Canada`s leading health magazine came into the world 25 years ago in a basement suite
Canada's leading health magazine came into the world 25 years ago in a basement suite. It was an eagerly anticipated event that triggered a change in the health and nutrition climate of Canada. The name of the magazine was alive. It's now known and recognized by a broad spectrum of the Canadian population across the country and beyond as the voice of the burgeoning health food movement in Canada.
It happened this way.
Siegfried Gursche was a salesman, a marketer and a professional photographer. In his native Germany, he graduated as an apprentice in the natural food and remedies Reformhaus business. In Canada, he began importing German products, herbs, tinctures and remedies, and finally started the well-known company: Flora Manufacturers and Distributors (now owned by Thomas Greither).
Being a marketing man, Siegfried soon saw a need for a magazine that would educate Canadian consumers in natural health and help sell his products. Taking everything into consideration, he seemed to be the "natural" person to father this much-wanted journal.
It was the 1970s and there were about 200 health food stores across the country. Siegfried knew most of the proprietors because they were his customers. The Canadian Health Food Association was only 10 years old then, not mature enough to create its own magazine. The executive didn't know publishing and didn't really want the extra work. But the time was right. Someone had to do it.
Like the little red hen, Siegfried said, "I'll do it myself!"
And he did.
Two Hundred Retail Stores
Health food retailers were excited about the obvious promotional value of alive. Since Siegfried offered the magazine free of charge six times a year, how could they lose? He needed advertising, however, to pay for printing costs. Siegfried phoned the major manufacturers and distributors of natural health products and they readily signed up. No persuasion needed! Then he looked around for workers to bring his concept to life.
The name itself was serendipitous- or perhaps a stroke of genius. It almost formed itself under the exploring pen of another recent German immigrant, graphic artist Jorg Haug. Jorg was scratching out ideas and "alive" came to life under his pen! Just to make sure the focus of the magazine was clear, however, the subhead read Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition. Since Siegfried already had an inactive company called Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd (left over from his first venture into business), he simply wrapped that title around his new creation like a swaddling blanket. He rented space from Flora, then on Fraser Street in Vancouver, bought an electric typewriter and looked around for someone who knew how to use it.
Bir Singh was the first real employee. He was a printer who had recently arrived from Fiji with his wife Sunila and one-year-old daughter Sharon. Bir was told by a printer friend that Siegfried Gursche was looking for help, so it was in the small living room of Bir's basement suite that Siegfried, Jorg and Bir put together the first issue of alive 25 years ago!
Other members of the alive team soon followed. Rita Deepwell was Siegfried's partner in Flora. Her son Andre did the accounting while studying business administration at the University of BC. Siegfried took young Andre on as a business partner and part-time bookkeeper. Andre stayed with the magazine until 1995. Then there was the indispensable Lotti Ickert. She became alive's "girl Friday" and did everything from typing and telephoning to washing the coffee cups.
Siegfried's teenage sons, Christoph and Carsten, did the store imprints on the magazine covers with an old printing press set up in the Flora warehouse (the press is now a museum piece, gathering dust in a corner of the present print shop).
The advertising almost fell in his lap. Siegfried phoned supplement manufacturers across Canada to get support for his magazine. They were new businesses too and eager to tell Canadians about their vitamin supplements. Several of those first advertisers are now million-dollar, quality-controlled companies who are the advertising backbone of alive today.
The magazine covers were no problem. Siegfried had it all planned. He had a hundred photos in his files, all beautiful, all depicting the natural grandeur of Canadian mountains, wilderness, the peace of the Prairies, rural life and city. He chose a close-up of a vivid red hibiscus blossom as the first cover. It was a shrewd selection. Hibiscus blossom makes a soothing and exotic afternoon "health" tea, and the dramatic color became traditional as "alive red." The cover was an attention-getter. It couldn't help but attract customers to its contents and the shop owners found their small piles of alive magazines disappearing quickly!
On page seven of alive's first issue, the Canadian Health Food Association announced "Freedom of Choice: Basic Right of Canadians!" On page 11 was an advertisement for an editor. Rebecca Clarkes answered the ad and became the editor of alive for the next 10 years. In the second issue, Dr Paavo Airola joined the magazine as medical advisor.
Paavo had a doctorate in chemistry and a degree in naturopathic medicine. He was already a well-known author and speaker. Siegfried met him at a natural health conference in Harrison Hot Springs, BC. Paavo was the right man to instruct the new alive readership on the importance of whole food nutrition. People were thirsty for information in those early days. (They still are!)
Three years later, the January issue of 1978 (alive #11) offered readers a "healthy holiday"-a spa trip to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, with gourmet meals planned by Christel Gursche (Siegfried's wife) and prepared by a trained chef who had formerly worked at the Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver. Christel taught him how to cook vegetarian style!
Dr Airola went along to share the lecture program with Siegfried. Siegfried's 17-year-old son, Carsten, led the outdoor activities. It was a perfect setting, a memorable event and the first of many healthy alive tours conducted over the years.
Right from its inception, the philosophy of alive has been radically different from mainstream medicine: No drugs-they're poison. Don't treat the symptom-treat the whole body with whole food that the cells recognize and can metabolize. Eat an unaltered, unprocessed food diet which contains vitamins, minerals and living enzymes. Make sure you get regular exercise. The body will respond by healing itself.
Correct nutrition can both prevent and cure disease, said alive. That's what European health centres taught with great success in Siegfried's early training. North America's best-loved pioneer herbalists and practitioners prescribed the same therapies.
It was a new way for many Canadians. Canada was new to the natural food movement in 1975. Health food stores were small and few. Those who operated them, as well as the small percentage of consumers who ventured through their doors, were considered health food "nuts." Medical doctors scoffed. The provincial governments charged patients a "deterrent" fee when they chose to go to a naturopathic doctor. People felt forced back into general medicine against their will because it was paid for by Medicare.
That was the hostile atmosphere the new magazine was born into. It wasn't an overwhelming welcome, but the magazine represented a harbinger of genuine change. All at once there was a real explosion in health literature.
"It happened about the same time that our first issue reached the stores," says Siegfried. Shoppers began to eagerly wait for alive to appear six times a year!
"Those were good times," Bir recalls. "We all got along well-like one big, happy family. I think we had a birthday cake every month."
Christel would boost staff morale on those long night-shifts by arriving with German plum kuchen and apple or cheese cake. (She still does, even today!)
"Siegfried taught me a lot," says Bir. "Now my whole family eats health foods. My grandchildren, too. Siegfried has influenced a lot of people."
Bir gives Siegfried credit for having such vision and for offering so many jobs to so many people over the last 25 years. Right now, there are 40 staff working at Canadian Health Reform Products: in magazine production, accounting, book publishing and at the alive Academy of Nutrition, with its six home-study courses.
alive Magazine raised a flag back in 1975-a red hibiscus flag that is still flying high into this new century!