Jack McClelland, an icon of Canadian publishing has died. McClelland, 81, had been ill for some time.

McClelland began working for his father's company McClelland and Stewart in 1946. He became president in 1961.

When he took over he transformed the company by encouraging, supporting and publishing a new generation of Canadian writers, including such giants of Canadian literature as Irving Layton, Margaret Laurence, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findley.

"I would guess that 40 per cent or perhaps even 50 per cent of the books that we publish, in fact lost money. We consider this to be part of the business and the price you pay to get the sort of prestige success that they have had," he once said.

"I almost believe now that I have a mystical feeling, that I can judge whether or not a person can write a good book. And looking back over some 20 years in publishing, I'm now convinced that if I had I never read a manuscript, just met and talked to the author for an hour, that I might have made fewer publishing mistakes."

But perhaps, McClelland's most notable contribution was his marketing of Canadian literature. He often said that McClelland and Stewart published "authors not books."

Pierre Berton said promoting Canadian talent was McClelland's passion and he did it better than anyone else. "If you got a book with Jack McClelland you could be sure it would get publicized. He pushed the books and he knew how to do it. He was brilliant."

Farley Mowat, also a good friend of McClelland, said that 40 years ago McClelland talked him into turning down a British offer and to publish with his firm instead.

"I allowed myself to be talked into it and I'm so God damned glad I did, because as a result of his determination I have published continuously in Canada. I've remained a Canadian all my life. I've written about my country all my life and it's almost entirely due to Jack's influence," said Mowat.

During his nearly 40 years in publishing, McClelland said, it was always a struggle to keep the business solvent. He sold the company in 1985 and severed all ties two years later.

McClelland had been in frail health since a 1996 accident at his Florida condo. He was found unconscious at the bottom of the swimming pool and it is thought that he had had a minor stroke.