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Meet the Ottawa-born designer of Canada's new typeface

Ray Larabie's typeface, Canada 150, incorporates English, French and indigenous languages.

Ottawa native Ray Larabie's Canada 150 typeface incorporates English, French and indigenous languages.

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Ottawa native Ray Larabie's Canada 150 typeface incorporates English, French and indigenous languages.

Before Ray Larabie designed Canada’s new typeface, unifying English, French and indigenous languages for the country’s 150th birthday next year, he was a font-crazed kid living near Arnprior, Ont..

The Ottawa-born designer developed his passion for typography as a small child, when his grandmother would bring home stacks of dry-transfer lettering from her job at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“I thought it was totally normal for people to know the names of fonts at a really young age,” Larabie said in an interview from his home in Nagoya, Japan. “I could identify fonts even as a little kid."

There wasn’t much of a career path to being a font designer in the late 1980s. So after getting a classical animation diploma at Oakville’s Sheridan College, Larabie worked in the video game industry as an art director.

He continued to tinker with fonts on the side as the digital age made them much cheaper to produce, making hundreds and releasing them for free.

“I was hoping I would go to the dollar store one day and see one of my fonts. That was my ambition,” he said.

When he saw one of his fonts on the side of a bus in Mississauga, Ont., in 1997, he felt like he’d made it. Later, a font he designed inspired by the Price is Right was used for the video game Grand Theft Auto.

He eventually quit the gaming industry to do type design full-time and moved to Japan in 2008.

Now, Larabie has designed Canada 150 – a typeface that supports English, French and a host of the country’s dozens of indigenous languages.

Larabie first came up with the font in November 2014 "on a whim." It's reminiscent of the Monopoly font, he said. "There’s a lot of early 20th century sans serif fonts in this kind of style."

Last summer, Canadian Heritage officials approached Larabie about using it. He didn't hesitate.

"I didn’t ask for money or anything, and they didn’t offer,” he said. "It’s cool to be part of it. I had a font used for the Torino Olympics logo, but it’s not the same because I wasn’t consulted on it. I feel like I’m very involved with this one.”

It's not Canada's first national typeface. The country's first Latin typeface, Cartier, was designed in 1967 by Carl Dair; it was used on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Typemaker Rod McDonald redesigned that font for the digital era in the 1990s.

But Larabie's typeface includes all Latin characters and accents, common Cyrillic character, as well as syllabic and diacritical elements contained in indigenous languages.

It initially only included English and French; it took Larabie about a month to figure out which indigenous languages to include and work them in.

"If you’re adding French to a font that only has English, you’re just sticking accents on it," he said. "But aboriginal syllabics are not based on a Latin alphabet – they’re geometric. ... You can’t force them to be like the Latin Alphabet."

Those wishing to use the typeface must go through a federal government application process, just as for the Canada 150 logo unveiled last April.

Larabie appreciates the irony that a years-long resident of Japan has designed the typeface for the country's 150th birthday. But he insists it's a Canadian creation.

“If I just make a typeface off the top of my head, it’s whatever my taste is,” he said. “I’ve absorbed enough Canadian stuff that everything that comes out of me is still Canadian.”

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