York to the Power of 50: Papers from Canadian designer at York

The work of the late Allan Robb Fleming, creator of iconic logos for the Canadian National Railway Co., Ontario Hydro and numerous other Canadian institutions, will live on at York University.

Fleming’s family has donated his extensive personal papers and other items to York, including original artwork, correspondence, photographs, typographic research files, audio recordings and other items. These items provide tremendous insight into the life’s work of a man who influenced Canada’s national identity and visual culture during a formative period in Canada’s history from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The papers, which are managed by York University Libraries’ Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, have been designated as cultural property of outstanding significance and national importance by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.

Left: Allan Fleming (left) with Charles Harris, director of public relations for CN, at the launch of the iconic logo in 1960

Born in 1929 in Toronto, Fleming was an internationally respected, influential and award-winning graphic designer, teacher and executive. His logo design for Canadian National Railway Co. was commissioned in 1959 and launched in 1960, and is still used today. Other logo designs for government and for important Canadian institutions in this period include: Trent University (1964), Ontario Hydro (1965), Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1965), TVOntario (1970) and Gray Coach Lines (1971).

Fleming began his career in Toronto in the late 1940s in the mail-order catalogue illustration department of the T. Eaton Company before his fascination with the letterform took him to Europe and England to study with master typographers and book designers. He moved on to advertising firms, notably as a director of MacLaren Advertising in the 1960s, and started his own freelance practice, as well as holding the position of chief of design at the University of Toronto Press for the last 10 years of his life.

"We are delighted to be the recipient of Allan Robb Fleming’s documentary legacy, which will be a significant resource for researchers interested in the history of Canadian design," says Michael Moir, University archivist and head of archives & special collections. "The papers provide fascinating insights into a crucial time period during which Canada was beginning to shape its visual identity as a nation."

For his outstanding contributions, Fleming was awarded the Medal of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and also received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal just a few months before his death in 1977.

Right: A 1960 photo of Fleming with a CN boxcar bearing the logo he created. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

More information about Fleming’s life, work and archival papers can be found within a two-part series edited by his daughter, Martha Fleming, published in Issues 62 and 63 of The Devil’s Artisan, a journal devoted to the printing arts.

This donation falls within the Innovate50 priority to advance pioneering programs and research, one of four University priorities supported by York to the Power of 50, York’s 50th-anniversary fundraising campaign. This donation is also in keeping with the policy of York University’s Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, which authorizes acquiring research materials such as private papers of fine art practitioners to support the University’s mission of research and teaching.