Cutler remembered as pioneering publisher, mayor

May Cutler, the accomplished children's book publisher and former Westmount mayor, has died.

May Cutler, the accomplished children's book publisher and former Westmount mayor, has died.

Cutler passed away Thursday as a result of deteriorating health. She was 87.

Westmount's current Mayor Peter Trent said Cutler was an unforgettable woman who left a lasting impression on her community and her country.

May Cutler is shown in the offices of her publishing company Tundra Books. ((CBC))
"I never really met a woman like her. I will miss her an awful lot. She did everything her own way. She didn't follow the crowd in anything she did," said Trent.

Friends and colleagues described Cutler on Friday as a trailblazer in the children's publishing industry.

Her love of literature and kids led her to found Tundra Books in the basement of her home in 1967.

Cutler published award winning authors including William Kurelek, Stéphanie Poulin, and Roch Carrier with his classic book, The Hockey Sweater.

Ahead of her time

Montreal bookseller Nicholas Hoare said Cutler influenced generations of children's book publishers and writers.

"She was a children's publisher exclusively, and she was a complete original. She was way ahead of everyone at the time," said Hoare.

Tundra Books published Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater. ((CBC))
"She was the one who had a rounded approach to fiction, non fiction, young children, older children, and Canadian all the way with wonderful art and a completely new approach to publishing for young people," Hoare added.

She also wrote a novel of her own, The Last Noble Savage, along with two plays, a musical and a biography, Breaking Free: The Story of William Kurelek.

Cutler sold the company three decades later to McLelland & Stewart.

"To think that it is now a division of a large giant is quite a feather in her cap. She did it, and she did it on her own," said Hoare.

From publishing to politics

While her reputation as a literary leader grew, Cutler took a run at municipal politics, beating the incumbent to become mayor of Westount in 1987.

She was the first woman to hold the post.

Cutler broke the mold of the old boy's club, ushering a more open style to city politics that remains today, said Trent.

When she left politics in 1991, Trent said she left tough shoes to fill.

"When I got elected, I said it felt like [British Prime Minister] John Major following Margaret Thatcher. She laughed at that one. She was a tough lady," said Trent.

Cutler remained active even at the end of her life.

Last year, she went on a six-week trip to Antarctica.