Canada 150: the futuristic typeface that supports Aboriginal languages

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Published:  February 24, 2016
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WORDS BY
Estelle Pigot

Canadian typographer Raymond Larabie created the font Canada 150 on request by the Canadian Government. The font supports over 50 languages that includes many Aboriginal languages and it’s freely available for use. Larabie shares more with us.

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The Canadian Government has recently selected a freely available font to pair with a logo that won a nation-wide design competition for the branding of their 150 years of confederacy celebrations. The geometric typeface, formally known as Mesmerize, but now renamed Canada 150, was created by Canadian typographer, Raymond Larabie, and unveiled last December. The Canadian design community has expressed dismay that the government did not invest in typography design for the major event.

Larabie, a self-taught font designer originally from Canada’s capital, Ottawa, but now based in Japan, is unfazed by the controversy.

“They [the Canadian Government] contacted me in the June of 2015 and told me that they’d been searching for a Canadian font design to go with the logo. I don’t know if they were looking for a free font, specifically, there’s nothing to indicate that was the case. I think it just happened to suit the logo.”

Larabie describes Canada 150 as “a reaction to the geometric sans trend that’s been running for a decade and a half.” It’s characterised by an early twentieth century influences, “with sharp bits and low x-height…and the emphasis on imperfect circles.” It has a labour of love for the designer, who previously worked in design for video game companies before striking out on his own with his company Typodermic. “I included my favourite stuff like a ball-and-stick 9, and an R stroke that sticks out a bit too much.”

Raymond Larabie_2The most exciting aspect of Canada 150 is that it supports over 50 languages, most of them being Canadian Aboriginal alphabets such as Cree. He says it took him ‘a solid month’ to craft the necessary glyphs to extend the typeface, no easy feat.

“Most of the time was spent researching. Some of these languages are spoken by less than 100 people so it’s hard to find resources.” He confirms that no money changed hands between him and the Canadian government, “I didn’t ask and they didn’t offer.”

He realised the need to expand the typeface when he was refining French characters in what was then, only a bilingual typeface. “I was double checking the French and I put some fancier curls on the cedilla (the little tail under the C) and it occurred to me that there were other Canadian languages that were being left out. I asked my government contact about it and it sounded like I was going to hit a wall of bureaucracy,” he explains. “I figured I’d just go ahead and add the extra language support without permission. That way they were off the hook for the blame. You know politics… if one group gets left out, there’s an opportunity for finger pointing. I did my best to make sure every [Canadian] language was included. I’m pretty sure I got them all.”

Canada150He says the use of Canada 150 is a win for Canadian design. “They actually made an effort to use a Canadian typeface which almost never happens,” he says. “I hope it starts a trend towards using Canadian typefaces for Canadian designs.”

This makes us think: if Australia could design a national typeface, what would it look like? Share your thoughts with us.


Estelle Pigot has been writing about Australian graphic design for over 10 years. She’s the former editor of Justus Magazine. Currently based in Montreal, she has just released her debut poetry collection called Tekno designed by Klaus Kinski. Follow her on Twitter @pigelle.

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