tragedy that would ultimately lead to America’s longest war, so did we as the office phones were ringing with news from witnesses at Ground Zero. U.S. foreign policy experts, pundits and peace activists offered their takes on the mayhem. Noam Chomsky offered an unpopular opinion at the time. The attacks were atrocities, he said, but they did not reach the level of atrocities committed by the U.S abroad. He mentioned Clinton’s bombing of Sudan and destruction of its pharmaceutical industry. He also called the 9/11 attacks “a gift to the hard, jingoist right.” His words would prove prescient.

Take Back The City, Miller For Mayor (November 6, 2003)

As the summer turned to fall and Torontonians turned their attention to the mayoral election of 2003, David Miller was sitting in third place. And it looked like he was headed for defeat. But the more Torontonians got to know Miller, the more they liked him. His smarts were undeniable. More than just concerning himself with the nuts and bolts issues of city governance he had a vision for the city. It was called Transit City. The plan to criss-cross the city with light rail was not only his ticket to electoral victory – it was also a roadmap for city building. Miller would be re-elected in 2007, but ultimately leave too soon on the cusp of the arrival of one Rob Ford, and handcuffed by a timid liberal government at Queen’s Park under Dalton McGuinty. Parts of his transit city project continue to be built today some years too late, but nevertheless providing a base for the future growth and direction of the city.

Stop The Violence. End The Silence (November 13, 2014)

Sexual assault allegations against CBC radio star Jian Ghomeshi triggered a national conversation on violence against women. Little did we know then that it would be the beginning of a global reckoning on the epidemic of sexual assault. Me Too would soon be born. It’s a wonder it took so long. The statistics tell us that 60 per cent of Canadians know a woman who has experienced sexual abuse. But as Susan G. Cole asked at the time “What happens after the inevitable backlash?” Not enough, it turns out. Indeed, the trial that would follow would end with Ghomeshi being exonerated on all charges. 

After The Flood (September 14, 2017)

The Toronto Islands have a long and tempestuous history of storms, shipwrecks and politics. Back when the islands were actually part of a peninsula connected to the mainland, Indigenous peoples used them as a resting place. A storm in 1858 would knock out a section of the peninsula creating the western gap and cutting off the islands from the mainland. Floods became a yearly occurrence with rising lake levels in the 1950s and 60s. But the deluge of 2017 was no freak of nature. It was a warning sign of things to come. The images of Island resident and photographer Sean Tamblyn captured the devastation.

G20 Five Years Later (July 23, 2015)

For three days in the summer of 2010 the city of Toronto resembled an armed camp as it hosted the G20 summit of world leaders. Fences cut off the entire downtown. In the days prior to the event, police menacingly strolled the perimeter. By Saturday, protestors and police would converge at University and College where clashes would turn into the largest civil rights breach in Canadian history. Images of police in riot gear and on horseback trampling protestors and locking them up in a holding facility on Eastern Avenue would be witnessed the world over. Many innocent bystanders would be caught up in violence. Dozens would be kettled by cops at Queen and Spadina in the rain for hours for no reason other than the cops wanted to send a message. Five years after the maelstrom, those responsible had yet to be held to account. By then, the prolonged injustice had radicalized a new generation of young people in racialized communities against police violence. For them, what happened at the G20 was their reality every day. 

10 regrettable covers

With over 2,000 covers, there are bound to be a few wrong calls. Whether the cover subjects have made questionable creative choices or done horrible things in their personal/professional lives, these subjects – all but one are people – now seem regrettable. 

Vanilla Ice (March 21, 1991)

Sure, writer Tim Perlich pointed out that rapper Vanilla Ice was a music marketing phenomenon who, like Elvis and Pat Boone before him, made Black music acceptable to a mainstream white audience. But it’s hard not to smirk reading the artist’s closing quote: “I’m very excited about what I’m doing. My career in music is going to last a long time.”

Naomi Wolf (October 31, 1991)

Back in the early 90s, Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, was at the head of a new wave of feminists critiquing unattainable and dangerous standards of beauty and pointing out how the legal system puts rape victims on trial. Now she’s an anti-vaxxer who got suspended from Twitter earlier this year for spreading misinformation.

Moxy Fruvous (July 9, 1992)

Before Jian Ghomeshi became a well-known CBC broadcaster and personality on the show Q, which he hosted from 2007-14, he was one fourth of this buzzy, left-leaning  “quasi-a-cappella” group. Back then he had long hair and spelled his first name Jean. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault – and one of the city’s highest profile legal cases – were in his future. 

Ron Jeremy (February 7, 2002)

The porn star legend graced the cover for a documentary about him, and he made a very good interview. We’re pretty sure no one else in 40 years ever said: “Let me see Sir John Gielgud do Hamlet with a boner, let’s see him do a soliloquy with an erection. It’s not easy.” Alas, what goes up must come down. Last month, Jeremy was indicted on 34 sex crime charges. 

Woody Allen (May 2, 2002)

As many interviewees point out in the recent HBO docuseries Allen Vs. Farrow, there was a time when we were all under the spell of Allen. That includes NOW. When he embarked on a very rare press tour – to help restore his image? – we put the director on the cover for his fine but unremarkable film Hollywood Ending, featuring yet another May-September love story. 

Jennifer Lopez (May 23, 2002)

JLo delivered an award-worthy performance a few years ago in Hustlers, and she was very good in the Steven Soderbergh Out Of Sight. But while she’s a lively interview, putting her on the cover for the underwhelming revenge film Enough was probably a mistake, especially since we gave the movie two Ns. 

Kevin Spacey  (January 13, 2005)

There’s an eerie, prescient line in Cameron Bailey’s cover story on Spacey for Beyond The Sea, the Bobby Darin biopic Spacey directed, co-wrote and starred in. “There’s only one ass on the line, and even if it’s sheathed in Savile Row, it can still get kicked.” For the last few years, Spacey has been smarting from the swift kick that resulted from multiple sexual misconduct allegations.

Louis C.K. (July 8, 2010)

Once one of the defining stand-ups of his generation, C.K. admitted in 2017 to several incidents of sexual misconduct. His film I Love You, Daddy, which played at TIFF that year, was pulled from distribution before release. And his comedy career abruptly stopped. He’s since attempted several comebacks, including performing on a local comedy stage in Toronto, where he got a standing ovation from loyal fans. And he’s released another comedy special, one that directly addresses his bad behaviour.

Joseph Boyden (October 24, 2013)

When this story came out, the Giller Prize-winning novelist was considered a literary rock star, and the book he was promoting – The Orenda – was nominated for the Governor General’s Award. For the NOW photo cover shoot he proudly sported a Tribe Called Red T-shirt, saying he liked that the band made “traditional culture hip for young audiences – and not just Aboriginal audiences.” His cred dried up four years later when it was revealed his claims about his Indigenous ancestry were exaggerated. He hasn’t released a book since 2016.

Decolonizing Cannabis (April 19, 2018)

The cover story about the impact of the legalization of marijuana on Indigenous communities featured an illustration that caused an uproar on social media. Jason Carter, a sculptor and illustrator from Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta, created images of a bear wearing a headdress of marijuana leaves. His intention was to playfully explore cultural symbols. After receiving dozens of comments saying the image was insulting and disrespectful and trivialized the sacred image of the headdress, both NOW and Carter issued clarifications and apologies.

10 food and lifestyle covers

From waste-free living to pegging and soup – we’ve put it all on the cover. In the past decade, there’s been a gradual shift toward lifestyle-oriented covers, a reflection of evolving reader interests. Stories about housing, local business, food and sex have been the most widely read in recent years, and the pandemic – on top of the existing forces of population growth, increasing economic precarity and the changing media landscape – has only made the bottom line even more top-of-mind.

Love Your Body (January 8, 2015)

We traditionally did a New Year’s resolutions issue during the first week of January. In 2015, writer Sabrina Maddeaux and photographer Tanja-Tiziana kicked off a new yearly tradition: Love Your Body, a way to promote feeling good about your body and scrap the negativity of weight loss and exercise-oriented resolutions. It turns out there’s no shortage of Torontonians interested in posting naked.

The Green Issue (April 19, 2007)

Adria Vasil’s Ecoholic column was a NOW staple in the early 00s, chronicling the rise of green and organic consumerism with eco-friendly advice on everything from recycled sunglasses and toxin-free mattresses to living waste-free for two weeks. She would go on to parlay the column into three books.

East Vs West (March 11, 2010)

Eleven years ago, NOW explored the “east vs. west” social divide in Toronto. Publisher/co-founder Michael Hollett defended the east and online editor Joshua Errett threw down for the west, comparing everything from local watering holes and parks to venues and activist organizing. House prices would skyrocket in the next decade, making “east” and “west” way less affordable than leaving town altogether.

The Sellout Issue (May 12, 2011)

We plastered the front cover with corporate logos for this meditation by Michael Hollett on the idea of selling out. All the money from the big brands that paid for the exposure was donated to the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre. The issue listed  off Torontonians who’d gone commercial (Feist, Margaret Atwood), and included a story about actors who do TV spots. Less than a decade later, NOW would sell – to Media Central Corporation.

Toronto’s best soup (January 22, 2015)

Listicles have become a go-to format in the food pages (hell, you’re reading one now). Readers and restaurants alike love them. In the past decade, we’ve listed off Toronto’s best mac n’ cheese, dumplings, brunch and BBQ. But nothing beats a comforting bowl of steamin’ hot soup in the throes of January.

Toronto’s best indie breweries (July 20, 2017)

There’s only so many ways to photograph a mug of beer. For our annual beer issue in 2017, we listed off 24 hot Toronto breweries and put Renee Navarro, co-founder of the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies, on the cover in a shot that turned into a minor meme moment. With the rise of social media, more and more food, drinks and local business owners would gain the kind of buzz and profile to merit a cover appearance.

Love & Sex: Beggin’ for peggin’ (February 7, 2019)

Our Valentine’s-timed love and sex issue has gone from readers’ survey to probing features on throuples, online dating fatigue and breaking up in a housing crisis (see above). But how do you visualize a story about straight men who enjoy taking it up the butt? With a cute ceramic bear in leather harness (courtesy of Pansy Ass Ceramics), obviously. We initially tried to go more literal for this one and it was way too on the, er, nose. (And by nose I mean strap-on. Fleshy, anatomically correct strap-on.)

Renovicted (August 30, 2018)

Affordable housing has become one of the biggest issues in real estate-obsessed Toronto. We’ve done several cover stories on the topic, from the rising cost of living in Scarborough to putting housing lawyer Leilani Farha on the cover (April 25, 2019). Before “renoviction” was a buzz word on the election trail, it was – and remains – a harbinger of Ontario’s utter policy failure to protect vulnerable renters from predatory capitalism.

Toronto goes indoors (March 26, 2020)

NOW has been known for high-quality portraiture, but in recent years we’ve done more illustrated covers. When COVID hit, the brilliant cartoonist Eric Kostiuk Williams turned around an entirely illustrated cover story about life under lockdown that we turned into a weekly comic. It was the first of a handful of feature stories touching on mental health during the pandemic.

Short staffed (August 19, 2021)

One of the most-read stories in the history of NOW, this feature on restaurant workers fleeing the sector due to job conditions and wages resonated far and wide, and received a huge number of comments on our site and on social media. The economic plight of workers in the areas we have traditionally covered (like food, live entertainment and arts) is now a popular subject, and the greater the focus on the plight of everyday workers, the more interest we see.

10 entertainment covers we got right

NOW’s artist profile covers have always fallen into two groups. We either catch them before they’re about to break through, or we sit down with them once they’re established and doing something different. The artist-on-the-rise covers are always more exciting. Granted, our predictions don’t always turn out right, and there are many artists who should have been on the cover and weren’t. But in these 10 cases, the stars literally aligned.

Jim Carrey (April 1, 1982)

As with music, theatre and film, NOW covered the burgeoning comedy scene and put artists on the cover who had yet to hit the mainstream. Case in point, the rubber-faced, Toronto-born 20-year-old impressionist Jim Carrey, who had made his mark in local clubs but was years away from doing In Living Color and the blockbuster movies that would make him a comedy superstar.

Joel and Ethan Coen (April 4, 1985)

The Coen brothers have amassed as impressive and consistent a body of work as any living film director – from Oscar-winning fare like Fargo and No Country For Old Men to cult classics like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona. NOW put them on the cover for their first, the neo noir film Blood Simple.

The Tragically Hip (August 31, 1989)

The Hip are rightfully looked at as Canadian icons now, but once they were a promising college rock band playing university bars from Queens to Dalhousie. They were on their way up when NOW first put Bobby Baker and “Gordon” Downie on the cover in 1989, but we could see the path unfolding. “The Hip are hoping their musical strengths will subdue the ‘success story’ and buy them a shot at the long haul,” the story goes. What they found was immortality.

Paris Is Burning (June 13, 1991)

While our film covers usually centred on an actor or director involved in a film, we occasionally put the spotlight on a film itself. That was the case with Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s documentary about the Harlem drag ball subculture, which has only become more important in the 30 years since its debut. Not only has it continued to influence every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but, as writer Cameron Bailey points out in the story, long before Madonna’s 1990 song Vogue video hit MTV, Livingston was working on the film.

Russell Peters (December 11, 1997)

Brampton-raised Russell Peters is one of the most successful stand-up comics of all time. Writer Daryl Jung spotted his talent early on, and in the lead paragraph compared him to a boxer, saying he’d become a “bona fide, real-deal world-championship contender.” The talent for impersonations and the sharp cultural criticism was always there; the scope of Peters’s career is what’s key. By 1997, he had already made inroads in Canada, the U.S. and the UK. But when, a few years later, bits of his act were uploaded to the internet and shared via social media, he became comedy’s first global superstar.

Heath Ledger (May 10, 2001)

NOW had a history of putting film actors on covers for their breakthrough roles – Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth, Hilary Swank for her Oscar-winning performance in Boys Don’t Cry, and so on. In 2001, two years after charming the teen set with the rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You, Ledger had clearly demonstrated his potential, helming the entertaining A Knight’s Tale (which landed him on this cover). But I don’t think anyone knew that over the next few years he would go on to make movie history in Brokeback Mountain and The Dark Knight. The latter won him a posthumous Oscar before his tragic death at 28. 

Elliot Page (November 3, 2005)

When NOW put Page on the cover for the first time, the story was accompanied by the words “Canada’s next big movie star.” Page was in a small indie film called Mouth To Mouth, but the actor had already made X-Men 3, which would of course be seen by tens of millions around the world. An Oscar nomination for Juno followed two years later. After more than a decade of strong work and political activism, last year Page made history by coming out as trans. Talk about influential. 

Amy Winehouse (May 10, 2007)

SXSW used to be the place where a band built buzz on their way to an explosion, and this 2007 Amy Winehouse cover might be the best example of it. Tim Perlich caught up with the then-rising singer at 2007’s Austin, Texas music festival and you can read her aura through the words of the profile – a classic NOW “get ’em as they explode” music cover. A decade after Winehouse’s death, the interview has some serious tragic undertones. 

Ins Choi (July 7, 2011)

Not many plays go on to become cultural phenomena. But that’s what happened to Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience, which began life as a Fringe play 10 years ago, toured and got remounted several times and then spun off into a groundbreaking Canadian sitcom that made stars of cast members Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Simu Liu, the latest Marvel hero.

Mustafa (October 1, 2020)

As hard as we tried, NOW was never able to land a cover interview with the Weeknd before his debut concert at the Mod Club sent him on the path towards super-stardom. But we did get Mustafa, the sensitive singer/songwriter whose gorgeous songs seem like they could be leading him to similar heights. His debut Toronto headlining concert as a musician will be this December at Massey Hall – not a bad place to start. 

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