May Cutler (September 4, 1923 – March 3, 2011) was a Canadian author, journalist, publisher, playwright and former mayor of the City of Westmount, Quebec. Cutler founded Tundra Books in her home in 1967, becoming Canada's first female publisher of children’s books. Cutler served a four-year term as the first female mayor of Westmount, Quebec from 1987 to 1991.
Life and career
Cutler was born May Ebbitt in the east end of Montreal in 1923. Her parents, Francis (née Farrelly) and William Henry Ebbitt, a police officer, were Irish immigrants. May had two older brothers, William "Bill" Ebbitt and Jack Ebbitt. She married Phil Cutler in 1953, a Canadian labor lawyer and Quebec Superior Court judge, who died in 1987. The couple had four sons - Keir, Adam and Michael, who are twins, and Roger.
Cutler earned both her bachelor of arts and her master of arts degrees from McGill University in Montreal. She next obtained a second master of arts in journalism from Columbia University in New York City.
Cutler worked for the newly formed United Nations following her graduation from Columbia University. Cutler returned to Canada, where she became a columnist and reporter for the former Montreal Herald. She also wrote magazine articles for the now defunct Montreal Standard. Cutler was only the second woman to be hired by the Canadian Press.
In 1967, using 1st prize money won when she entered her short autobiographical novel titled "The Last Noble Savage" in the Canadian Centennial Commission Publications Assistance Competition, Cutler founded Tundra Books. In doing so, Cutler became the first Canadian woman to become a publisher of children's books in history. Cutler owned and operated Tundra Books for more than 28 years. She openly sought out writers and artists to author children's books for her publishing house. Cutler was the first publisher to release works by Stéphane Poulin, a French-language illustrator and author, Dayal Kaur Khalsa, author of I Want a Dog and several other titles, and William Kurelek, who released A Prairie Boy’s Winter and They Sought a New World through Tundra Books. In addition to children's publishing business, Cutler also published books by architect Moshe Safdie and novelist Roch Carrier, including his work The Hockey Sweater.
Cutler successfully guided Tundra Books through financial difficulties, as well as the death of her husband in 1987, which coincided with her political campaign for mayor of Westmount. Tundra Books was sold to the McClelland & Stewart publishing firm in 1998.
Cutler also wrote and published her own works during her career. She published her novel, The Last Noble Savage, in 1967. She also penned a musical, two theatrical plays and a biography of Kurelek entitled Breaking Free: The Story of William Kurelek.
Mayor of Westmount
Cutler decided to enter politics in 1987 following several personal and professional disagreements with the local government. The city council of Westmount, Quebec, had refused her request for a zoning change which would have allowed Tundra Books' headquarters to move to the street-level floor of Sherbrooke Street which she had purchased even though the space permitted "professional" use. Cutler announced her candidacy for mayor of Westmount in 1987, which was her first political campaign. She defeated incumbent Westmount Mayor Brian Gallery in the 1987 mayoral election, becoming the first female mayor of the city. Gallery later praised Cutler's handling of the transition of power saying, "She was listening, she asked good questions...I walked away from our chat thinking she’ll be a good friend. The keys to the city will be in very good hands." Montreal city councilman Marvin Rotrand also noted that Cutler's election, "marked a sea change from the clannish, traditional way that Westmount had always been run."
Cutler served one four-year term as Mayor of Westmount. She declined to run for re-election in 1991 and asked then Westmount city coucilman Peter Trent to run to succeed her as Mayor. Trent was elected in 1991 when Cutler stepped down from office. Her main accomplishment during her term as mayor was to launch a campaign to renovate the Westmount Public Library from a rundown building into a state-of-the-art modern library. The result of this campaign was realized shortly after Cutler left office as mayor.
May Cutler completed her dream to visit all continents when she traveled to Antarctica in 2010 for a six-week trip. The trip by boat from Miami and down the west coast of South America took its toll her health. She returned to Montreal with heart condition. She died in her home in Montreal on March 3, 2011, at the age of 87, after being hospitalized in February. She had suffered from several illnesses. Upon her death, she had asked that her body be donated to McGill University Medicine for medical studies.
Cutler was survived by her four sons and six grandchildren. In November 2013, her oldest grandson, Philip A. Cutler, at age 25 became the youngest candidate elected councilor to the City of Westmount.
- "May Cutler, founder of Tundra Books, dies at 87". Canadian Press (Toronto Star). 2011-03-04. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
- Block, Irwin (2011-03-04). "Former Westmount mayor dies at 87". Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on 2013-10-03. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
- "Cutler remembered as pioneering publisher, mayor". CBC News. 2011-03-04. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
- Westmount Independant http://www.westmountindependent.com/WIv7.11a.pdf
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